Getting More Out of Parent-Teacher Conferences

Getting More Out of Parent-Teacher Conferences

Three times a year as I have sat on each side of the Parent-Teacher Conference table and as each Conference date comes closer on the calendar, I have pondered what is their purpose?

If you do not know why your school has such times throughout the school calendar, ask them? Ask the principal. Depending on the grade of your child ask their Homeroom teacher what is their purpose. Their answers will help you in how to engage the teacher and your child as the high’s and low’s of the school year occur.

The short essay below gives some fruitful advice as you prepare to enter each conference. As you leave one classroom for another, remember what your mom taught you…tell your child’s teacher “thank you.” They will appreciate the comment.

Written by Lisa Heffernan

I have been to 36 parent-teacher conferences over three different decades and two countries. I have had walked out of my children’s classrooms with high hopes and dashed hopes for the school year. Before one set of conferences my children’s principal warned me of my impending trial by saying, “…your boys define the behavioral spectrum at this school.” In her oh-so-polite English way she was letting me know that I was the mother of both the best and worst behaved child in her school.

Through all of this, which I can only laugh about now, I have learned something about the fine art of the parent-teacher conference and, looking back with more than a touch of regret, here is what I should have known:

I should have shut up. Teachers know things I didn’t. My children’s teachers saw a child that I didn’t and they had a way of putting him into context that I didn’t. The single best thing I could do at a parent-teacher conference was to listen. I was being given a gift, a window through which to view my child, an opening that my open-mouth just slammed shut.

I should not have been blindsided. I hate surprises, but if I am going to get them, I would rather have them while in the privacy of my home than in my child’s classroom, sitting vulnerably in one of those tiny chairs. Talk to your kid before you go to school, ask if there is anything you should know before the meeting. The meeting will go far better if you know of any impending big issues.

A lot of what gets said, goes unsaid. Few teachers have the guts to tell parents that they have raised a monster, a mean girl or the class clown. Teachers have seen it all, few will want to be alarmists, and many will speak through a veil of politeness. Listen to what is being said and what is not being said. Reading between the lines, hearing the implications, can be vital.

Drag your child’s other parent along. My husband came to these conferences and always learned something other than what I did. Because he is male or foreign or just a different person, he heard a slightly different message or thought of different questions and we got twice as much out of our meetings.

This is speed dating, so be prepared. Let’s be honest, most of us can discuss our kids for hours, but teachers have only a few minutes to spare. Come armed with one must-ask question and one must-reinforce point and the meeting will be a success.

Do not get defensive, no matter what. Defensiveness never yields open communication. I have had teachers suggest ADD drugs for a son who did not need them, misjudge another’s abilities entirely, and inform me that one of sons was the source of the bad language used in her classroom (ouch). Get up in arms and it can be a very, very long school year. Most of the time, most teachers showed true insight and care for my children and it behooved me to listen to their insights, without argument. I was there to learn about their behavior, good and bad not to defend their actions.

If any of your questions require info, email the teacher ahead of time. I have kicked myself when we spent our precious few minutes watching my child’s teacher search the classroom for a single piece of paper that contained the answer to one of my questions. See above, this is speed dating, so make it quick and come prepared.

Don’t shortchange your child because another parent lost track of time. If the time-challenged parent who went before you took some of your time, it is truly not your problem. This one was hard for me to learn. When I found myself allotted 10 minutes and ushered in seven minutes late, my impulse was to speak at twice my normal speed. I took me many fast-talking sessions to realize that I did not need to make-up for another parent’s bad manners by cutting my session short.

No need for panic. It doesn’t all have to happen in this one, very abbreviated meeting. It took me years to learn not to try and squeeze a year’s worth of thoughts into 10 minutes. The school year is long, the means of communication are many, so whatever does not get said in this one hurried encounter can be revisited.

Lisa Heffernan is the author of three business books, including a New York Times business bestseller, and writes about parenting during the high school and college years at Grown and Flown. You can follow her on Twitter.


Modeling the Use of Technology

As our daily lives are taken up more and more by personal devices, we, parents, are no longer dealing with how to balance our lives and the lives of our children and families with Atari, Intellivision, or a Nintendo. Our lives and the lives of our children are truly global, all in a hand held device. There are very few 13 year olds that I know who are not connected.

St. John Paul the Great, truly brought personalism into common language of late 20th century Catholics. Today, Millennials struggle to teach society that connecting with nature, and the people around us reminds us that we are human; we do need physical contact with each other and the world in which we’re were born. I see my Generation X, and Millennials handing over small personal devices to toddlers and those a wee bit older. We struggle to live personally. Below this N.Y. Times article assists in reminding us. Children act as their parents act in front of them.

(As found on January 29, 2018 at

Keep Your Head Up: How Smartphone Addiction Kills Manners and Moods

Jan. 25, 2018

Let’s play a game: The next time you’re sitting among a group of friends or out on a date, measure how much time passes before someone grabs their phone to look at it.

How long can you last?

“If that happens, that’s when dinner ends,” said Judith Martin, the Washington Post writer whose Miss Manners column is syndicated to 200 newspapers a week.

“I don’t think anyone would dare do that to me,” she said.

Most of us don’t have the authority that comes with 40 years of being Miss Manners, but no matter who you are it can be near impossible to pry anyone away from their mobile playthings. (Harder still: Are your friends or partner more into their smartphone than they are into you?)

The problem of looking at our devices nonstop is both social and physiological.

The average human head weighs between 10 and 12 pounds, and when we bend our neck to text or check Facebook, the gravitational pull on our head and the stress on our neck increases to as much as 60 pounds of pressure. That common position, pervasive among everyone from paupers to presidents, leads to incremental loss of the curve of the cervical spine. “Text neck” is becoming a medical issue that countless people suffer from, and the way we hang our heads has other health risks, too, according to a report published last year in The Spine Journal.

Posture has been proven to affect mood, behavior and memory, and frequent slouching can make us depressed, according to the National Center for Biotechnology Information. The way we stand affects everything from the amount of energy we have to bone and muscle development, and even the amount of oxygen our lungs can take in. Body language, perceptions of weakness versus power — it’s all real.

And the remedy can be ridiculously simple: Just sit up.

Social psychologists like Amy Cuddy claim even standing in a confident posture, with your head up and shoulders back, can heighten testosterone and cortisol flow in the brain, preventing much of the above. So, why aren’t we heeding these signs? It might be simple denial.

Inattentional blindness is a problem

Some 75 percent of Americans believe their smartphone usage doesn’t impact their ability to pay attention in a group setting, according to the Pew Research Center, and about a third of Americans believe that using phones in social settings actually contributes to the conversation.

But does it?

Etiquette experts and social scientists are adamantly united: Nope.

That “always-on” behavior that smartphones contribute to causes us to remove ourselves from our reality, experts said. And aside from the health consequences, if we’re head down, our communication skills and manners are slumped, too. But, ironically, that might not be how most of us see ourselves.

“We think somehow that this antisocial behavior is not going to affect me,” said Niobe Way, professor of applied psychology at New York University.

Ms. Way studies technology’s role in shaping adolescent development. These head-down interactions take us away from the present, no matter what group we’re in, she said. And it’s not just a youth problem. It’s ingrained, learned, copied and repeated, much of it from mimicking adults. When kids see their parents head down, they emulate that action. The result is a loss of nonverbal cues, which can stunt development.

“What’s happening more and more is we’re not talking to our children,” Ms. Way said. “We put them in front of the tech when they’re young, and when we’re older, we’re absorbed in our own tech.”

You’ve seen it: Think of how some parents deal with screaming toddlers. “Here kid, take this iPhone and go to town,” according to Ms. Way — not, “Let’s talk this out, what seems to be the problem, son?’”

She added: “We think, ‘Somehow my kids will know what’s a good and bad interaction, they’ll have empathy.’ But when I go upstairs into my son’s room and seven teens are all looking at their phones, none of them saying a word, there’s all sorts of disengagement happening. It’s not Facebook that’s the problem, it’s how we’re using Facebook.”

All ages are affected

A study in 2010 found that adolescents ages 8 to 18 spent more than 7.5 hours a day consuming media. Since then, our digital addictions have continued to, in some ways, define our lives: In 2015, the Pew Research Center reported that 24 percent of teenagers are “almost constantly” online.

Adults aren’t any better: Most adults spend 10 hours a day or more consuming electronic media, according to a Nielsen’s Total Audience Report from last year.

The National Safety Council reports cellphone use makes drivers more accident prone than drunk driving, causing 1.6 million crashes annually, mostly from young people ages 18 to 20. One out of four accidents in the United States are caused by texting.

“Mobile devices are the mother of inattentional blindness,” said Henry Alford, the author of “Would It Kill You to Stop Doing That: A Modern Guide to Manners.” “That’s the state of monomaniacal obliviousness that overcomes you when you’re absorbed in an activity to the exclusion of everything else.”

The social scientist Sherry Turkle analyzed 30 years of family interactions in her book “Alone Together: Why We Expect More From Technology and Less From Each Other.” She found that children now compete with their parents’ devices for attention, resulting in a generation afraid of the spontaneity of a phone call or face-to-face interaction. Eye contact now seems to be optional, Dr. Turkle suggests, and sensory overload can often mean our feelings are constantly anesthetized.

Researchers at the University of Michigan claim empathy levels have plummeted while narcissism is skyrocketing, with emotional development, confidence and health all affected when we tuck our chins in and let our heads hang like human ostriches.

Facebook’s former president, Sean Parker, recently said the platform was designed to be addictive and to “consume as much of your time and conscious attention as possible,” which he characterized as boosting our self-esteem, ever-present in the dopamine hit of likes.

“It literally changes your relationship with society, with each other,” he said. “It probably interferes with productivity in weird ways. God only knows what it’s doing to our children’s brains.”

That said: You’re probably reading this story on a mobile device right now. And that’s O.K.! (As long as you’re not behind the wheel.) We’re not here to tell you to throw away your iPhone and abandon digital media. But like many addictions, admitting a problem is the first step to treatment. And, mercifully, the fix isn’t anti-tech — it’s pro-conversation, according to Dr. Turkle.

Make an effort to interact with people

Digital detoxes have never been so popular, but they’re no cure-all, and realistically, there simply isn’t a black-and-white fix.

The simplest answer for all of us is biblical: Do unto others — and maybe do it without clutching your smartphone. Next time you’re in the checkout lane or stopped at a red light, look around. How many people are really there with you?

“Actual human beings, in the flesh, take precedence,” Ms. Martin chided. “To ignore people you’re with is rude, whether you ignore them for virtual friends or distant friends by snubbing them.”

It sounds so obvious it almost borders on stupid. But like Dr. Turkle’s hope of building dialogue, not denigrating the digerati, it’s an obvious dialogue we’re not having enough of.

Mr. Alford, who used to write a monthly manners column for The New York Times, described the issue as a “monomaniacal obliviousness” of being absorbed in an activity to the exclusion of the rest of the world.

“To treat the person standing in front of you as secondary to your phone, is usually, as the kids say, a micro-aggression,” he said.

Many Silicon Valley pundits go to war when anyone so much as suggests that tech’s merits aren’t uniformly positive. But in light of the brutal schoolyard that social media has become, that approach now appears moot.

Young or old, we’re all a generation of literal test cases. Etiquette, manners, body language, the way we respond, interact and even look is changing. We’re missing a whole life happening a mere 90 degrees above our smartphones. Start looking up.

“Never be the first person in the group to whip out his phone,” Mr. Alford said. “Don’t be Patient Zero.”

Adam Popescu is a writer living in Los Angeles who contributes frequently to the Times. He can be reached on Twitter at @adampopescu

Parenting in Time

 The time we spend with our children is always leaving us.  How often with our busy lives do we take time to enjoy our children, no matter what age? To hold their hands when “out and about”  or hold them when watching television or on the side of a hill watching a local theater production? These are true moments of leisure.  


Parenting in Space and Time

Author’s Note: My 8-year-old thinks the title of this post sounds like a Dr. Who episode. Since I have never successfully watched a Dr. Who episode all the way through, and since what little I have seen of it always leaves me very confused, I can safely say that any resemblances between what I say here and the events, characters, and storylines of Dr. Who episodes are purely and completely coincidental.
Recently, we took a family trip to the beach. It was a public holiday, and my husband wanted to Do Something on his day off.
Family trips to the beach are good. They are also stressful, at least for me. And this particular trip was especially stressful. I didn’t have the day off work, so we decided I would meet the family on the beach after I had finished at the university for the day. After an intense set of philosophy lectures, with lots of work still to be done for my next lectures, I set off to find the family. My husband had decided to go to a beach that I had never visited, and I got lost getting there. After driving around for ages, I finally found them. But I was in no mood to be at the beach.

I sat down in a beach chair and tried to convince myself that the outing was a good idea. My youngest had just been in the water, and I noticed she was shivering. So I put a towel around her and hugged her while she sat on my lap to warm her up.
We just sat there, the two of us. I rested my cheek on her sandy hair, and she snuggled against my body. We watched the ocean and listened to the waves. As the time passed, I started to feel a closeness to this child that I hadn’t felt for a while. It felt good and relaxing, like I was returning to something important that I had left – a kind of quiet homecoming.
As I noticed that feeling, I also suddenly realized that I had spent very little time with her recently. Now, that seemed odd to me, because I am around her much of the time. But I as thought about it, I noted that although we had been around one another, I hadn’t really spent much time interacting with her. For instance, when I would make dinner, she would play in her room. When I would work on my lectures, she would watch TV. When I would help my older children with something, she would slip out to the backyard to play. The result was that I had actually seen very little of her lately, due to our very busy lives.
And now, just the simple act of sitting together was making a significant difference to our relationship. And yet, if I was to be more precise, it was more than the act of sitting together. It was more than the physical closeness that was strengthening our relationship. It was the act of sitting together for a period of time that was bringing us closer together. We didn’t have any distractions. I wasn’t on my phone, she wasn’t on an ipad. For a space of time, we were focused on each other.
Parenting and the Nature of Time
As I reflect on this experience, I am struck that there is something to learn here about the nature of time in relation to parenting. Of course, we’ve all heard the commonplace truth about how parents need to spend time with their kids. Yet, as a parent, I do not always feel that advice is helpful. You see, time is not my friend. I’m always rushing against the clock for something: school runs, deadlines, dinnertime, homework, sports, clubs, activities, etc. I feel like there’s not much I can do about my lack of time, but I berate myself just the same for not managing it better. From a parenting perspective, time is my constantly judgmental, constantly stingy companion.
Yet, if I turn to philosophy to think about the concept of time, there are some profound insights there that have enabled me to see my time challenges in a different light. In essence, time is a fundamental aspect of our human existence. This fact defines not only defines how we move, and how we think, it also defines how our relationships are formed. Time is the medium in which human beings build connections with each other. It therefore follows that parenting human beings will take time. The human condition is such that there is just no other way. Once these stark truths are digested, it seems quite beside the point to look at time as my enemy or my judge. It is, simply, my most important resource.

Philosophical Perspectives on Time, Space and Mind

Since the earliest days of philosophy, thinkers have always been fascinated with time. The study of time often goes hand in hand with a study of space and matter. Matter exists in space, and moves in space. Movement also takes place in time, so matter exists in, and is bound by, space and time. Since our bodies are material entities, we, as human beings, also exist in space and time.
However, as human beings, we consist of more than just our bodies. We also have our minds. Now, when philosophers talk about the mind, they do not mean the brain. They mean one’s thoughts, and one’s feelings and desires. The brain is thephysical entity that somehow facilitates thoughts and desires. The mind, however, is not physical. Our thoughts and desires themselves do not take up space.
Yet, although the mind is not physical, and therefore does not exist in space, it still exists in time. That is, our thoughts and desires do not take up space, but they dotake up time. According to the early Christian philosopher St. Augustine, our thoughts form a kind of trajectory through time, as we go from one thought to the next. We are at one moment ‘now willing, now not willing; now knowing, now not knowing, now remembering, now not remembering, now forgetting, now fearing, now daring, now advancing towards wisdom, now declining into folly.’
Giving Children Your Thoughts, and Your Time
Now, this all may sound rather abstract. But I would argue that the concept of our thoughts existing in time has some profound practical consequences, especially with regards to parenting. Consider this: our thoughts do not pertain solely to ourselves. Our thoughts happen within our minds, but they affect those around us. Our thoughts determine how we interact with others, both our physical interactions, and our mental interactions. And it is our interactions with others which create our relationships with them. Human relationships, then, are based upon countless sequences of thoughts, which always take place in time.
Understanding time in this way has, for me, made spending time with my children at once less pressured, but also, more profound. Since exchanges of thought take place in time, and family relationships are built upon those exchanges, then our time must be the most important thing we can give our children. Perhaps, really, it is the onlything we can give them. And if that is true, then surely the act of spending time together is just as important as what is done during that time together. This is what I mean by a less pressured approach to parenting. I’m learning to see my children more as creatures to be listened to, hugged, enjoyed and marveled at, rather than as creatures to be herded, pushed, chauffeured, and frustrated with. I’ve become more interested in bedtime stories, nature hikes, spontaneous conversations and ice cream trips, than in ballet lessons, regional orchestra auditions or GPA’s. I’m learning to worry less about getting through a ‘to-do’ list, and instead valuing the interaction in the moment, because I understand now that each moment really does count. Indeed, I am starting to see interacting in the moment as the ‘to-do’ list.
When I say giving our children our time, I mean our thoughtful time. We do not give them our time if we merely exist next to them physically, in space, without much mental interaction. I feel the need to point out the obvious fact that our generation faces special obstacles to achieving this. The constant access of online activity means that it has never been easier to disengage mentally with those around us. Yet, my experience is that spending time with our children really only occurs when we focus on them with our thoughts.
I’m reminded of the time several years ago when I went to a parent’s morning at my son’s preschool. Parents were invited to spend an hour or so with their children, doing whatever the child wanted to do. I still remember how excited my son was to show me around. We looked together at his work, and at his favorite dinosaur books. We did his favorite puzzles together. There were no distractions –there were no escape routes for me, either physically, or mentally. He was incandescently happy to have me as a captive audience, and his happiness filled me in a way that pushed out all my cares and worries. It was one of those moments of pure joy. And really, all I did was show up. It didn’t really matter what we did once I was there. The point is that I gave him my attention – that is, I gave him my mind, and that could only be done by giving him my time. The result was a happy child, and a happy mommy.

Parenting and Truths About Time, Space and the Human Condition

A few weeks ago we saw a student art show at my daughter’s school. I came across an impressive picture of what seemed to be a vast expanse of space. At the bottom it read: ‘All that exists are atoms and space. Everything else is opinion.’ The philosopher in me smiled at the approach, but as a parent I had to dissent. Although many eminent philosophers would agree with this student’s sentiment, it strikes me as a rather indulgent way of looking at the human condition.
Yes, the material conditions of the universe seem to be obviously true, whereas ideas about how human beings should be, and how they should act, seem to be less obviously true. But the conditions of space and matter – and therefore time – make certain things true about us as human beings. Since human beings exist in space and time, human relationships can only be developed by using time.
This is not merely an opinion. This is a truth that bears directly on what is involved in raising happy human beings. Parenting requires thought, which requires time. My suggestion is to embrace this truth, and recognize the value in every moment that you have together.

Holly Hamilton-Bleakley is a mother of six living in the USA. She holds an MPhil and PhD in Intellectual History and Political Thought from the University of Cambridge (England). She blogs at Philosophy for Parents, where this article was first published. 

Found at on March 20, 2016.

Truthful Parenting for Truthful Children

St. Joseph holding infant Jesus

How often do we want to hide the “bad” that happen at work, with other family members or friends from our children to protect them?  In a recent article, “Protecting our kids from emotions,” for, Caryn Rivadeneira writes about the importance of emotions being truthful with our emotions to our children.

Here is her article reprinted:

Every parent tells white lies. Harmless deceptions like letting your children believe in Santa or the tooth fairy because it brings them joy (and hopefully incentivizes them to behave better around the holidays). But there is another kind of lie parents tell with only the best intentions: emotional ones. And most adults probably don’t even realize they’re doing it.

When something upsetting happens, it’s not uncommon for a parent to pretend that everything is fine. It’s one of those helicopter-parent instincts to protect your child. Maybe you want to cry or get angry, but instead you breathe deeply, and pull yourself together before facing your kids. The logic is clear: there’s no need to burden your kids with your rough day, or scare them with your red-face or teary eyes. Good parents are superheroes and role models, who should shield their kids from troubled moments. Or should they?

A recent study from the University of Toronto found that parents who suppress negative emotions while bolstering positive emotions while talking with their kids “reported experiencing lower authenticity, emotional well-being, relationship quality, and responsiveness to their children’s needs.”

In other words, when we paste on that smile and push down sad or frustrated feelings in order to give our kids a harmonious home, we’re actually doing everyone a disservice—including the adults. Parents who suppressed upset in front of their children in the study ended up feeling worse because those fake smiles and faux cheer made them feel like liars later. And lying to our kids (even the white kind) never feels great.

But, perhaps more importantly, parents need to think about what this does to our kids. When kids aren’t exposed to raw emotions, they aren’t getting a realistic view of life. In fact, other studies indicate that when kids see their parents hurt or even cry, it helps develop empathy.

“The capacity to notice the distress of others, and to be moved by it, can be a critical component of what is called pro-social behavior, actions that benefit others: individuals, groups or society as a whole,” says Perri Klass, MD, professor of Journalism and Pediatrics at New York University.

When kids notice their parents distress and respond to it, that situation not only helps them empathize, but engaging in the act of listening or offering a hug or other kind gesture to their family members helps them feel better. Certainly this is something we understand as adults. When a friend shares a hardship and we offer a listening ear and a supportive embrace, we all feel better. Even if it means we had to enter into someone else’s hurt to get there. It’s the same for kids.

But those of us who have broken down in front of our kids and lived to tell about it know that the benefits don’t stop there. Because sometimes when you lose your cool, it leads to insightful conversation with your kids.

As a mother of three, I’ve experienced this first hand. Yes, I’ve lost my composure, and yelled at my kids. In those moments, I’m not the model of happiness or calm. But I end up being the model of the art of apology. As awful as I feel post-eruption, the sweetness of the moments offering a heart-felt apology (often with a stab at an “explanation”) show my kids how to say sorry. Being granted forgiveness or second chances, and understanding that we all make mistakes, are important lessons in the life of a family.

I’ve also used these outbursts to teach my kids about the beauty of bad days, in that, we all have them, but we also all get through them. In the times my kids have seen me cry or just generally feel sad, it’s led to great discussions about our need as humans to wade through some tough stuff but also about the hope (and the truth) that it does get better.

That said, there is a line to be drawn. The benefits of being “emotionally honest” with kids doesn’t necessarily mean sharing every last emotion or every last detail with them.

According to Beth Proudfoot, a marriage and family therapist and parent educator in San Jose, California, and co-author of the audiobook, The Magic of Positive Parentingkids tend to think our tears are always about them. So we have to be careful and clear about the reasons for our emotions.

Experts also warn about sharing too many details. Instead, offering our kids a general reason, reminding them it’s not about them, and assuring them everything will be okay (and that crying is good!) helps kids understand—and relate.

And ultimately, this is what our emotions are about. They are meant to help connect us to our families and to the world around us.

Found at,%202016%2002:00%20pm on March 19, 2016.