Conversations in Education

From teacher book groups to conversations in the faculty lounge, Prep faculty and administrators think all the time about how we support our students. In this space each month we’ll provide links, resources and inspiration about teaching at Prep and education in general.

From teacher book groups to conversations in the faculty lounge, Prep faculty read and talk a lot about education. Each month we highlight a few memorable pieces or videos. Our goal is to make the process of parenting, learning and living a little saner, to put things a little more in perspective. These articles will be chosen by Prep teachers and administrators.  If you want to share your ideas, feel free to comment on an individual post or contact Dean of Studies Sarah Cooper.


TechSex: Navigating the New World of Technology and Teen Sexuality, A Conversation with Vanessa Kellam


Health educator Vanessa Kellam began her Oct. 16 presentation on “TechSex: Navigating the New World of Technology and Teen Sexuality” with a series of statements for the 140 parents in Norris Auditorium to agree or disagree with.

  • I would re-live my adolescence if I could. A healthy minority of the audience stood up.
  • I want my child to make similar decisions to those I made when I was their age. About 50 percent stood up.
  • I think my child spends too much time on social media and/or games. The vast majority of the audience stood up.

Sound familiar?

The presentation by Kellam, the parent engagement coordinator for the Bay Area’s Health Connected, launched the fourth year of the Parents Association Speaker Series, helmed this year by Prep parents Kirsten Harbers and Rob Tolleson.

How can parents of teens even begin to tackle the issue of technology or sex, let alone both together?

1. As parents, begin with values.

Kellam asked audience members to consider: What is one specific value your family holds that influences how your family uses technology? Try and link the value with the behavior.

An example could include cultivating a sense of purpose, which leads to putting technology aside for conversation or reading.

After parents articulate their values, then they are ready to find out what motivates their adolescent, a process that builds empathy.

2. Tap into the #1 need of adolescents: connection and belonging.

Keep in mind that, as Kellam said, “The adolescent brain predisposes to connection.” She continued by explaining that “the part of the brain responsible for emotional reaction is fully functioning, yet the prefrontal cortex, responsible for logic, is still very much developing.”

Imagine that moment when your teen’s emotions fully rule her decision—a time when she says something she may not mean or may not even have thought out fully. Rather than engage, try walking away for a bit and seeing what results can come. As Kellam says, “It’s amazing when you don’t engagewhen they can come back into that cognition and say, ‘Sorry about that.’”

3. Remember that feelings rule your teen’s brain.

“Feeling safe, belonging in the peer group, belonging in the family is everything,” Kellam said. “Disconnection feels actually painful. There’s an overlap between social and physical pain—social status is really a powerful motivator.”

To understand teens and have them hear our understanding, we need to get on their level and feel how devastating it is not to be invited to that party. As adults, our prefrontal cortex works hard for us to make excuses, so our fear of missing out is not as painful as theirs.

4. Keep in mind that teenagers don’t necessarily view sex the way adults do.

With a slide called “Sorry, but you have to know,” Kellam introduced some intense statistics, such as that “more than a third of teenagers included oral sex in their definition of abstinence” (Advocates for Youth, 2007); “one in three teens have experienced dating violence” (, a program of Lucile Packard Foundation for Children's Health, 2014); and “67% of college students said they had hooked up before the first real date” (Hooking Up and Forming Romantic Relationships on Today's College Campuses, Dr Paula England, 2007).

5. Find natural moments in the news or media to discuss topics relating to sex.

If you are watching a movie or TV show with your teen, consider opportunities to provide a brief interjection. For instance, if there’s a sexual assault on screen, parents can say, “Whoa, oh my goodness, that’s not okay,” or “Oh, that’s terrible.” As Kellam noted, “If we don’t say anything and there’s a sexual assault on the screen, I don’t want my kids sitting there thinking that because I’m silent I must be condoning it.”

This kind of conversation allows parents to “emphasize or call out values conflicts that would not be okay in our family.” Also be sure to call out positive representations in the media when you see them.

Here are a few more interesting facts:

  • Between 2012 and 2018, the percent of teens who said “in person” is their favorite way to communicate with friends dropped from 49 to 32 percent. Social media filled the gap, rising from 7 to 16 percent; texting notched up from 33 to 35 percent, and video chatting shot up from 2 to 10 percent (Common Sense Media, 2018).
  • Among some teens, the new word for dating is…talking. However, according to Teens, Technology and Romantic Relationships, Pew, 2015, 18 percent of high schoolers are currently involved in a romance.
  • The need for connection is so powerful that some teens have each other on FaceTime while they do their homework…with the sound turned off!

So, what’s a parent to do? Listen, don’t judge. Try to imagine how your teenager is feeling. Back off temporarily when you need to and then come back later at a different time. Draw upon empathy and feel what your kids are feeling to keep the lines of communication open.

The next Speaker Series event is on Thursday, November 15 at 6:45 pm in Norris Auditorium. Headmaster Peter Bachmann will present “A Flourishing Adolescence: Building Confidence and Resilience through Focus on Process over Outcomes.”

A Flourishing Adolescence: Building Confidence and Resilience through Focus on Process over Outcomes

A Discussion with Peter Bachmann

For over ten years, in an attempt to understand the neuroscience research that clarifies our understanding of adolescents and their needs, Peter Bachmann has embarked on a journey through the learning and the brain insights of scientists, psychologists, sociologists and medical doctors, emerging with strong convictions on how our students flourish. Join us for an evening of thought-provoking presentation and conversation. 

Register here.

Posted by rfeliciano on Monday October, 22, 2018


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