As counselors, teachers and educators who work with teens, we know that our effectiveness often relies on parent and caregiver collaboration and buy-in. Nurturing relationships with the teens we serve while maintaining supportive relationships with their parents and the other adults in their lives is one of the most common challenges we face.
Even if the majority of parents you work with are cooperative, there will always be those who do not support your efforts with their teen, for one reason or another.
Here are some tips to help you build effective, collaborative relationships with parents and caregivers of teens.
Remind yourself that parents and caregivers are doing the best they can.
It’s helpful to remember during moments of frustration that parents and caregivers really are doing the best they can given the set of circumstances they’re in. Teens each bring their own unique strengths and challenges to the adults in their lives who are responsible for caring for them—some have extreme or intense emotions, for example.
In most cases, raising children is not the only thing parents and caregivers have to manage; lives are complex and involve many, often competing obligations.
Whenever possible, give parents and caregivers the benefit of the doubt by consistently using empathy and forgiveness in responding to their frustrations. Validate and find truth in their perspective while offering yours. Remember that we share a common goal in improving the lives of the teens we have in common.
The same perspective-taking practices we use with teens can be tremendously helpful in addressing the dilemmas of parents.
Help parents be consistent, and practice patience.
Parents aren’t always consistent in helping us help their teens. It can be really hard to help teens comply consistently with treatment plans, assignments or strategies when their parents and caregivers aren’t able to provide the support required.
In your work with parents, remember the value of patience and understanding. Consider the tone you use when you speak with them, when speaking with colleagues about them and even in your own thoughts about them.
It’s understandable to feel frustrated when parents aren’t consistent, but try your best to patiently and respectfully repeat and remind parents to follow through on recommendations, treatment plans or appropriate oversight with their teens.
It also helps to consistently make a connection between follow-through and achieving goals. Parents may be invested in the end result, but may still have difficulty doing what it takes to play the supportive role their adolescent needs to make changes to achieve those results. Remember that parents also need our support to encourage their consistency.
While there is certainly much we can do to encourage and support parents’ efforts, there are times when we have to accept that the challenges parents face are too great for us to affect. The reality is that many families face insurmountable challenges that render them unable to be physically or emotionally available in ways that allow for creating consistent and predictable environments in their teens’ lives.
Whether we understand or agree with the barriers to consistency, there are times we have to accept that parent support and consistent response is not realistic.
In these situations, we may have to do a little extra to help the teens we serve get their needs and goals met. But beware of rescue fantasies; we would not be doing work with young people if we did not care and while there is much we can do, we cannot rescue.
We can also play a powerful role in helping teens be realistic in their own assessments of the supports and challenges in their lives and empower them to take charge of their success regardless of barriers.
For more about building cooperative relationships with parents and caregivers of the teens we serve, check out “What Works with Teens: A Professional’s Guide to Engaging Authentically with Adolescents to Achieve Lasting Change” here.
Wavebreak Media Ltd/Bistock