+M Foundation 13–15 MINS READ October 24th, 2023

Working with Parents


Working with Parents

By Kristen Molloy

This is a big question, but as we are learning today, discovering the answer to this is even bigger.

Finding a way to normalise, encourage and promote these behaviours will have a significant impact on improving health outcomes for boys and young men. There are far too many inequalities that exist in mens health status…and a number of the contributing causes of burden of disease, like suicide and mental health, are deemed preventable…so what can we do.


We talked about community and connection – obviously for many young people, their parents and carers are going to be one of the biggest influences I’m going to talk about how engage parents in the

Sharing some tried and tested programs – continuing to evolve based on feedback and evidence.

The social ecology

The reality is that our young people live in a social ecology and if we are trying to make changes we need to engage parents. If we are teaching +Masculinity and healthy masculine behaviours and attitudes, they need to be reinforced at home. Children might ‘know’ something, but the reality is that when we are challenged we often fall back into the old ecology, that is, revert to comfortable behaviours.

Institutions in conflict – schools says one thing – home says another – lack of alignment – Tech example

All of us here are trying to challenge negative social norms and help develop authentic, motivated, connected young men. And ultimately, If we can bring parents along with us – providing consistency, alignment, and support for what we all want for their sons, then the outcomes are likely to be more integrated and long-lasting.

Reality is kids live in this social ecology.

When challenged they will fall back into the ecology.

If we’re going to change things we ned to involve parents – program – come home reinforce.

We’ve been talking today about the ways in which young people are influenced by their environment.

Bronfenbrenner in the 1970s posited that we are all impacted by various environmental systems which are interrelated. In other words the influence of one system on a child’s development depends on its relationship with the others.

The first level – the micro system looks at all the systems the child directly interacts with – symbiotic, constructed and works both ways – the family influences the child and the child in turn influences the family.

The second level is the mesosystem which is how the family and school interact with eachother – for example, if the relationship between the parents and the school is positive is likely to have more positive influence over the child – if the child’s family’s interactions with his friends is close that further provides a buffer – conversely, if these things are in conflict the messages will be confusing – shame, confusion, uncertainty may follow

All of this of course exists in a macrocosm  of social norms, socio economic factors, cultural and political systems which obviously all have a strong impact on the first two levels.

From participation to engagement

So what do we mean when we talk about moving parents from Participation to engagement will mean different things in different contexts and to different people. For us, we want our parents to move from passive participation eg attending parent nights or watching sport and move them along the scale to feel confident to actively engage in the process of embracing healthy masculinities.


For the parents that you are working with, this might mean something different – having the confidence to engage requires a number of factors – trust, safety, language, time and we acknowledge that we are working in different communities with different levels of these.

Regardless, we know that children are not separate entities but evolve and grow in combination with their environment.

This is the premise which underscores our parent program –that schools influence our young people, and that our relationship with other parts of the child’s ecology, particularly parents need to be communities for young people and their carers is symbiotic and important. If our parents feel part of a community, informed etc they are more likely to support and reinforce what we are trying to do.

It is by acknowledging and working within these social ecologies that change can occur and we hope that the positive engagement with parents to embrace healthy masculinities and to actively engage in the process, will help move parents along the scale.

Lots has been written about the breakdown of ‘traditional’ institutions that provided advice for parents – Religious organisations, sporting clubs, scouts, Arguably many of the things which held our young people in community have dissolved.

It may be a conservative view – but without community – inclusive, aligned, informed, supportive –  young people are adrift.

So what are the obstacles here? Busyness, overwhelmed, lack of clarity around the role of being a parent – high attunement to child’s needs.

What matters

Ultimately, what do parents want for their sons? PAUSE emphasise The research tells us Connected, motivated and purposeful

Productive struggle – if they are connected etc they can fail better

This doesn’t just happen – we have been using a version of this cycle with our parents to talk about how change needs to be purposeful, it takes hard work and that often it is the failures that really teach us something. But this is not easy.

What gets in the way?


Considering all this – we want our parents to talk about parenting, we want them to be aligned with our values, we want them to be informed and to be able to engage in their child’s life in a meaningful way

Research informed – we try to cut through and distil the research to the important elements – try to cut through the ‘noise’ and and present information that is factual, research driven, clear and, as much as possible, unbiased.

We tailor the information to the age and stage of the school community – we work with psychologists, subject experts and pastoral team to address issues that have come in in the community so it is relevant to them. We also, where possible, utilise internal speakers – as we have discussed earlier, the +M curriculum is taught by people the boys know and trust, and we think it is important to do the same with the wider community. This allows us to keep aligned with the curriculum and the school values and increases acceptability.

We provide strategies for having conversations, what to do when things go wrong, practical suggestions about what works so that parents feel they have gone away with something tangible.

Finally, we hope that parents leave feeling they are not alone – that they are part of a community they can call on when things get hard, that how they are feeling is how other people are feeling – parenting is hard in the modern world, but we are in this together.

How we do it

These distil the research into an easy to digest format – sleep, nutrition, inclusive communities, our Effective Learner Model, +Masculinities, Screen time etc

We run workshops and online seminars presented by internal speakers

We are very clear in our parent programs that we are not telling them how to parent – respect positions and approaches, acknowledge that all families are different and will have different values and ways of being.

Provide information to help them made more informed decisions about parenting.

We host a website Understanding Boys which provides light hearted advice – a user-friendly informative tool.

Host a podcast Understanding Boys which has x downloads – asking wellknown people or experts in their fields about +M.

This is in addition to social evenings, VTAC information nights, subject information nights etc – focus on parenting

Hugh appetite for this – people want it Quick stats are 60,000 unique visitors to the UB website (this year), about 8000 a month, and the podcast downloads are about 77,000 downloads last time I checked.  Other stats include our Facebook followers which is 63,000+ and Instagram at 3800+.

The main obstacles

What is the role of the parent?

Virtuous cycle – combine with gender norms – what do they show up with, what are they influenced by – socialisation is the ‘hidden man’.

Challenge cycle – how do we make sense of all the contradictions? Resilient/help seeking

How do we motivate parents to be part of the journey? Many parents feel a deep yearning to be involved – especially in secondary school – we know parents feel overwhelmed, isolated, worn down.

Summing up