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Students, experts tell all at panel

Published 2:51 pm, Tuesday, April 8, 2014

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  • Colleen Heaney, one of the three Students Against Destructive Decisions, spoke on the panel and answered questions from parents on Wednesday, April 2 at the DArien town Hall. Photo: Megan Spicer / Darien News
    Colleen Heaney, one of the three Students Against Destructive Decisions, spoke on the panel and answered questions from parents on Wednesday, April 2 at the DArien town Hall. Photo: Megan Spicer

 

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By Megan Spicer

Matt Pavia admittedly said he was a mediocre student in high school ­-- very mediocre. But he came into his own and became a good student when he was ready and in college.

Pavia, who is now chairman of Darien High School's English Department, spoke on a panel along with other professionals and several DHS students about what students wished their parents knew.

The YWCA Darien/Norwalk Parent Awareness and the Students Against Destructive Decisions hosted the forum called Students Tell All: What Parents Really Need to Know. The event drew about 100 people, including parents and students in the SADD program.

The students in SADD wanted an event to engage in conversation with parents about the issues within the high school, according to Pam Ha-Stevenson, the YWCA Parent Awareness Network coordinator.

The students narrowed down a list of potential topics to the four that were presented and selected their panelists: Officers Beth DiIorio and T. Court Isaac from the Darien Police Department; Dr. Barbara Greenberg, a teen adolescent consultant at Silver Hill Hospital in New Canaan; Pavia; and Candace Brindley, a certified family relationship coach.

"Failing is essential for success," said Pavia, who said that his parents let him live his life even if he failed. "There's a real stigma to that word now. We all have to remind ourselves that there is a lot to learn from not being perfect and making mistakes."

Stress and the pressure succeed was one of the four forum topics discussed Wednesday night in the Town Hall auditorium, along with eating disorders, distracted driving, and communication between parents and teens.

"There's so much talk about competition," Pavia said. "I try to help (the students) pull back a little bit and get some perspective. It's hard for them to see what I can see. I try to remind them that 10 to 15 years from now, it's not going to matter all that much what grade they got on that paper or in that class."

Pavia said that he has had to talk several students "back off the ledge" while they are dealing with the stress that comes with school, sports and extracurriculars. Primarily, he said, female students are often more "hyper stressed" than the male students.

"Levels of students' stress have increased and things have reached a fever pitch," Pavia said in a 20-minute video that was prepared for the event. "Students don't see themselves as developing human beings, but instead view themselves as a package, like being attractive to a college."

He said he sees students at the high school who dive into many activities not to be a "better human being, but to make them look more attractive."

Following a video that answered several questions about each topic, the floor was opened for the parents sitting in the auditorium to ask their own questions, such as how a parent can make their child want to perform better in school.

"I think unfortunately if he's a happily underachieving student, he's only going to stop underachieving when he's not happy anymore," Pavia said. "I understand the desire to stop that, but you can't will someone else to care more or work harder if they're not ready to."

Pavia said parents should make their children aware that there are consequences to their actions, though.

In order to develop a more open line of communication between parents and children, Brindley said parents need to replace expectations with agreements with their children.

Questions about student performance quickly turned to substance abuse, eating disorders and self harm.

The abuse of painkillers in the high is "not non-existent" said Izzy Patten, one of the students on the panel.

"I don't think it's as big as a problem as Adderall or weed," she said.

Adderall, which is prescribed to people with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, has steadily increased in non-medical use since 2009, according to the University of Michigan's Monitoring the Future Study in 2013. The study found an increase in high school seniors abusing the drug to focus on work from a 5.4 percent abuse rate in 2009 to 7.4 percent abuse rate in 2013.

Patten said that there are students who get high during school.

"I think it's sad that some students think they need to get high before school," said Colleen Heaney, one of the Students Against Destructive Decisions presidents. She added that there could potentially be a deeper issue for those students besides the desire to get high. Claire Billiter, another student panelist, said she knew some students got high during 90-minute delays but questioned if the school could do anything to address it.

The students on the panel were asked what more can be done to address the issues that are present in the schools but are not always discussed.

"I do think communication is important," Patten said. "I think school can do better with addressing issues, I don't think self harm has ever been brought up. Maybe we can bump up level of discussion in classes; I don't know how effective our health classes are now."

mspicer@bcnnew.com; 203-330-6583; @Meg_DarienNews