As a youth worker you can either be a help and hero to parents, or you can be a hindrance and, well. . . a flat-out pain in the butt. In my own ministry, I’ve done things that have built relationships with parents, and at times I’ve blown it by doing things that have broken and weakened those relationships. Based on my own experience, here are seven ways to do it right so that you’re a hero rather than a hindrance to parents.
First, understand that your role is to assist parents, not replace them. God has created the family as the primary place where spiritual nurture is to take place. He’s given parents the responsibility to raise their children. If we fall into the trap of thinking that we know better or can do better than mom and dad, we’re not only messing with God’s order and design, but we’re sending a message to parents that could cause them to resent us and see us as arrogant. Remember, you are there to assist parents as they fulfill their God-given role.
Second, introduce yourself to parents. Go out of your way to make sure they know who you are. Look for them after youth group meetings or on a Sunday morning. Make that initial connection and you’re on your way to making a good connection.
Third, do everything you can to let parents know you’re on their team. Tell them that you’re there to assist them, not replace them. Make it clear that you, too, care deeply about the spiritual and emotional well-being of their kids. Let them know that they can call you if there are any concerns they’d like you to address with their son or daughter. Ask permission to call them to let them know about anything that’s going on in the life of their teenager that you think they should be aware of. As a parent, I can’t tell you how encouraging it is to know that I have a trusted ally in my kids’ youth worker!
Fourth, be responsible. If parents look at us and see someone who acts more like a child or adolescent than a responsible adult, we’ll quickly lose their respect.
Fifth, never, ever, ever undermine a parent’s authority. As a youth ministry volunteer, there will be many times when a student comes to you to complain about their parents or to fish for your support when they are locked in conflict with their parents. Rather than siding with the student and bad-mouthing the parent, take time to listen. Then, help the student see things from the perspective of their parent. Encourage the student to see their mom and dad as authorities placed in their lives by God. Challenge them to be obedient to that authority. Sure, there will be times when parents expect or encourage behavior that is immoral or unethical. In those cases you’ll need to stand up for what’s right and side with the student. But those times are very, very rare.
Sixth, pass on anything and everything you learn about youth culture to parents. Hey, I’m the parent of four children. I can tell you from firsthand experience that it’s hard being a parent in today’s culture. The pressures, problems, challenges, and expectations of life in today’s world sure are difficult. And because we parents grew up in a different culture back, it’s very easy to feel and to be horribly out of touch. As a parent, I need you to pass on to me information that will help me better understand and parent my teenager. Tell me about the music, the trends, and the pressures. At CPYU, we’ve tried to make this step an easy one for you. Youthworkers have found these three CPYU resources to be some of the easiest and best to pass on to parents: The monthly CPYU Parent Page, our daily Youth Culture Today one-minute radio show/podcast, and our weekly Youth Culture E-Update.
Finally, don’t ever attempt to tell parents how to parent unless you’re the parent of a teenager yourself. . . and even then, be very careful about what you say and how you say it. Before I had my own children I thought I knew a lot about parenting teenagers. Then, I had kids and realized how much I didn’t know. Please don’t be presumptuous with parents. If you are, you’ll only be building walls.
Don’t ever forget. . . one of the best ways for you to minister effectively to those students you know and love, is to connect with and support the people who know and love them even more than you do!
Thank you, Walt, for your article. Indeed, we youth leaders serve to equip and encourage parents… as well as be a confident for students. “Siding” with a student does not help a difficult situation at home (unless there is concern for the safety of the student). Indeed, we can better serve our students by helping them to understand their parents’ concerns.
Having served in youth ministry for twenty years and being a parent of teenagers myself, I know how valuable a healthy church – family relationship can be!