by Carolyn Aston
Congratulations to Tim Hawkes for his insightful ideas about what every father should teach his son (‘What every father should teach his son’, published in The Australian, 6 January 2014).
Like Tim and many others we are passionate about promoting relationships, role models, empathy and skills in our school communities so that leadership, staff, students and parents alike develop individual and group resources which they can use lifelong to address stress conflict and bullying.
We assist each school to select student teams of influential altruistic students to work with key staff to implement our model and identify peer concerns which hinder peaceful inclusive relationships and how these might be addressed.
Our unique psychoanalytic approach (individually tailored to each school) teaches students and staff understanding of power dynamics and how to intervene safely and effectively in person and online. They are also trained to mentalise – a skill involving “counting to ten” under pressure, whereby the individual identifies and manages his own thoughts and feelings and considers those of the other in order to respond empathically and fairly.
I freely admit, as a mother of two sons, that this is not easy for any of us at times!
Our experience in schools and mental health recognises that traumatised/troubled students and individuals find this very difficult and may need intensive support to manage provocation or stress when retaliation or falling apart may be more likely reactions.
Tim Hawke’s idea re “father substitutes” fits well here, where a caring supportive teacher/sporting coach available for considerable time in a mentoring role can be potentially transformative. Natalie Cook’s inspiring mentoring program of youth offenders at the Sammy D Foundation developed in memory of her son Sam who died when king hit, age 17, also supports this.
Although we work with a wide range of Primary Secondary State and Independent Schools I would like to conclude with feedback from our male Student Team at Berwick Boys Grammar who report proudly that they have learned how to lead a group, help people cool down, encourage positive behaviour and stop problems before they start. This is in a context of feeling good about helping others.
Whilst there is no quick panacea for senseless violence in our community, our students can lead the way if given a voice, support and training to do so.