Parent/Student Conversation Night Reflections

Posted on April 20th, 2018 by Allendale Columbia School

Last week, in conjunction with our Upper School Parents of Allendale Columbia Kids (PACK) parents, we hosted our first ever parent/student conversation night at AC.  About fifteen US students and about twenty parents from grades 8-12 attended. The simple yet powerful objective of the night was to create conversation between teenagers and parents about important topics. Topics like:

  • Academic Pressure
  • Technology, Social Media, Gaming and Parent Monitoring or Regulation
  • Sex, Dating, Relationships
  • Drugs and Alcohol

Parents usually only talk about these things with their own children, and when they do, it is often in an argument or reactively addressing something that has gone wrong. Teenagers come away from those conversations feeling lectured, and parents often come away feeling a mix of confusion and frustration.

When I asked our US students for volunteers for this event, I had more than 30 students reach out to me wanting to participate. They don’t get anything for helping me, and they give up valuable free time in an already busy schedule of school, work, drama, an/or sports. This amount of student interest speaks for itself. Teenagers want to be heard, and they want to be better understood. Here are some examples of the prompts that were used, and if you would like to see the full list, please click here:

  • How can a parent motivate a young person that isn’t taking advantage of all of the opportunities that they have?
  • We don’t know much about you because you don’t share much. How can we know you better and have a better and closer relationship with you without compromising your independence?
  • What if my beliefs, values, sexuality, or religion are not the same as what my parents want it to be?  What do I do? How can I be honest with them without hurting them?

By using two rounds of conversation with clear guidelines and structure, we were able to tackle some of these rich and important prompts in mixed groups of students and parents. As usual, my student leaders who were responsible for keeping the conversation on point were phenomenal, and parents and students both reported learning a lot. Some of the feedback we heard:

Parent: “I was surprised at the depth the students had. They really do think about this stuff deeply, and I was also reminded of how much it hurts when parents are critical or judgmental towards young people.”

Student: “Parents know a lot more than I thought.”   

After the event,  two juniors were very interested in continuing this tradition and holding more regular opportunities for students and parents to tackle vital topics, and I look forward to helping them lay the groundwork to make that happen.


Ryan Burke

Ryan Burke

Ryan began his 16-year career in the field of education as a teacher with areas of expertise in literacy and special education. He earned a Master of Science Degree in Applied Behavior Science with a focus on family therapy, and he has done some work as a therapist. Ryan's primary focus in the field of education has been and always will be working in schools with students and their families. In addition to his role at Allendale Columbia as the Head of Upper School, Ryan is the co-founder of Leadership+Design (, a non-profit organization dedicated to transforming the work of school leaders through professional development experiences.

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