It is essential that parents (throughout this page, “parents” refers to all caregivers in a young person’s life) understand the importance of opportunities that empower their adolescent children. Parents often serve as the primary source of information for their children on a variety of topics, including health.1 When parents and other adults, such as grandparents, aunts, uncles, and mentors, are supportive of a young person getting involved in their school and community, it motivates them to pursue opportunities for engagement and leadership.
“Parents come out when they feel welcome… that sense of ‘I’m being respected, appreciated, and acknowledged’ as an important part of a group or activity.”
-Center for the Study of Social Policy
Barriers and Bridges to Parental Support
“Parents are really interested in the health and well-being of their children, and a network should not only involve agency staff. It should include representatives from different parent groups and organizations who come to share what they are doing, experiencing, and learning as parents.”
-Center for the Study of Social Policy
Health centers face many challenges to build parental support for youth engagement. Parents are working long hours to provide for their family. They may feel disconnected as their adolescent children grow older and seek more independence.1 Some parents feel like the issues their children face are new and different from the issues they faced as an adolescent, and are unsure how to provide guidance. They may feel their kids and teens don’t want them involved. Additionally, there may be a language barrier between parents and health center personnel.2
Despite these challenges, involving parents will improve their children’s learning and well-being.2 Demonstrating to parents how their children’s health and education might be enhanced by their engagement in school health activities has a direct impact on parents’ level of participation. Furthermore, parents tend to be more involved if they perceive that their children and health center personnel want and expect their involvement.3
Principles of Cultivating Parental Support
Here are some tips on how a health center can make a positive connection with parents:
- Get to know family members and make them feel welcomed whenever you hold a meeting with youth.
- Use all available modes of communication: email, phone calls, texts, social media, website, and newsletters.
- Distribute a calendar at the beginning of the year with important dates for distribution.
- Suggest that youth lead parent outreach activities.
- Meet parents where they are (churches, libraries, restaurants, grocery stores, social services agencies) and have events during convenient times for working parents.
- Honor family diversity by translating materials for non-English speaking families. Have events that celebrate all cultures. Hire staff who reflect the families you serve.
- Facilitate parent-youth communication activities that develop skills to recognize and respect differing perspectives.
- Provide resources for parents and community members whenever possible (books, pamphlets, information about community events).
- Distribute packets that include parent consent forms and health center information.
- Host a parent/youth retreat.
[expand id=”one” title=”References“]
- U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Parent Power: Tips for Engaging Parents. Available at: http://www.hhs.gov/ash/oah/oah-initiatives/teen_pregnancy/training/tip_sheets/parental-engagement-508.pdf
- ACT for Youth. Involving Parents as Partners in Youth Development. Available at: http://www.actforyouth.net/resources/pm/pm_involvingparents_0804.pdf. Accessed June 2015.
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Parent Engagement. 2015. Available at: http://www.cdc.gov/healthyyouth/protective/parent_engagement.htm. Accessed June 2015. [/expand]
Next Section: Developing Youth Leadership Skills