Q: I have this parent who’s way too involved in my youth work. I like that they’re supportive, but enough is enough! They stop by unannounced, want to be at every event and seem kind of co-dependent with their youth – it’s like they can’t be apart from them. I want supportive parents and appreciate the help they provide at some of my programs, but seriously – it’s time to “cut the apron strings.” But I can’t tell them this, so what can I do?!
A: Just like unsupportive parents, there is most likely a reason for over-involved parents or ones who are too supportive. Here are some possible reasons:
- Their parents weren’t supportive of them and they’ve vowed to do things differently with their own teen
- They had over-supportive parents themselves and they haven’t had anything different modeled for them – it’s all they know
- They might be freaking out that their youth is becoming older and more independent, so are concerned that their child might not be ready for it. They therefore over-compensate to feel involved and/or needed in the life of their youth
- You may be new, so they feel anxious about the change in leadership
There are many possibilities – too many to name really – because each parent is going to have their own unique life experience on which to base their behavior towards their youth.
Some dos and don’ts when dealing with over-involved parents:
Do find out if it bothers the youth – It may be bothering you because you’re outside the situation and have a wider view of the dynamics between parent and child, but that doesn’t mean that it’s bothering the teen. Some youth like how close they are to their parents, they might not be as independent as their peers or they may enjoy having their parents around to do things for and/or with them.
Don’t frame it as a negative and bash their mom or dad – i.e. Don’t say ‘So your mom/dad is always here, don’t they give you any space?’ You can find out this information in a non-threatening, positive way by putting your questions to them as a positive and gauging their response. Something like ‘You’re really fortunate your mom/dad cares so much about you and supports your interests and activities’. You will be able to tell how they feel about their parents’ involvement by their response.
If it doesn’t bother the youth…
Do ask yourself why it’s bothering you – Check your own feelings and attitudes first about their over-involved parents, rather than project those onto their teen. Are they genuinely interfering in your programs? If so, consider having a word with them directly or with your supervisor.
Don’t miss opportunities to have extra help just because you feel they are over-involved – If they’re not interfering with your programs, are simply more involved then other parents and it’s not bothering their child, find ways to involve them so they can give their support in a more constructive way that’s helpful for you.
If it does bother the youth…
Do encourage them to talk to their parents directly – You can offer to facilitate the conversation if you think it’s necessary. You can practice ways to approach the subject so the youth feels prepared and the parents don’t end up with hurt feelings.
Don’t join them in complaining about their parents – As I mentioned above, be supportive of the relationship between the youth and their parent, even if it isn’t an ideal situation. Find ways to be positive about their over-involved parents. This is especially important if you don’t feel their parent is over-involved, but the youth does. Help them empathize with the feelings their mom or dad may be having. Identify the positive aspects of so much love, care and attention from their parents.
Some parents are just going to be over-involved. They’re going to ask a million questions, be the first to pick up their child and the last one waving the bus goodbye for that youth retreat. They’re going to drop in unannounced, want to have meetings with you about their child and call or stop by to talk with you regularly.
You can try to manage some of the behaviors of over-involved parents in the following ways:
- Have clear boundaries – Let them expect when you will and won’t be able to talk either on the phone or in person. Encourage them to set appointments to discuss things with you.
- Be prepared – Have your permission slips, information sheets, photo release forms and other documents and plans in place before telling youth and their parents about an event or program.
- Build relationships – Spend time getting to know the parent(s) and address their concerns as often as is appropriate. Plan parent/youth outings so they can be involved occasionally, without feeling the need to be a constant presence.
- Teach them your skills – Consider offering parent and teen communication programs that will help improve the communication between parents and youth. Sometimes you’ll have over-involved parents because they feel like they don’t know anything about what their youth is doing. By practicing some communication skills, they may feel more in touch with the emotions and actions of their teen, so will be better equipped to give their youth the independence they need.
- Sign ’em up – If you can’t beat ’em, join ’em. Get over-involved parents signed up as volunteers. If they’re going to be there anyway, you might want to give them some volunteer training and have them support your programs. If their child doesn’t want them to be involved, you can propose they get involved in other groups, programs or projects that support your youth work but aren’t directly working with their own youth.
Using these dos and don’ts and trying out these tips, you can help over-involved parents become a more appropriately supportive parent and committed volunteer for your youth programs.
Question: How do you deal with over-involved parents? Let us know in the comments below.
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