Control Tower Communication 101
To take the aviation metaphor even further, there is constant two-way communication between the control tower (you and the staff) and the aircraft in the sky (parents and children). While this communication serves several purposes, most importantly it ensures there are no collisions so everyone gets where they need to be in an orderly and safe manner. In this way there is an organizational system for who talks when, how people speak to each other, and what is appropriate “chatter.” Your job is to establish a similar system for your participants. Clarify the partnership, and parents will act more like, well, partners.
Because effective communication is a two-way street, you must create whatever system and use whatever technology you think is best. However, if complete information (who, what, where, when, how, cost, etc.) is not given and opportunities for questions and feedback are not provided, you will be fighting a losing battle. Post that information on a website or social-networking sites for the convenience of parents.
You will also need to provide appropriate and frequent opportunities for parents to ask questions or provide feedback and comments. Online surveys and social networks work well because parents can access them from phones and other devices 24/7. Youth programming is a relationship business, and sometimes nothing can be more effective than a phone call or face-to-face conversation. Having office hours a few times a week will provide parents an established time to ask questions or discuss their child. Parents are key stakeholders in our programs, but boundaries must be clear for everyone’s sanity and safety.
Clipping Their Wings
Despite all of these efforts, some parents will continue to be overly involved in your programs. When this occurs, you have two choices: The first practice (and, unfortunately, the most common one) is to let it happen. While this approach is clearly problematic and unsettling, many a youth leader who fears conflict may do or say nothing to helicopter parents. This non-action enables the parents, and teaches the children that the behavior they are witnessing is acceptable. The child may think that the adult leader can’t do this job without Mom and Dad. Or Mom and Dad can’t live without the child. Neither is true. Neither is healthy.
The second (admittedly the tougher approach) is to have an honest conversation with the parents. Sometimes, they may not even be aware they are overly involved. You might be surprised how receptive or even grateful they are when you reassure them that, although their child is very important, there are other children whom you are equally obligated to care for. By clarifying program objectives, staff qualifications, supervisory policies, and a plan to educate the whole child, you will go far in easing most concerns.
Let Your Programs Soar
Ultimately, the best way to reassure parents and form partnerships with enough air space is to showcase your talents. If you create top-tier programs, parents will rave about theirchild’s experiences. You’ll earn the credibility necessary for parents to trust your practices. Focus on quality and boundaries and you’ll have clear skies throughout the year.