Stanford psychiatry department to host interactive parent-ed event

'Theatrical' workshop aims to give parents of teens practical advice

Imagine you're the parent of a high school student. You find out your child didn't complete a homework assignment or study for a test the next day, and you get into an argument. Your child storms out. Was there a better way to handle it?

Staff from the Stanford University Department of Psychiatry will be leading an interactive, theatrical event in Palo Alto next week to offer practical ways to address these very real scenarios for parents of teenagers. The event is free and open to all Palo Alto Unified School District parents, though it is in part targeted at Asian-American parents, said Rona Hu, a psychiatrist and clinical associate professor in psychiatry and behavioral sciences at Stanford.

The idea for this style of parent education was born from feedback district parents gave after a panel on youth mental health the Department of Psychiatry put on in 2015 that focused on Asian-American families. On questionnaires handed out after the panel, many parents wrote, "Can you please do something practical?" Hu said.

So Hu, along with other faculty members and one undergraduate student, all volunteering their time, developed a set of "vignettes" for different real-life scenarios parents encounter with teenagers. One is the fight-over-homework scenario; others include how to handle a bad grade, talking about depression, dating, the classic teen sentiment of "parents are so embarrassing!" and parents showing children affection. Some vignettes come from their own lives — the affection one was developed by the undergraduate student, whose mother did not hug him when he left for Stanford. They hope to address "cultural mismatches in expressing affection," Hu said.

The vignettes are "applicable to many families, but we paid special attention to the needs of Asian families since there are additional stresses from the different assumptions based on one's upbringing," she added.

Psychiatry staff will play out one version of each scenario, stop and then have a moderator and audience ask questions of the actors (in character or not), then play the scene again, "showing different consequences of a different communication style," Hu said.

For example, in the first dating "vignette," the parents forbid their daughter from seeing a certain boy. In the second, they "express their concerns about the boy and they don't feel like enemies," Hu said.

If there is time at the end, parents will be invited to submit ideas to play out and even, if they want to, participate onstage as either parent or teen.

"We hope to provide parents with some practical strategies for dealing with difficult situations," Hu said.

The event will be led by Hu with the help of other psychiatry faculty serving as actors and moderators, plus psychiatry residents and fellows, a post-baccalaureate intern and the undergraduate student.

The group hosted its first "performance" at Palo Alto High School on Monday evening. The next event will be on Monday, March 21, 7-8:30 p.m. at JLS Middle School, 480 East Meadow Drive, Palo Alto. Live, simultaneous interpretation in Mandarin will be available, and a list of resources will be provided as well. No registration is necessary.

The event is targeted at parents of high schoolers, but is open to everyone, Hu added.

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