“Midtown and Metro’s success is because of YOU – the parents,” Dorothy exclaimed. And boy, is she on to something!
Over the last two weeks in February, Parent Nights were held at MEF’s Metro Achievement Center where the parents of all Metro students came to learn and grow in order to best lead their families. The topic at hand was both a tough but important one: “Can We Talk? Communication in the Digital Age.”
Each night was tailored to the parents of a certain age group (4th-6th, 7th-8th, and high school) and put together by Dorothy Balabanos with the help of Metro’s Parent Program Directors, Petra Jaime and Ivette Gudino.
Dorothy has worked in communications for 40 years. She has owned her own company helping others to learn more effective communication methods while also teaching at DePaul. She is also a dedicated weekly Metro mentor and tutor.
Like many Metro parents and students, Dorothy grew up below the poverty line as the child of immigrant parents who wanted a better life for their daughter. Not only was her academic education a game changer (graduating from Northwestern on a full ride with both her Bachelors AND Masters degrees), her parents instilled in her the important values also encouraged at Metro: “Not only are your daughters becoming smart people but also good people.”
Dorothy began the workshops setting the stage with simple rules not only for the session but for life. Including to be fully present! Parents were encouraged to take risks sharing experiences and ideas, to be supportive, and to ask any and all questions. The moms and dads delighted at these discussions saying, “We LOVE this opportunity to sit down and share. We discover what we all have in common and that we are not alone in these issues.”
Parents discussed that communication is not only verbal but also includes body language and listening. Before each session, Dorothy conducted surveys to get some real Metro data behind these very concepts for each age group, both on the student side and the parent side:
- The majority of parents of 4th-6th grade Metro girls believe they are good at talking with their daughters, telling them things, and listening
- Three-fourths of their daughters believe their parents are good at telling them things and talking with them
- Only half of the daughters believe their parents are really listening
- One-third of girls said they spend 4+ hours with technology for leisure
- 75% of parents said they use technology less than an hour a day for leisure
One mom could not help but react, “SCARY! These are hours they are not communicating with us!” Doubly scary when Dorothy shared that not only does media use decrease time in more productive and positive activities, but 70% of kids admit to hiding online activity! This is increasingly tough in households where parents and children share a different cultural framework.
“I do NOT hate technology,” said Dorothy in reply, “but it has changed us and we don’t know what we’re doing with it – results of use are not being tested before we put it in the hands of both children and adults. So, let’s talk about tips for healthy technology use.”
In light of all this learning, parents came together to make communication and internet action plans. They vowed to set a better example regarding truly listening to others and to start and maintain family rituals. They talked about limiting device use by keeping computers in common areas and using online tools and family conversations to create safe technological environments at home.
These discussions facilitated a great community environment where parents felt compelled to share and support one another. Discussion time also gave parents ample time to think and come up with ways to lovingly take care of their family’s well-being in an ever-changing digital age. The joy and friendship fostered between all of the parents was as inspiring as their action plans to lead their families onto pathways of success.