Q: I have this one parent that’s driving me crazy! They’re completely unsupportive of the work I’m trying to do with their teen. Is there anything I can do to change that?
A note before answering: when doing youth work, you’re almost always working with their parents or family on some level as well. I’ve actually had this question, and others like it, come up a lot. Therefore, we’re going to do a series answering your parent-related questions over the coming Tuesdays.
We’re going to explore what to do with:
A: My first thought is: ‘Just one unsupportive parent!?’ (kidding moms and dads, just kidding) When doing youth work, you’ll have families from all kinds of different backgrounds and experiences joining your program. As a result, you’re bound to work well with some and find others challenging to deal with.
This feeling goes both ways – parents and carers may have had experiences (both good and bad) with previous youth workers that have caused them to appear (or sometimes actually be) unsupportive of your youth work.
Here are a few steps you can take to win them over to your side, or at the very least, make every to effort build bridges and gain understanding.
1. Keep your ducks in a row
Make sure that the things you are in control of are sorted out. Maybe a parent feels unsupportive of your youth work because they think you’re young, inexperienced and/or unprofessional. This may be true, or it could be a false assumption they’ve made based on those previous experiences we mentioned earlier.
Get permission slips out early, drop off youth on time after events and be prepared to answer their questions, even the unreasonable ones. While there are some people who will find fault no matter what you do, take away as many of their issues or objections as you can, then…
2. Attempt to build relationships anyway
Don’t just shun the unsupportive parents. Take the time to get to know them, ask to meet with them and find out how they’re feeling about their child’s participation in your youth work program.
Don’t be afraid of a little criticism, even if it’s not in the ‘positive, critique, positive’ sandwich format that we all love. Take the time to understand their concerns or objections to your work, and make the effort to address reasonable issues. If you’re still finding the parents unsupportive, then…
3. Discuss the issue with your supervisor
Whether you have a workplace supervisor/mentor or you just have sessions with your boss, take some time to talk over the challenges you’re facing with the unsupportive parents. If they’re someone who has also been in your role or in the caring professions (a pastor, social worker or just as a people manager), they’ll have experience they can share about handling challenging and unsupportive people. Even if none of these first three steps work…
4. Don’t give up on the youth
Just because they have unsupportive parents, it doesn’t mean the young person doesn’t need your youth work program or relationship. Their parents may also be unsupportive of them (more on this next week) and they need their relationship with you.
No matter how challenging it can be to work with unsupportive parents, it’s not the parent you’re here to please – it’s the youth that you’re trying to support and empower. So do what you can to build a relationship with their parents and then focus on what’s most important in your work – the youth.
I’m not saying that you should write off anyone who is hard to deal with or comply with every request they make if it’s not in the best interests of your youth work. You just need to find the balance in your professionalism. We’re all going to have those parents, colleagues and volunteers who are unsupportive at one time or another. Do the best you can to follow the steps above and keep the youth being your primary focus.
Next week, we’ll look at how to deal with unsupportive parents of your youth, rather than of your youth work.
Question: What advice do you have for dealing with unsupportive parents of your youth work? Let us know in the comments below.
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