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Communicating with parents the focus of workshop for students


by Karishma Mohan-Ram

Students at the University of Toronto Scarborough say they felt empowered and reassured at a recent advising seminar that taught them new strategies to manage difficult communications with their parents.

The two-hour seminar, “Communication with Parents about Program and Career Changes,” was aimed at encouraging students to learn about ways to effectively communicate with their parents on challenging topics. The March 8 workshop was organized jointly by two UTSC departments, the Academic Advising and Career Centre and the Health & Wellness Centre.

When their undergraduate experience is different from what they expected, students sometimes avoid talking about it to their parents due to fear or anxiety, according to seminar organizers. Problems can arise if, for instance, a student is not enjoying science, not maintaining the grades for management, or simply discovering a new passion for the arts that she wishes to pursue.

Student Nitin Basandra says he found the workshop satisfying and educational. “I was really impressed with the role-playing aspect of this workshop,” he said. “I found it very relevant to communication issues, and it helped me to figure out and practice the dos and don’ts of interacting with parents.”

Students can encounter a variety of surprising challenges when they enter university, according to organizers. Academic advisor Shehna Javeed described an extreme situation “We’ve had cases where students are suspended for poor academic performance but they don’t tell their parents,” she said. “They continue to come to school as if they are still registered.”

Workshop organizers were Javeed, Career Counsellors Kira Bruschke and E-Lin Chen (Academic Advising and Career Centre), and Naomi Ball, Erin Bradford, Juan Liu, and Bill Wetzel (Health & Wellness Centre). Together the group developed an interactive seminar highlighting issues that they say can be very real for many students.

In some cases, students avoid talking to parents about these topics simply because of an intergenerational conflict, while in others, parents are so strongly invested in a certain career aspiration for their children that it is difficult for students to broach the subject of a change.

The workshop began by identifying emotions and situations to which the students could relate. Managing stress and anxiety, communicating empathetically, and understanding parental perspectives while expressing the students’ own goals were among the issues discussed.

Participants had the opportunity to ask questions throughout the event, which respected their confidentiality. The seminar was also designed to celebrate diversity and be sensitive to the many cultural backgrounds of participants, given the significant population of international students at UTSC.

A highly interactive activity gave students a hands-on opportunity to put themselves in their parents’ shoes and gain a better understanding of how to approach their parents. At the close of the seminar, each participant was given an innovative “tool kit” with fun memory cues to tips and strategies covered in the event, bringing a light-hearted element to what can be a stressful subject.

Parental involvement in student life is a growing trend, the organizers say, and yet many students find conversations with their parents about educational and career changes intimidating.

“We anticipate that a higher level of parental involvement in students’ lives will continue, and so it’s important to acknowledge these difficulties and build them into programming and advising that is holistic,” said Javeed.

The seminar was a pilot for developing such programs, and more of these types of offerings may be made available in the future. “Most universities try to teach the parents to ‘let go’ of their students during the transition from high school to university,” said Javeed. “This seminar went one step further, teaching students how to effectively communicate with their parents -- people who have made a big emotional and financial commitment to them.”

Karishma Mohan-Ram is a management student at the University of Toronto Scarborough.

© University of Toronto Scarborough