Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Should I Tell The Parents? - 4 Thoughts To Consider

It's a tough question isn't it?  

If your ministry is going well it's good and natural for students to trust the adults around them.  As trust is developed sometimes they'll share struggles and failures with a small group leader or a pastor that they might not share with their parents.

So what do we do with that information?  

Should we tell their parents EVERYTHING?

Do we tell parents NOTHING?

Last week some smart people chimed in with some thoughts and ideas worth considering.

Should You Tell The Parents?

As I've listened to their wisdom here's some thoughts I've been considering when faced with the question, "when should we include parents?"

Some situations are black and white

Confidentiality is important in your small group environments but it should be carefully defined.  Confidentiality doesn't mean you as the leader will never tell anyone.  

Here are part of the guidelines for school counselors which provide a good place for discussion in student ministry.

Ethically, school counselors are required to take appropriate action if students engage in behavior that presents clear and imminent danger to themselves and others. Legally, they're required to report known or suspected child abuse or neglect, and they're also required to respond to subpoenas and participate in other legal proceedings dictated by the courts.

It's important for small group leaders, youth workers and others to carefully explain appropriate confidentiality before a student shares.  Let's not mislead or surprise kids.  AND let's not hesitate to respect and honor the laws that have been put in place for the protection of students.

In our ministry we have a clear rule that if you a student shares their intention to engage in behavior that presents clear and imminent danger to themselves and others you immediately report the issue to a student ministry pastor.  Our pastors then take the appropriate action with the authorities or set up a plan to approach the parents.

Most situations are very grey

This is where it gets super difficult.

How old is the student?
Do their parents attend church?
What's your relationship with the parents?

These are all questions that must be taken into consideration.  As a father I genuinely hope my kids shared struggles with their small group leaders they didn't want to share with me.  As they get older and become more independent it's healthy and vital for them to depend on other adult relationships for counsel wisdom and even discipline. 

The truth is I TRUSTED their leaders and believed they would give great counsel and bring me into the loop if necessary.

Here are some examples of struggles I would consider grey...


Whether or not to share information with parents in grey areas should be addressed as a team and viewed from as many angles as possible.  I have to tell you, making these kinds of calls are some of the most difficult in student ministry.  We need God's wisdom to shepherd kids and their families through these kinds of issues.

Some situations point to a life pattern

What if a student shares for the 10th time an area of failure?  There's a limit to the help we can give kids without the influence and discipline of the parents.  Many times students need professional counseling.  Sometimes they need greater accountability in the home.  Whatever the case youth workers should look for life patterns to see what the bigger picture is.

Here's an example.  If a junior student clicks on a pornographic website once and isn't developing an addiction in this area, it may be most beneficial to keep that between you and the student.  If the same junior has a possible sex addiction the parents must be approached.

If a student is on an obvious trajectory for at risk behavior it is always best to bring parents into the loop.

Parents are not the enemy

Well, most the time.  

If we lived in a perfect world kids would be totally open with their parents about every situation.  Guess what, we don't live in that world.  Kids and parents are broken and it's in that brokenness that we should always remember our role in turning the heart of the kids back to their parents.

It's a challenge to balance the ideal with providing a safe place for students to share without fear that every leader will run to the parents every time a challenge is shared.  

As youth workers we are one of many voices in the life of kids.  Our role is to partner with parents not become the lone ranger.  We have to remember that open communication with parents is the ideal and should be our desire as it is reasonably possible. 

When You Have To Tell The Parents

So, what if you come to the conclusion that parents should be brought into the conversation?  Sharing with a student that their parents are going to be informed can be one of the one difficult conversation a youth worker can have with a student.  To the student it can feel there is a break of trust and confidentiality.

As far as I can remember I've never gone to parents without telling the student what I was doing first.  It's a good idea to give kids as much control in how the parents will be informed as you can.

Over the years here are 3 options I've given to students when it relates to sharing sensitive news with their parents.

1.  The student tells their parents

This option is followed with "after you've spoken to them please ask them to call me".  There must be a time limit to the student speaking to their parents.  Usually I'll give them a day or two.  

2.  You and the student go together and talk to the parents

This also works well but to be honest option one is a little better.  This option should definitely be used if you suspect the parents response to the information may be inappropriate.

3.  You speak to your parents

This is the last option.  If the kid is unwilling to share what's going on then as the leaders we have no other option than to bring the parents into the loop.  I would much more prefer for the student to take responsibility and share themselves but sometimes this becomes necessary.

Kids are hurting and need safe environments to share.  Let's face it the more healthy your ministry the more you'll hear challenging stories from students.  Equipping yourself and small group leaders to think through how and when to approach parents is crucial.

God has placed us in a unique role to provide the healing power of the gospel.  May God grant us the grace to walk in wisdom as we continue to engage in difficult conversations.  May grace and truth dominate our words.

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