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Scary Stuff! Part 1: Angry Parents

In honor of the scary stuff that happens at the end of October, I’m dedicating the next several articles to some of the scarier things youth workers deal with.

For example, coming face-to-face with an angry parent can be one of the scarier things you encounter as a youth worker. If it hasn’t happened yet, it will.  You are probably dreading the moment it does. If it has happened, you lived through it. You are probably dreading the next time it does.

Frustrated, upset, disappointed, angry parents come in all shapes and sizes and get frustrated, upset, disappointed and angry for all sorts of reasons. What one parent brushes off without a second thought may have another calling for your head on a platter. I’ve dealt with more upset parents than I care to admit (hmmm…maybe I just admitted it), and it’s not something any sane youth worker looks forward to. But it doesn’t have to be something you dread, either.  Here are a few tips to help you survive your next encounter with a red-faced parent.

  • Play It Cool.

No matter how hot-headed the parent is, and regardless of the validity of their concern (or lack thereof), don’t over-react. Play it cool, listen to their concern, avoid the temptation to get defensive and don’t let yourself agree with them right away. In the first few minutes of a conversation with an upset parent, your role is simply to listen. Don’t take sides, don’t excuse away their concerns and don’t over-react. Play it cool.

  • Keep It Private.

Try not to let an angry parent corner you in the youth room in front of your students and volunteers. Ask them if you can move the conversation to another part of the building.

  • Don’t Try To Resolve It All At Once.

The higher the degree of anger and frustration, the more likely it will require that you put a little bit of distance between the initial encounter and a follow up conversation that brings resolution to their concerns. Often times, youth workers will admit to things they shouldn’t, and make concessions they don’t need to in order to appease an upset parent in the moment. Remember, just because a parent is upset doesn’t necessarily mean your ministry is at fault!

  • Remember, Reasonable People Sometimes Disagree.

You may come to the point where you and a parent simply need to “agree to disagree” on a subject; and that’s okay. Unless it’s a legal or obvious moral issue, there is room for disagreement…as long as people can remain reasonable!

  • Don’t Be Afraid To Tell Your Supervisor…In Fact, You Probably Should.

The more upset the parent, the more valid their concerns, and the higher the level of liability for you or the church, the more important it is for you to keep your supervisor in the loop. Besides, the odds are high that if the issue isn’t quickly resolved in their favor, the offended party will go above your head in an attempt to be heard. And you don’t want your supervisor caught off guard.

Upset parents are part of the youth ministry business; when you signed up to minister to teenagers, you signed up to upset a parent every now and then! It’s not the most fun part of your job, but it’s really nothing to be afraid of.

-Kurt / @kurtjohnston

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3 thoughts on “Scary Stuff! Part 1: Angry Parents

  1. 39 years in Youth Ministry and I have seen my share of angry parents. Thing is, if handled correctly, those same parents can become some of your most ardent supporters. Good points in the article.

  2. Great advice! The first point about keeping cool and not immediately taking sides (either by getting defensive or by immediately agreeing with everything the parent said) is so wise. I will definitely keep that in mind for my next less-than-pleasant parent encounter! Thanks Kurt – you always have a great balanced perspective 🙂

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Scary Stuff! Part 1: Angry Parents

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