Parents ask big questions

"How can parents be more supportive of their kids and teens in general?"

"Why is my mom losing respect for me?"

"What is the average curfew for ninth graders?"

"When will we all know?"

These are some of the questions raised by Ashland High School upperclassmen and parents of freshmen during the first "Fresh Start" for parents Monday night at AHS. Every participant was invited to ask his or her "big question" anonymously, and then the mixed group of parents and teens discussed what was on their minds.

For 13 years, high school art teacher Mark Schoenleber has been leading incoming Ashland freshmen on overnight retreats called Fresh Start before school begins, where students participate in team building activities, ask their big questions and get to know one another.

This year, with funding from Ashland Service Clubs for Healthy Choices, the parents got in on the fun.

"What we're trying to do is get more parents involved with students, and get more parents to know their kids' friends," said Graham Lewis, who is part of the service club group. The group began with a community forum about alcohol and other drug use, Lewis said, and has since expanded to encouraging healthy choices for students and parents in all areas in life.

Monday's event began with dinner, where Schoenleber encouraged parents to sit with strangers, then the event moved upstairs, where parents and students introduced the people they had just met. After a team-builder that required participants to lead groups of blindfolded parents carrying cups of water precariously suspended by bungee cords, the group of about 30 parents and 20 students was ready to address their big questions.

"What jumped out?" Schoenleber asked after all questions had been read.

Senior Jake Taub noticed that both parents and students cared what the other group thought, and that parents had a lot of questions about parenting.

"I'm kind of surprised," he said. "I thought you guys already knew what you were doing."

Teens did a lot of the talking at first, some about how they wished their parents would respect them more, others about how they have developed open communication with their parents.

"I think it's really important to let your kid know what your boundaries are," said junior Salina Piddington.

"So you need clear ground rules, is that what you're saying?" asked parent Lynn Farber

"For me, somebody who had been free and able to do whatever I wanted most of my life ... I would say don't let them do whatever they want," Taub said. "It's taken me until this year to pull myself together."

Some of the students said this was a rare time they felt listened to, and parents said they were glad to have an insight into today's high school students.

"It is important to me how many big questions sounded like they were coming from the students," Farber said. "I don't envy all of the things you guys are having to deal with right now."

About half-way through, Maggie Sullivan raised a question that seemed to be on a lot of parents' minds.

"How much pressure is there to drink?" she asked. "How do we figure out how much to trust them? Is it widespread, and what can we do to help them?"

Student opinion was mixed on how much pressure there was, but all said it was important for parents to be there for their children and not be afraid to address tough issues.

"Chances are, if your kid is asking to go to a party, they're not going to be drinking, otherwise they wouldn't be calling it a party," Taub said.

"I think if you put yourself out there as a parent, that you're not going to judge them if they're drunk, they'll call you," said senior Michaela Bishop.

Schoenleber said when questions about alcohol arise at the freshmen retreats, only about 30 or 40 percent say they drink, an important realization for students to make, he said.

"They're all saying everybody's doing it, even if everybody's not," he said.

At the end of the evening, parents said they would like to see more parents get involved and continue the dialogue between students and parents.

"I think what we are doing and what we have done tonight is really important," said parent Cia Khakaura. "It's very good to get to know parents of other kids."

Staff writer can be reached at 482-3456 ext. 227 or .

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