I recently had the privilege of meeting with parents who attended informal meetings designed especially for them in locations across Philadelphia.
All the parents I met with are parents of teens who attend a weekly post Bar/Bat Mitzvah supplementary high school program, and the discussions were held over a period of several months–on Sunday mornings or evenings, or weeknights.
A few months ago, we asked parents to complete an anonymous online survey (survey monkey), and the response rate was extremely high at 30% . Where relevant, I’ll include those results as part of this post.
What I learned might surprise you…..or not.
Parents shared a lot in these informal discussions, but it was also interesting what I learned by inference from those parents who did not attend.
What I learned from Parents
#1. Parents of these teens are really, really tired and really, really busy.
Or really, really not interested in coming out for a meeting to discuss a Jewish education program where their teen attends. I can tell because we had a very low response to these meetings. However, parents did not seem to mind filling out the satisfaction surveys and wrote in plenty of comments to ponder.
For the most part, the parents who attended the meetings seemed just as busy as those who didn’t—-and even they were puzzled as to why more parents did not show up.
I was less surprised, as over 30% of parents responded that they weren’t interested in additional programming that we might offer them. Others opted for parenting workshops (13.8%), Adult education classes (23%), or Social programs (26%). The largest percentage of parents (43.7%) were interested in College Readiness Programs, which brings me to point #2.
#2. The pressure is on. Parents of students in middle school were curious about college credit options in the program. This no longer shocks me. It did shock me 10 years ago. I’m sure the teens are feeling it either directly, or by proxy so to speak. Their teens are stressed and overworked, and it’s a question as to who is picking up on the stress from whom. That would make for an interesting and valuable Parenting/Teen workshop.
#3. Parents appreciate the space their kids have in our program to talk about ethical and moral choices: they are pleased that they’re learning “Judaism’s view on_________________ ” (insert trending topic). They feel that there just isn’t time in a school setting to delve into the issues, let alone offering a Jewish context for those choices.
#4. Parents who attended are vocal about the reasons why sending their teen is important, although a large percentage seem very hesitant to make this a ‘have to’ if their child, for any reason, was not happy.
#5. Back to #4, Happiness seems to trump everything. Very few parents were willing to force the issue if his/her teenager did not want to continue.
#6. Parents want their kids to have a wide social network, and are concerned when their teens are not connecting socially with others in the program. For some teens, this is their sole Jewish connection in a neutral and casual setting. It is essential therefore, that we build social support systems into our program, to ensure that teens feel part of the community. This means more mentoring programs, linking students with each other beyond the usual ice-breakers, and seeing that we continue to provide a safe space for all.
#7. Some of the parents who send their teens to us are still in the “Hebrew School Drop Off Mode”….meaning that our program is just one more activity to which they are shuttling their kids.
In all, it will take some effort to create the partnerships we are aiming for, but I believe we are up for the challenge.
Photo courtesy: sha3teely.com