Most of us youth workers would agree, the most important relationship teenagers have in their lives is the relationship they have with their parents, especially when it comes to discipleship. But, it's OK to admit that more than once, you've probably wanted to stand up during a parent meeting and say/scream, "If you would parent your teen you might not have this problem!" Those of us who are parents understand that parenting is difficult, to say the least.
And, as youth workers, we certainly have to be aware of certain dynamics in our students' homes that might prevent parents from pouring themselves into their teenager's life as much as they would like. However, there are times as a youth worker that we have the opportunity to put on our "parent motivator" hat and do the dirty work of encouraging a parent to take a more active role in parenting.
The million-dollar question is "how can we convey this message to parents while both uplifting them and challenging them"?
Here's a few tips based on my experience:
Develop A Relationship
If the only time you ever talk to parents is when they're facing crisis at home, you need something for the ministry, or there's a mandatory meeting for them, then you haven't earned the right to say anything to them aside from the occasional, "Hello. Nice haircut." Nurturing a friendship (beyond ministry convos) gives you the opportunity to speak to them truthfully about their teenager.
Catch Them Doing Something Right
We all have a tendency to look at what's wrong. And chances are, parents are already kicking themselves about perceived 'wrongs' in their parenting styles. So catch them doing something right . . . and let them know about it. Send them a note telling them what an awesome kid they have! Give them some kudos when you hear their student speaking well of them. (Hey, it happens.) Pat them on the back as they leave the church parking lot and thank them for investing in their teenager's spiritual life.
Don't Believe Everything You Hear
Many times we base our opinion of parents based mostly on what their kids tell us. And I don't know if you've heard, but teenagers can tend to be a little dramatic. So when they tell a story, it's from their own perspective‚ which can be a skewed one. So be sure that your view of a certain parent's 'style' is an accurate one before you say anything.
When engaging in a conversation with a parent about their child, think about how to "spin positive." Instead of, "Don't you realize calling Johnny an idiot will probably lower his self-image and push him toward a life of crime," maybe you say, "Johnny can be challenging, but I have noticed that when you encourage him he really responds well."
Don't Have Words With Them Until You've Had Words With Him
Discussing the relationship between parents and their child is never easy. And the goal anytime we have to say difficult things to parents, kids, staff, or anybody is to point people to Jesus. Having a conversation with mom or dad is part of the privilege of being in ministry. Don't blow it by not relying on the One who called you to ministry in the first place.
Remember, as youth workers, we are only one small influence in the lives if our teenagers. The greatest influence they will ever have is their parents.
Helping THEM when they need help is the one of the best ways to impact teenagers for Jesus!