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The Waldorf School of Bend is not only a place of growth and discovery for our children, but is a resource for us all as families, parents and individuals.  Under Laura Holtsberg’s guidance, Parent Council has begun to grow relationships with people in our region who have decades of experience and wisdom to share.  Karen O’Dougherty, whose ongoing work with young people and parents through her work with parent villages, counseling and her “Body Basics” program (see https://bodybasicsandbeyond.com for more information), has visited WSB several times over the past couple of years.  Her talks with parents, Junior High students and faculty have been a powerful resource for us all.

The fall’s forum was informal and guided by the questions and concerns of the group.  The points of conversation we brought to Karen were broad, but we focused in on three: 

  1. how to offer meaningful parental guidance while fostering autonomy and empowering our children, 
  2. how to cultivate healthy boundaries around media usage, 
  3. how to speak to our children about our school’s dress code and the cultural, social and self expression issues that it touches on.

We began with the third question.  Some of Karen’s insights and our shared discoveries include:

  • how our children choose to dress themselves is one of their first experiences and expressions of autonomy
  • The question of a dress code is inevitably a complex and ongoing conversation within a healthy school, we will never arrive at a perfect or final “answer”
  • In our highly sexualized culture our children do need boundaries
  • We can speak directly to this and acknowledge our appreciation of and their need for autonomy while also upholding boundaries ie: “this (crop top, pair of jeans with holes, etc) is comfortable / fun / great for home, but this is the way the school has asked us to dress, wearing basic functional clothes to support an environment of focus and learning”, we can even share that we may disagree with aspects of, in this case the dress code, but that we choose to honor the decisions and will continue to cultivate healthy ongoing discussions around important and complex topics
  • we create a clear boundary – our children are looking for and need this clarity even if they push against it.
  • Our childrens’ push back won’t stop and this is important, we want them to challenge authority and we seek balance in when we are firm with our guidance, this is an ongoing process

General desires that emerged out of this conversation – How do we create safe spaces for students to bring their concerns, feel empowered and advocate for themselves?  How do we at home and at school welcome our children’s voices? Some suggestions were: 

  • students council
  • outside facilitators to share counsel circles beginning in 3rd grade so children learn how to hear one another and be heard
  • debate team

Question # 2 Media:

  • Media is designed to make us want more and give our brains a dopamine drop, It is our important work to set limits on media use that feels right for our children at their age
  • Take responsibility for our own media usage, be honest, transparent and curious about the ways in which we get drawn in and have our own challenges with creating limits
  • Inform ourselves on research, truth and consequences of media usage
  • 98% of children 13-20 years old play video games
  • Find like-minded parents / families to create support network
  • WHO now recognizes a disorder around video gaming, this will allow insurance companies to cover treatment
  • Adolescents have a huge need for social interaction and “networking”, how do we allow for socializing via group texts and gaming?  
    • Invite our children into the process of setting boundaries
    • Trust that the in fact do want (and need) regulation (even if they say otherwise)
    • They also want modeling from us, we have to walk our talk
  • The questions and challenges around media are complex and require ongoing conversation at home and school
  • As a family revisit tech talk monthly “how are we feeling / how is our balance around media usage,” invite them to recognize when is too much / what a healthy balance feels like

Antidotes for media:

  • Sports
  • Outdoor time
  • Summer camps
  • Creativity

We worked on question #1

How to offer meaningful parental guidance while fostering autonomy and empowering our children:

  • Our children will have challenges and struggles, when this happens we can investigate how they are spending their time after school – are they involved in meaningful activities (see above).
  • How do we allow for our kids to “bump up against things” in particular in the social realm (short of unhealthy or dangerous bullying situations)
    • Sometimes the less we speak the better, keep language clear, concise and directed, as kids come into adolescence they truly cannot hear us
    • Emphasize curiosity around the bumps both for ourselves and with them
    • Avoid “talking at”
    • Collaborate
  • At home build self confidence through:
    • Fun
    • Play
    • Adventure
    • Spontaneity
    • Radically change things up in simple and playful ways (breakfast for dinner)

When our children express feeling down on themselves ie: “I’m not pretty” avoid “fixing” with “You’re beautiful!” In this way our children then don’t feel heard.  Allow them to speak to their feelings, this allows them to come to us, we allow them to feel lack of confidence and recognize that this is a normal part of life.

Our conversation ended with a brief discussion of gender identity. This is a topic that is very alive in the children and we have little to no modeling from our own lives. The best thing we agreed we can do is educate ourselves, this is a beautiful area of opening. Karen mentioned there is a Gender Spectrum Website and an annual Bay Area gender spectrum conference.

We are grateful for the forum to have these meaningful conversations in and look forward to our next Parent Enrichment opportunity this winter.