This is a great question, and I have seen some young youth workers lean into this reality well, and witnessed others completely botch it.
Interacting with parents can be really intimidating. Whether or not you realize it at times, parents will talk to us in ways that makes it clear that we are the JV, babysitters, not really know what we are talking about, and have little to offer outside of our “little” mid-week program.
This kind of blatant or subtle condescension drives many of my youth ministry friends into madness. When these buttons are pushed, it is easy for our pride to take over and to say and do things that don’t help win over parents, don’t move the ministry ball forward, and if we are not careful can even result in losing our job.
But have no fear. As a youth worker, you have an incredible opportunity to not only be a blessing for the student, but an even bigger blessing for the parents. And if you can win with the parents, you can win the kid and even have a greater impact in the life of that student. Here are 3 simple ways to do just that:
Embrace your position: You are not the parent. You are not responsible for the life, well being, spiritual development, and general care for these kids. You are their youth worker. You have been given the gift of being the icing on the cake of these students’ lives. And because you are icing, your position means that you get to bring blessing and grace to both students and parents. When you see your position as one of blessing and support, rather than a spiritual parent, you can relax and genuinely care for parents.
Communication: As the youth worker, we have been given the privilege of working with these students. And the real reason we have this privilege is because their parents trust our church, or at the least, trust us. So let’s build on that trust by taking away anything that might hinder their trust. And the biggest way to do that is transparency and grace. By communicating professionally, regularly, and when our communication is seasoned by grace, then we build on this trust and are allowed even more access. The two questions that are key when you communicate are, “Is this helpful?” and “Will it bless our parents?” When those are answered in the affirmative, you will gain respect, trust, and access.
Be an expert in what you are an expert in: Many youth workers feel insecure because they are not parents. Exactly, we are not parents. That is not why we were hired. We are youth workers and our specialty is not being a parent, but the spiritual development of adolescents. When we concede that we don’t fully get their situation or the challenges it must be to parent, then we are free to leverage what we are experts about so that, together with parents, we can care for the spiritual lives of our students. For most parents, the chaos of high school is new and overwhelming. This is our bread and butter. We may not know how to parent, but we for sure know how to care for students, connect them to Jesus and to community.
Parenting an adolescent is one of the most difficult things out there. Even the most solid and committed, loving, Christian parents stumble at this point. Parents don’t need a self-righteous youth worker to condemn them. Rather, parents need encouragement, a partner who sees their kids and will love them unconditionally.
Whenever our stance towards parents is one of humility, love, and grace, then we will continue to be invited into these family’s lives. Whenever we seek to be helpful and be a blessing, parents will welcome our interactions with them and even seek them out.
May we youth workers not try to slide into the parenting position, or even as a parenting coach, but may we fully embrace our calling to love and care for students. And blessing parents, being helpful to parents is the number one way we can do just that.