It's The Relationship!
It's The Relationship!

Last week we heard from experts about how vital a healthy parent-child/teenager relationship is to our children, in particular our teenagers. Through both Parent University and our guest researcher, Dr. Sunyia Luthar, the well-being of this relationship was repeatedly emphasized. Dr. Luthar is the leading researcher in the country on high achieving schools like ours. Last fall our Upper School students completed a research tool developed by Dr. Luthar that is based on 30 years of peer-reviewed scientific research. On Friday and Saturday, she was here on campus to present her results to faculty, administration, and parents/guardians at Parent University.[1]

The elegance of Dr. Luthar's work, unlike surveys, is that through the rigorous analysis of an individual school's information, along with the comparison of data to similar schools throughout the country, she is able to identify the two or three interventions that will make the most difference to students in that particular high achieving school. At Brentwood, her results honed in on two areas: the parent-teen relationship and the impact of social media.

The first area of focus was the importance of the relationships with parents/guardians at home and teachers at school. Specifically, when there is alienation at home, and to a lesser extent at school, our students are vulnerable, which most often leads to feelings of anxiety and depression. This does not mean we have to be perfect parents. Far from it. It does mean, however, that we need to find that sweet spot between not trying to be their friend and attempting complete control or authority. From our teenagers' perspective, they need to feel like we "get them." That they can come to us with some of their problems, but not all of them as that would undermine their developing autonomy and independence. It means listening more and offering less advice—much less—which is difficult. Additionally, Dr. Luthar emphasized how "meanness is stronger than good," by at least a margin of 3:1, which is something we all need to remember. Even parental expectations that are too high do not negatively impact our students as long as the relationship is solid. And an essential component of keeping a strong relationship is simply showing up—at games, performances, conferences, as their chauffeur and cook. Even the briefest of dinners can serve to provide that moment of connection.

In terms of social media, it may not surprise you to know that the current ways and amount that some of our students engage with this medium is harmful. That is, they end up comparing themselves to what they see on social media, typically coming out on the short end of the stick. They feel envy and exclusion, which also opens the door to anxiety and depression. Additionally, viewing or reading about the struggles of others can also have an impact. Dr. Luthar's findings showed that while our students are generally more empathetic than those at other high achieving schools, that quality is good only up to a point. When someone is too empathetic they take on the problems and struggles of others rather than having clear internal boundaries. This burden can lead to them feeling depleted and ineffective.

Here at Brentwood we are using Dr. Luther's research to pinpoint how we can make our students more aware of these dynamics as well as giving them more precise tools for addressing these concerns. We trust that you will do the same at home, as we work together as the proverbial village for the betterment of your children and our students.

Have a wonderful weekend, and remember to get some time with your children/teenagers. It does not have to be anything special, just some time together.

Dr. Mike

[1] NAIS embraced her research earlier this year and is actively encouraging member schools to participate in her work.

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