I had this thought yesterday and I think it’s important for educators, youth workers, and others working with teenagers to consider.
Occasionally, I’ll find myself in a circle of people who work with children or teenagers. And they’ll talk about the kids they work with in great detail, about personality traits, or personal history, how that child helps or detracts from their work.
They dote a little. As if their role in the child’s life is almost parental.
And it strikes me just how confident they are: They think they really know these kids when in fact they know but a sliver about them. And so much about how they interact with that individual is bathed in their perceptions about what they know of them or how they’ve dealt with kids like them in the past or how other professionals recommended you manage that kid in their context.
Seek to See a Child a Part of a Whole Family
But they don’t really know the kid in whole. They know what’s presented in a time and place. They know the child from the child’s perspective and largely in isolation from the rest of their siblings, family, and parents. They know the child in that one setting. What they say, do, feel in that one environment for that phase of their life.
They are an expert of that sliver but not an expert of the whole thing.
In your role, you can’t possibly know a person like a parent knows their child. While a parent doesn’t know everything either, they’ve see them over time, in many phases, locations, they know the family history, the friendships, the medical history… they have a much more complete view of the child than anyone else: They are the experts.
That’s why I love it when I meet with a teacher or youth worker and they take the time to ask me, “So, I know _____ a little, tell me more about _____.” Or, “What are things you are working on with _____?” (History, behavior, etc.) That’s true professionalism, seeking to learn more as opposed to presuming you know everything. Seeking to fit their role in as a compliment to what’s going on with them in the big picture.
You Play a Role, You Aren’t the Parent
Please, please hear me. I’m not tearing down the role of a teacher or youth worker or any professional who works with children and teenagers. All I’m saying is to please understand that your role is complimentary to the role of the parent, not in place of it.
Ultimately, you get a paycheck for your role in that child’s life. A parent does not. You are there for a bit. They are there for a lifetime.
Both of you are important. But the parent is more important.
I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard a teacher or youth worker complain about a parent as if what they know from their sliver is the whole story. Please don’t do that.
Yes, I know there are lots of parents going through things. Yes, I know there are parents who aren’t great at parenting. Yes, I know there are kids who face horrific problems at home and bounce around to grandparents and aunts and foster care and all of that.
I guess, all I’m saying is pretty simple: Please see your role for what it is… a big, important slice of a really big pie in a person’s life.
You have the unique privilege to– hopefully— make a positive impact in the life of a child.
But please, please, please see yourself as the encourager of parents and not a replacement for parents.
A Quick Addendum
Oh, I can hear the pushback. “You’re assuming that every child comes from a positive family like yours.” Or whatever version of pushback about my privilege or place in life. I can hear it as I type.
I share this post as a parent who has 15+ years of engaging with schools, more than that in engaging with youth workers at local churches, and in the midst of raising my own children. I share this post in deep love and admiration for both the professionals in my life and the parents.
I share this in acknowledgement that there are some small percentage of bad parents out there… but the vast majority, the people I interact with every day… whether they are great at parenting or like the rest of us, just figuring it out, have in their heart of hearts the same hope: They want what’s best for their child.
So yes, pushback. Yes, provide exceptions. I’m a big boy and can handle it.
But don’t lose my my point… Regardless of the exceptions you desire to call out you must acknowledge that you see what you see based solely on peering through one window of that child and family’s house. There’s more to the story than what you see.
It’s the parents job to not just raise a great student or kid in youth group, their task is to raise a whole child, and they’d appreciate your support.