You’re going to hear from your teenager’s school a lot during the middle and high school years. Some of the communication will be good news, some will be no-so-great news, and most of it will be pedestrian PTA-meeting type stuff.
But sometimes you get that call. The one where you find out another parent called the school to complain about your teen’s behavior.
No parent wants that call, but it happens.
So, what should you if and when it happens to you?
Every situation is different, but we came up with a good set of guidelines – with the help of this blog post and this article – that are adaptable to almost any set of circumstances. First of all, don’t freak out – that never helps. When you’re done not freaking out, have a look at these ten tips:
When Other Parents Complain to Your Teen’s School: Ten Tips
- Don’t take it personally. It’s not an attack on you. Flip your perspective around: assume the best. You know the other parent is trying to help their child, so consider the idea that they may be trying to help your child, too. That goes for the school official who calls or contacts you: assume they want what’s best for your child. We have an adage for this: no ill will assumed, all good will intended.
- Don’t procrastinate. Handle the situation head-on without waffling, waiting, or putting it off. If there’s a behavior your child needs to change, the sooner you know the better. If something strange is going on and your child is incorrectly implicated in questionable behavior, you need to get to the root of it and set things straight sooner rather than later.
- Listen. Gather all the facts about the situation and make sure you understand exactly what the complaint is about. Get facts. Dates, times, people present, all of it: chances are it’s not a legal matter, but if, for some reason, it becomes one, you need to know as much information as you can, as soon as you can.
- Ask what you can do. If a school calls a parent, they typically want them to take some sort of action. Find out what they want from you. They may want you to come in for a conference, they may simply want you to talk to your child about what’s going on, or they may have other ideas. Find out. If you disagree with what they want, don’t be disagreeable: communicate and work to come to a reasonable compromise.
- Say thank you. As mentioned in (1) above, it’s likely the school wants to help your child. Thank them for the engagement and the input – even if every fiber of your being wants to do the opposite. Restraint, diplomacy, and being reasonable make all the difference when dealing with schools and other parents.
- Your turn. After (1-5) above, it’s time for you to talk. If you know anything about the situation, offer your side. Be an advocate for your child, while accepting your child is not perfect and acknowledging there may be gaps in your knowledge of the details if your child’s behavior. You may be able to offer insight that clears everything up right away – but you won’t know if you don’t talk.
- Make a plan. Work with the school official – teacher, principal, coach, whoever contacts you – to formulate a plan of action. Be as detailed and practical as possible. Make sure it’s something everyone can get on board with: you, the school, and your teen.
- Make a communication plan. Decide ahead of time how you’re going to keep in touch with the school about your action plan. Weekly check-ins? Behavior reports? Don’t file and forget: stay on top of the school and your teen to ensure progress is being made to everyone’s expectation and satisfaction. If it’s not, then you’ll know, and you can alter the plan as needed.
- Document everything. Keep a record of every single thing related to the situation. From first contact from the school to every subsequent check in and meeting. If you make a plan, get it in writing. When you check in, get the positive or negative reports on progress in writing. This is crucial, especially if the situation is serious, or becomes serious, escalates, and leads to the need for professional mental health intervention or the involvement of law enforcement.
- Follow up. Do everything you say you’re going to do. Stick to the plan and be proactive about communicating with the school and your teenager. Once you’re in the loop, stay in the loop, and don’t take yourself out until the situation is resolved to everyone’s satisfaction.
We kept this post neutral with the knowledge that every situation is unique, but also understanding you can apply this list of tips to a variety of both positive and negative circumstances. There are several points along the way – while working through this list – where professional input may be required. For instance, the behavior another parent calls the school about may be an indication your teen needs help processing emotions, managing stress, or dealing with anxiety. In that case, seek out the help of a fully licensed and credentialed mental health professional such as a psychiatrist or therapist.
Also, the behavior another parent calls the school about may have legal implications. While we’re not lawyers, we know enough to advise that if there’s any implication or accusation of illegal activity, what you need to do is talk to a lawyer before you say, do, or agree to anything – just to be safe. That may sound scary, but it’s practical. It also sends a message to both the school and the other parent that you’re taking the matter seriously. Which is important, even if you discover at the end of the day it was all much ado about nothing.
Angus is a writer from Atlanta, GA. He writes about behavioral health, adolescent development, education, and mindfulness practices like yoga, tai chi, and meditation.