Tuesday, May 9, 2017

The Parent Trap

As a Troop Leader, parents are your best friend and worst enemy. It's hard for parents of young children to let go sometimes. They want to see and do everything with their child, because they always have up until the point of starting school. With our society where both parents work, they know they miss so much and it's hard to accept their child is growing and learning without them, especially when it's fun activities and there isn't a one-way mirror to watch them learn to dance in dance class.

So, how do you handle a troop of girls with parents who all want to be at everything? As a Service Unit, we have given our troop leaders a great gift and battle. 5 years ago, our Service Unit started enforcing an adult/girl ratio policy for all our events. It isn't because we don't want parents to attend. It isn't because we're mean. It's because we have a large Service Unit and it's hard to find venues large enough to hold our events within our budget constraints. The problem we were having was troops of 10 showing up with 10-12 adults. Events are organized well and the girls are doing things at each station and there are plenty of adults around to monitor for safety and inclusion. What happens is, you have a lot of extra adults standing around complaining about how crowded and noisy the event is and how they aren't even able to be right next to their child. After watching this at multiple events, we put in place a policy to limit adults attending the events. It took a year or so for troops to not try to cheat the system and just show up with extras (yes, they did that). But, I stood firmly in my Mickey Mouse ears and explained to a 6'6" dad that they could not come in 1 1/2 hours early to an event to "just watch". We also make sure all adults are registered with Girl Scouts, because otherwise some little kid is going to trip and fall and break their head open and Girl Scouts is not going to cover that liability because the adult shouldn't have been there! Same holds true for little ones under the age of 5 and boys, who can't be registered Girl Scouts. The result has been events with a lot more space and less extra chatter. As a station leader, it's hard to talk to 25 excited girls to explain the craft when you are also battling 25 adults chattering about whatever in the background. (btw, I have no problem asking the adults to be quiet so the girls can hear. Yes, I have gotten looks of surprise, but the event is for the girl... not the adult... so hush and the girl can hear and have fun with the activity and I don't have to explain it 20 times).

Was it easy to implement and explain to our troops? No. Do I feel they are thankful 5 years down the road? Those that remember pre-policy are thankful. They have a way to limit parents and say "It's Service Unit policy". Those new troops coming in have never known any differently, so to them it's just the way it is.

What it has given our leaders, though, is the ability to work with their parents to rotate chaperones for events. We have all Service Unit events for the upcoming year planned in July. They can go down the list and select the ones their troop will attend. Then, they give the list to parents and have them select 1st, 2nd, 3rd choices and set up their chaperones. If you have 10 girls, you get 3 adults. Attend 4 events and everyone gets a chance to chaperone. This is just Service Unit events, too. There are also Council events and troop activities and meetings. You can easily do the same for those events. It takes planning, but you need to plan your year and give a list to your parents. That's just being a great leader and your parents will appreciate knowing what is coming up and how many dates to add to their calendar.

Working with your parents can be challenging and rewarding. When planning your meetings, reach out to the adults and ask them how they can contribute. Make them understand that if they are involved in the meeting or activity and have an active role, then you welcome their help. When you have parents that insist on being there, start assigning jobs. If they feel they just have to be there, at least they'll be helping you with something.

I also have a Troop Leader/Parent agreement I do with all my parents at the beginning of the year to outline expectations.

I leave with this... keep in mind, this is GIRL Scouting... not FAMILY Scouting. But, you need the family support. If you have little girls in your troop, don't worry. They'll grow and parents will become much more selective when they want to be around. By the time they reach 4th or 5th grade, you most likely won't have this problem anymore. Ha!

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