We found that the transition from elementary to middle school is an incredible opportunity to engage parents, who have so many questions at that time. Are the middle schools safe? Will bullying, cyberbullying, gangs, substance abuse, and teen pregnancy be prevalent? Offering workshops for parents and their teens during that transition time was ultimately a huge success. The schools and parents alike appreciated the opportunity to learn about positive parenting strategies and how to support teens in having healthy relationships.
The most important thing we learned while trying to engage parents was that trust is crucial. Our early workshops for parents were poorly attended. But once we began to partner with other local organizations that already had the trust of parents in those neighborhoods, suddenly workshop attendance went through the roof. We also enlisted parents to help us plan future workshop content to ensure it would resonate. They became ambassadors of our work in their neighborhoods, and helped us further improve turnout and engagement among parents.
Once we had parents in the room for our workshops, we wanted to make sure they felt safe. So, we gave them lots of time to open up and share their worries, experiences, and insecurities as parents. It was only after the parents truly believed they were in a safe space that we could even begin to try to offer advice or encourage changes in their behavior.
When the parents saw how important trust was to their own willingness to listen, many of them realized that they needed to build that with their kids. They took that lesson home and approached conversations with their kids in new ways, emphasizing listening and empathizing before advising or admonishing.