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March 2016

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Parent Talk|Term 1 2016


Dear Parents & Friends,

To hover or not to hover, that is the question. As parents know it’s a fine line between being involved in your child’s everyday activities and education and being labelled a helicopter parent. And we don’t always get it right. But with increasing concerns about the sexualisation of young people in the media and possible exposure to porn on the internet, there are plenty of reasons why we would want to look out for and protect our kids.

In this issue of Parent Talk, we look at some of the ways parents can be involved and engaged with their child’s learning and help them on their journey to adulthood, including some words of wisdom from our 2016 CCSP Chair, Neisha Licitra.

We hope you enjoy our “engagement issue”.

Linda McNeil
Executive Director

We need to talk

If your child has access to a mobile phone, laptop, tablet or any other internet-enabled device – or if they have any friends or siblings that do – there’s a strong likelihood that the will see pornography, even if they never seek it out.

That’s according to Maree Crabbe, founder of the Reality & Risk Project, who says porn has become a default sex education for many of our young people. Her Risk & Reality Project is a community-based initiative that supports young people, parents, schools, government and the community sector to understand and address the influence of pornography.

Maree was a keynote speaker at the Porn Harms Kids Symposium attended by educators, health professionals and other experts at the University of NSW recently. Delegates at the forum were told that more than 90% of boys and 60% of girls have seen online porn.

“Porn is readily available and aggressively marketed online and exposure to hard core pornography is now mainstream,” Maree said.

“Porn has become a default sex educator for many young people, with serious implications for their capacity to negotiate free and full consent, for mutual respect, sexual health, and gender equality. While, it’s natural and healthy for young people to be curious about bodies and sexuality, the ease with which young people can now access pornography and produce their own sexual imagery creates a new range of challenges and risks.”

Maree says many parents are unaware of how pervasive pornography has become, the nature of the material young people are viewing, or the impact it has on young people.

“If we are to help young people navigate this new reality, then parents, schools and community organisations must first understand the issues,” she said.

“Hopefully, your child’s school will tackle pornography’s influence through its cybersafety program and relationships and sexuality education. But no matter how well your child’s school addresses these issues, there are some things a school cannot do.

“As a parent, you can play an important role helping your child to navigate this new reality. And in fact, young people say their parents, particularly their mothers, are their most trusted and used source of information when it comes sex education.”

So what do parents need to know about porn? How can they support their children in a world where 30% of internet traffic is porn related? Maree Crabbe says parents can provide support to their children in five key ways:

  • Limit their exposure to technology
  • Encourage critical thinking
  • Equip them with skills
  • Inspire them
  • Become an advocate.

Parents can find further information and resources on Maree Crabbe’s Risk & Reality Project website. It also has great information for teachers, schools and other educators.

How not to hover

No sooner does the school term begin each year and we are bombarded with tales of the so-called ‘helicopter parent’, hovering in the background ready to guide, control, direct, even choreograph his or her child’s every move, especially when it comes to their schoolwork.

There’s no doubt that they want the best start for their kids, but how can parents engage with a child’s education without becoming or being perceived as a helicopter parent? Consecutive government policies have heralded ‘parent engagement’ in schools as one of the pillars of educational reform linking it to higher student achievement, producing everything from information brochures to the latest app ‘Learning Potential’ released by federal Education Minister Christopher Pyne last year.

This sends a clear message to us that parents’ input is welcome and valued. What’s more, parents stress about their child’s future job prospects knowing the importance of a good education in today’s highly competitive marketplace.

Taking all this into account, parents can be forgiven for wanting the best start for their children in this uncertain climate and along with schools and community should be supported in shaping the best future they can for all children.

So, what is good ‘engagement’ with your child’s education and how much is enough?

Well, there is clear evidence on what works and what doesn’t when it comes to being involved with your child’s school, and I think you’ll be relieved to know it’s easier than you think.

What doesn’t work, according to education expert, Professor John Hattie, is:

  • The use of external rewards
  • Homework surveillance
  • Negative control
  • Restrictions/punishment for unsatisfactory grades.

Counter-intuitive, isn’t it?

Are these the methods you are currently using to connect with your child to impact their achievement? If so, you are barking up the wrong tree, according to the research.

In his widely read book on what affects student achievement, titled “Visible Learning”, Professor Hattie names “teacher quality” as having the greatest effect on student achievement. But he says, parents, family members and the home also have a role to play in the student achieving at their optimal level. And the findings are out: what counts most in influencing your child for strong achievement is above all having high hopes and expectations for their school career and conveying that message to them in everything you say and do.

Think about it: do you share your hopes and your child’s hopes for their education with them? And do they know that you and the school have expectations around their schoolwork?

The second best thing you can do is to learn the “language of school”. This is where schools can assist.

Professor Hattie says that “schools have an important role in helping parents to learn the language of schooling…so that parents can assist in developing their child’s learning and love of learning, and in creating the highest possible shared expectations for learning.”

This collaboration between the family and the school is what has the greatest effect on student achievement. Two ways this can be achieved are greater parent-student communication and giving students more control over their own studies.

If the home and school work in tandem to promote this capacity in the child then the student will take on the responsibility for their own learning and they will become an ‘engaged learner’.”

So if you want to help your child, eliminate the negative “controlling” practices, ease off the hovering and concentrate on learning the language of the school. Share your hopes and expectations with your child and with the school and have fun with them while you all learn something new.

Educating Neisha

Like many children who started school in the seventies, Neisha Licitra has little memory of her mum’s involvement in her school, beyond the annual parent-teacher night. Back then she says, it was seen as the school’s role to educate the child and the parent’s responsibility to pay the fees.

As Neisha embarks on her first term as Chair of the CCSP, she explains why, drawing on her own education experience, she is determined to help parents be part of their child’s learning.

Why do you think it was hard for your mum’s generation to be involved?

Looking back, there were very few opportunities for my mum to be involved or communicate with the school about my education. I struggled academically in primary school and felt totally disconnected from my learning. By the time I started year seven I was well behind the other students. Luckily high school was a totally different environment and I quickly settled in, became engaged with my learning and thrived. However, years later, I do remember having mixed feelings when I walked into my eldest child’s high school for the first time. To be fair to my mum (she was a single parent who was studying and working when I was at school), I don’t think any parents of her generation realised the role they could play in helping their child flourish and learn at school.

How have those experiences shaped you as a parent?

I got involved from the time my eldest went to day care; talking to teachers and carers about what was happening with each of my children, always listening to what my kids were talking about and asking questions about what they were learning. From day one I volunteered to help inside and out of the classroom so that I could understand how things worked.

I have always enjoyed sharing information and helping others and I am constantly searching for ideas to make a situation better. Understanding how Catholic Education works is very important to me, for my family and the broader parent community. Luckily, my children have thrived at school – they always want to do more and love to learn, which has been a blessing.

You clearly see parent engagement in learning as a major priority?

It’s really important for all parents to understand that their involvement and engagement in learning can ensure their children have the best opportunities of reaching their true individual potential. Education is a partnership and when you can show children that you will be there to support and enhance all that they do, they become happier and more confident at school. But the challenge is: how do we make it easier for parents to be a part of their children’s school life? How do we help schools understand that parents want to work with them and will look to their guidance in the education of their children but that parents also need to advocate for their child when they ‘are not totally on the same page’ as the school?

How can parents engage with their child’s learning?

For me, the best way has been to talk with my children about their day, every day – what they did and saw, what others did, how they felt and what they learnt. And I have always tried to encourage my children to relate what they have been learning to life. It also helps to find out what the topics are for the school term and you make an effort to read, watch or do something with your children that relates to that topic. Talk to your kids about your day as well, tell them what you learnt or chat about a book you’re reading or a movie you have seen. Let them know that learning never stops and school is just one part of your journey together.

What would you say to those parents just beginning the school journey with their child?

Never stop asking questions from your children, teachers and other parents. There is so much we can all learn from each other. If you feel something isn’t right, don’t wait. Trust your instinct. You are the best advocate for your child. Yes, time passes quickly but always look forward and work towards the future - regrets will only bring sadness and our relationship with our children is a precious gift.

What are you hoping to achieve as CCSP Chair?

My main goal is to help reach out to parents and work with the schools to enhance what is already a strong, inclusive Catholic community. I want to make a difference, and as Nelson Mandela puts it so beautifully, “Education is the most powerful weapon you can use to change the world”.

Neisha Licitra has been a parent representative with the CCSP since 2010, as a representative on both its State Council and Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander (ATSI) Parent sub-committee. She and her husband Tore have three children, aged 14, 11 and nine years old. Neisha has a Bachelor of Business Studies from Charles Sturt University and is currently undertaking a Bachelor of Education (Secondary).

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