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Workshop series educates parents on teen emotions

Marlene Taylor, education and training coordinator for Mental Health America, listens as Poughkeepsie district parent and fellow Mental Health America professional Qiana Bennett contributes to Wednesday’s workshop on understanding emotions of adolescents.

Marlene Taylor rattled off some of the thoughts that may be going through a teenager’s head at any moment.

“How can I get her to like me? How can I get her to notice me?” the education and training coordinator for Mental Health America said. “Am I going to pass my test? How’s my father going to react if I don’t get a good mark? Will my parents still love me if I don’t really do well in school?

“As parents, we forget all that,” Taylor told parents sitting in the Parent Empowerment Center at Poughkeepsie Middle School Wednesday. “So, let’s all take a breath for a minute. I know it’s hard for us to remember when we were teens. But, guess what? We were.”

Taylor on Wednesday conducted the first in a series of workshops at the Parent Empowerment Center dealing with understanding the emotions of adolescents. Future workshops are scheduled for March 20 and April 17.Marlene Taylor stresses listening as a key to understanding a teen's emotions.

Jessica Ortiz, Community Schools liaison for the middle and high schools, said the three sessions with Taylor will each focus on different topics, but parents who can only attend one or two meetings will still benefit.

“It’s a workshop that is really more specified for middle school and high school parents who are struggling to understand the emotions of their students,” Ortiz said. “It’s more of an open discussion of how to identify and help them identify what they feel and give them some coping skills that maybe we can discuss and work through.”

During the session Taylor stressed listening over reacting or necessarily knowing the perfect way to respond to a teen. She suggested conversations in which parents ask deeper questions about their child’s experiences, rather than those that can be answered with a “yes” or “no.”

“You might not like what your kids say, but,” Taylor put a cupped hand up to an ear and paused, “just say ‘I hear you.’”

Taylor pulled some lessons out of a book, “The Emotional Lives of Teenagers,” by Dr. Lisa Damour, suggesting it as a good resource for parents.

“We really need to deal with what they’re living,” Taylor said, “and how can we, not coddle them, but understand their joy, their anguish, their pain, their goals, their dreams.”

Two parents who attended the Wednesday session not only have children but work with them professionally and expanded the discussion to how those who support children can best serve them.

Qiana Bennett, who has a child in Poughkeepsie High School and works with Mental Health America’s Teen Challenge program, noted teens can hide their emotions the same as an adult.

“You don’t know what these kids are dealing with when they’re coming into the schools,” Bennett said. “We put on masks … how many of these kids are doing the same thing?”

While the opening workshop focused on communication, the second is expected to tackle how to help students understand and follow their gut.

“Emotions are high when we become teenagers,” Ortiz said of the need for the workshops. “I’m a parent myself of teenagers. Working in the middle school and high school, I see emotions are at a high. I see the parents being frustrated, not knowing how to handle this.”

Ortiz said the goal is to “help the parents feel supported.”

For more information and to sign up for future workshops, call the Parent Empowerment Center at 845-451-4900 ext. 1425.

The workshops are one of several ways the district is trying to support the needs of its parents and guardians. On the first Tuesday of every month from 3:30-4:30 p.m., there are parent support chat sessions offered in the high school library. Topics include building relationships, differing styles of communication, summer opportunities and digital citizenship, among others. The next session is scheduled for March 5.