Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Should You Tell The Parents?

I had a discussion with a volunteer small group leader that I have often in student ministry.  It went something like this.

"Susie (generic girl name) says she no longer believes in God, should I talk to her parents?"

Other questions that come up are, "he tried cigarettes, should I tell his parents?" or "she's dating THAT guy, should I talk to her parents?" or "he said a bad word..."

You get the idea.  

As we seek to disciple students and partner with parents when do we bring parents into these kinds of conversations?  Our small groups are governed by principles of confidentiality but as you know that doesn't mean you never share what's going on in a kids life.

So, here's the question...

When do you bring parents into the loop as it relates to "confidential" conversations with kids?

I have some ideas but wanted to hear what ya'll (I'm in Texas) have to say first.

Let's learn from one another...


  1. I had this exact question from one of our leaders yesterday about a girl who was cutting herself. Obviously, if the student is in danger (from either themselves or another person) we bring parents into the loop ASAP.

    I would bring a parent into the conversation if the teen were doing something that directly disobeyed a parent (cheating, stealing, getting drunk). When it comes to things like doubts about God I would contact parents if I saw them as ongoing issues. These are predicated on how well I know the students and their families.

  2. It seems like it would be a good idea when the student is in immediate danger, like cutting or talking about suicide. If it comes to something where it's not the best idea but isn't going to send them to the hospital, like trying cigarettes, that seems like something the parents don't need to be looped in on and in fact telling them would jeopardize your relationship with the student.

  3. Obviously, if the student is in danger or harming themselves that's a no brainer and the parents should be contacted along with an offer of availability to walk along side them with the issue. We had the same confidentiality rules in residence life at college but we were always up front that we were not going to allow something that would harm them to go unreported.

    We get ourselves in trouble when we promise confidentiality without setting the parameters ahead of time. When a student in a ministry I served would ask me to keep something confidential I was always clear up front that I couldn't promise that if they were in danger of harm.

    I agree with Kevin that if I know this is an issue of direct disobedience I may contact the parents but after a conversation with the student to talk it through. The bigger issue for me in that case is the disobedience to a parent and not the specific thing itself and sometimes that can help address the concern. I have found that students are very receptive if you approach them as an adult and lay it out on the table for them.

    For those other second tier issues, for lack of a better term, I don't think you necessarily contact the parents but again use those as opportunities to talk with the student. Some of these things are part of adolescence and growing up. They are opportunities to help a teenager think through and process decisions.

    Hope that made sense. A lot of coffee this morning.

  4. Thanks for the input guys... Keep it coming.

    What about issues a little more grey? Like "I smoked pot last week but I'm never going to do it again?"

  5. My practice has been with things skirting legality that it's better to give the student a chance to talk with his parents about it but understand that if they don't I will. I always give a deadline. One factor we haven't discussed is that we have also entered into a trust with parents. I would rather risk a student be angry at me and have to repair that relationship than anger a parent, lose their trust and potentially a student in my ministry.

    Parents are liable for the behavior of their children as long as they children are not emancipated so we are protecting the parents as well.

    1. I've yet to have an instance where a student smoked pot or did something a long those lines and didn't do it again. It's the peer group influence that's the bigger issue and that could be the avenue to approach the subject with parents who probably already know or have a concern.

    2. I agree with Nathan. I have one instance in my ministry where I caught some students smoking pot and called him on it. He confessed and seemed repentant, so I didn't tell the parents. Several months later he got caught and got into some major trouble. The parents weren't mad at me, but I sill kick myself for not contacting them sooner. Maybe it could have prevented the mess he made.

  6. I always encourage students to talk to their parents about the struggles they are having, but I typically don't tell the parents unless it falls into one of these reasons:
    1) They are planning to hurt themselves
    2) They are planning to hurt someone else
    3) They are doing something illegal
    4) They are being abused.

    These are just guidelines, but they have served me well.