August 2005 // Volume 43 // Number 4 // Tools of the Trade // 4TOT4
An Affirmative Approach to Parental Involvement in Youth Programs
In youth development programs, it is preferred that any involvement of parents be child oriented. Adults stuck in parent-oriented behavior inhibit their child from having a positive experience in the program. This article demonstrates how adults showing parent-oriented behavior can be motivated to shift to child-oriented behavior within the boundaries of the program. New Jersey 4-H Leader Training Series provides tools needed for professionals that result in positive relationships among volunteers and parents. This holistic approach views all the attributes of parents, whereby professionals can spin negative behaviors positively to support the program.
I pledge my HEAD to force my ideas on others whether they are welcome or not, my HEART to meet my needs over the needs of others, my HANDS to do the work for my kids so they will be a positive reflection of me, and my HEALTH to self-righteous living because I know what is best for my club, my community, my country and my world.
This mock pledge speaks volumes to youth development professionals struggling to incorporate positive parental support from parents with whom they have difficulty getting along. It is well documented that ample parental support and involvement have a positive effect on psychosocial youth development and increased school performance (Riley, 1996; Wickrama, Lorenz, & Conger, 1997). Likewise, parents deficient in positive coping strategies, provide little in the way of role modeling appropriate behavior to their offspring, resulting in acting out behavior in youth (Patterson & Capaldi, 1991; Nichtor, 2002).
In youth development programs, it is preferred that any involvement of parents be child oriented. Parental support of a child's autonomy and self-directed behavior while maintaining an emotionally intimate relationship results in competent children (Anonymous, 2004). Dix, Gershoff, Meunier, and Miller (2004) found that when parents face emotional issues, such stress or depression, their actions are more parent oriented, whereby they look to meet their needs over that of their child's. Adults stuck in parent-oriented behavior result in inhibition of their child from having a positive experience in the program. While it is not within the realm of Extension professionals to psychoanalyze parents, it is important for professionals find a way to work with them, within the boundaries of the program.
Understand and Apply
By taking a holistic approach and viewing all the attributes of an individual, the professional can spin overt negative behaviors to a positive that benefits youth and the program. Professionals can use understanding as a way to open communication with these "difficult" people. By understanding the 4-A's of motivation, acceptance, affiliation, achievement, and altruism in the following parent examples, the professional can assist in shifting from parent-oriented behaviors to more child-oriented behaviors.
This parent meets his or her emotional needs by re-living childhood through his or her own child. In general, this parent seeks affiliation, the need to belong--even if it is through the child. Behaviors include the overextending of the child's time in several different project areas or pushing the child to be successful in whatever the parent enjoyed in childhood. Their strengths of such parents are they are hard workers and have much knowledge of project areas. The professional can involve this type of parent by engaging them to work with other children, which will take the focus away from just their own child.
While Extension professionals are not equipped to counsel child abusers, they are required to report abuse to local youth protection agencies. The abusive parent described in this article is subtler. On a scale of 1-10 (with 10 being physical harming of a child), this parent scores a 2. In general, these parents seek achievement, the need to succeed--even if they have to bully the child into it. Behaviors include speaking negatively of the child either to others or the child, openly discounting the child's contribution to the club, or being overly critical of the child's efforts.
Their strengths are they are involved with their child and attend events. They would support the program best behind the scenes, such as in food booths or barn management where they can hear others compliment their child. This may allow them to see their child in a positive light.
Overextended parents with little time to spare for their own children describe these parents. They are either coming or going from one activity to the next. These parents seek ultimate altruism, the selfless idea that they can be all things to all people. Their strengths are they are hard workers, extremely organized, reliable, and can multitask. Tasks for this type of parent would have a limited duration and a minimal commitment, such as working a short shift at a fair or carpooling for an event--as long as there is ample notice far in advance.
This parent likes to win. Energized by the competition, they seek achievement, the desire to succeed. 4-H is about winning. Their strengths are familiarity with the rules and the project area. The professional can use these parents behind the scenes away from the show ring. With in-depth knowledge of the project area, they make excellent candidates to support activities where cooperation, education, and life skill development is the goal, such as an educational horse camp.
Parents' Window of Work
The New Jersey Leader Training Series (2001) cites 10 ways to engage parents in healthy involvement in a 4-H youth development program.
- Involve members and parents in setting goals and planning club programs.
- Become familiar with the interests and talents of your members' parents. Ask how they would like to contribute.
- When parents volunteer to help, make sure they are involved in something worthwhile.
- Involve parents in sharing leadership when appropriate.
- Keep parents informed and help them understand program objectives.
- Invite parents to meetings and hold a special meeting for parents where club members present the program.
- Let parents know what is expected from their child and your interest in their child.
- Recognize both members and parents.
- Maintain parent interest and arrange a special social event with parents.
- Solicit parents' involvement in club and county events.
Along with understanding strengths and motivations, an inventory of parents' interests is important. Parents can be motivated to participate in their children's programs if their role meets their needs and interests. Understanding what parents like to do or do well can result in positive relationships among all. A Parents' Window of Work (Rutgers, 2001) (Figure 1) is a useful tool for volunteers and staff to use when working with new families in youth programs.
Things I like to do or do well
Things I want to learn
Things I do not want to do - please don't ask
In youth development programs, it is preferred that any involvement of parents be child oriented. The result of parent-oriented behavior is that it inhibits a child from having a positive experience in the program. Adults stuck in parent-oriented behavior can be motivated to shift to child-oriented behavior within the boundaries of the program using the tool provided by Rutgers Cooperative Research and Extension. This holistic approach views all the attributes of parents, whereby professionals can spin negative behaviors positively to support the program.
Anonymous (2004). Fathers' and mothers' parenting behavior and beliefs as predictors of children's social adjustment in the transition to school. Journal of Family Psychology, Vol. 18(4). P 628-638
Dix, T., Gershoff, E. T., Meunier, L. N., Miller, P. C., (2004). The affective structure of supportive parenting: Depressive symptoms, immediate emotions, and child-oriented motivation. Developmental Psychology. Vol. 40(6). p 1212-1227
New Jersey 4-H Leader Training Series (2001) Rutgers Cooperative Research and Extension, E148. Available on line at http://www.nj4h.rutgers.edu/volunteering/lts/
Nichtor, M. (2002). Families that fight. ASCA School Counselor. Vol. 40(1). p 24-27
Patterson, G. R., & Capaldi, D.M. (1991). Antisocial parents: Unskilled and vulnerable. In P.A.Cowan & E.M. Hetherington (Eds.), Family transitions (pp. 196-217). Hillsdale, NJ: Erlbaum
Riley, R. W. (1996). Promoting family involvement in learning. Professional Psychology: Research and Practice, Vol. 27(1). p 3-4
Wickrama, K. A., Lorenz, F. O. & Conger, R. D. (1997). Parental support and adolescent physical health status: A latent growth curve analysis. Journal of Health and Social Behavior, 38, 149-163