Teens on the Tenth {Communicating with Parents}

Categories: Resources

Teens on the Tenth – a monthly post dedicated to everything teenage themed! This month we have an awesome post from guest blogger Vanessa. She brings up some really important points about the complexities of communicating with parents. Please give it a read and leave some feedback about your experiences communicating with parents. I think this discussion will help give us all some direction and ideas!

Everyday of teaching, is another day of realizations of just how much more I need to learn. There are so many aspects of our job, that I begin to feel like a jack of all trades but a master of none. One of the areas that I struggle most with is finding ways to communicate with parents. It’s not that I don’t want to talk with them, it’s just that what I have to say is often difficult and experience has shown me that my own skills are called into judgement when I brooch “sensitive” topics. One of the many “sensitive” topics that I find difficult to approach at the high school level is sexuality. I am sure we have all seen it and have tried every which way to Sunday to teach “public” versus “private” behavior, but we are often not allowed by constraintsby school districts to elaborate on that. In comes the discussion with the parents, “Hi Mr. and Mrs. SoandSo, your son/daughter touches his/her genitals frequently throughout the day. Have you had the birds and the bees talk? In my 5 years of teaching, I have only had one parent who was willing to talk about the changes his sons body was going through as a teenager and was willing to work at home with his son to reinforce that certain behaviors are for private. I am not sure why there is a disconnect or why it is hard for us all to address the obvious, but I would love to know what other people have done to address budding sexuality in our high school students, especially our students who are considered cognitively low functioning.

My other struggle when reaching out to parents is handling unrealistic expectations of what I am capable of doing in the classroom. Each year we conduct assessments and based on those assessments design learning activities to move each student to the next skill level. I often hear “well, my son can do that. You just tried that with him on a bad day.” Prior to teaching I was a Vocational Assessment Specialist. I would conduct 3 weeks of assessments to gauge a suitable placement, whether it be
supported employment or training, for persons with disabilities. I had to learn to deal some hard blows about people’s sons and daughters current level of functioning. But for some reason, as a teacher I find it hard to tell families that according to the assessments, their son/daughter is on a Pre-K level. Help?

Yet another issue that I find myself struggling with is calling a parent to tell themthat their son/daughter has physically harmed myself, another staff member, or a student. Now this is high school. Most of our students are boys, and they are big. Injury is not stranger. Yet still, I dread that phone call home because I know that no parent wants to hear that their child has hurt someone else. I have found that more often than not a parent will say “someone must have provoked him” or they won’t respond at all. I don’t know about you all, but coming to work the day after being kicked by a 6’2” 20-year old is difficult when I do not feel like I have the support of the family.

This leads me to what has been the most difficult aspect of communicating with the families of my students. I simply cannot get a hold of them. I try all methods but itseems as our guys age, parental involvement wanes. Not being a parent of a child with special needs I am looking to lay no blame, but am asking if anyone has found a way to involve our families more in addressing their childs needs?

I was hoping this would be more of an advice piece but as I was writing it, I realized that I was the one in desperate need of advice.

Thanks Vanessa! I completely agree. I struggle with a lot of these same issues. Thoughts???




  1. I have definitely been dealing with the sexuality issue the past several years with my pre-teen and teenaged boys. I have had a few parents come to me to ask about it – but yes, for the most part, the parents I’ve had have generally made it into a non-issue.

    The way I have addressed this is not so much from a public/private standpoint as a school/other standpoint. Our students probably already know there is sometimes a difference between “school rules” and “home rules,” and I use that as a starting point. I teach my students that certain activities (touching themselves, kissing others, talking about private/sexual matters, etc.) are not acceptable behavior at school (or anytime we’re with school – ie, in the community, etc.). “That is unacceptable behavior at school; it does not help us learn…the rule at school is we do not do x, y, or z…” and so on and so forth. I try to stay away from calling something “private” because that can mean something different for everyone – a boy touching himself under his desk may think he’s being private because the teacher can’t see what his hands are doing…at the urinal in the bathroom may be private – until someone else walks in!

    I address the issue with parents in the same way. One year I even sent a general FYI letter home to parents telling them how we address the issue in the classroom, explaining the “appropriate behavior at school” concept. This let parents know we were addressing the issue, but left it open for them to address it (or not address it!) at home in a different way, if they preferred. In the letter I also told them they were welcome to talk to me if they wanted more specific suggestions for talking to their kid at home.

    Yes, of course it’s always helpful and a lot more successful if the concept is reinforced at home, but we all know that’s not going to happen for the majority of the time. I found it helped me to think about it like any other concept I want to teach despite knowing it’s not reinforced at home – I had a guy for whom it was absolutely acceptable to swear like a sailor at home (the whole family spoke like that) but he quickly learned the school rules were different and for the most part was able to control his language at school. Same idea here.

    I’ve also found that parents may not be addressing the issue because they’re embarrassed – they all seem to think their child is the only one touching themselves in public, or whatever. A simple “he’s certainly not the only one!” – which with a class full of pre-teens and teens is most likely the truth – can go a long way in letting the parents relax and be more willing to figure out the issue with you.

    I know I only touched on the first part of Vanessa’s post – I may be back later to chime in on the rest 🙂 Thanks for this post – great one!

  2. Vanessa-
    Though my students range in age from 5-11, I do deal with the onset of puberty in my classroom. We do talk about “private” parts and “private” activities, but I also give them an appropriate place to do those sorts of exploratory things: at home! I just explain that we can’t do those things at school, but if we want to do them at home when we are by ourselves that is okay. Then, of course, I let the parent know that I had that talk with their child and let them do with it whatever they are comfortable with.

    As far as talking with parents about the functioning level of their child, I just had this conversation the other day with a family whose child has been in a self-contained classroom since early childhood and is now a 5th grader. Despite having this conversation at every IEP meeting, the mother still doesn’t understand why her child isn’t in the general education setting (I teach in a self-contained setting) and when I explained, the father was visibly upset at how discrepant his child is. It is hard to look at a parent and say, “It’s okay that they are discrepant. Their current setting is exactly where they need to be to receive the necessary supports for their learning. Your child is happy, enjoys school, and has made some great gains this year.” All they hear is the negative. I wish I had some advice for you on how to handle those situations. They are hard for all of us!

  3. Hi Vanessa,
    My students are in a middle school self contained classroom, ages 11-15. I too have had to deal with both of your topics. Something I have learned to do over the years which has proven to be very beneficial regarding any difficult or sensitive subject is to spend time developing a report with the parents/guardians. By this I mean communicate, communicate, and communicate and by any means you can the minute the student walks into your classroom. I always mention from the get go that part of our program is to get their child ready for high school and employment. Most don’t want to hear about it as their child is just moving from elementary to middle school. But almost all parents say “thank you” at some point for helping them change their mindset. This small bit of information enables some of those tough conversations to happen on a realistic level.
    Another thing we do is every night including weekends we send home a Home News Journal which either the parent or the child fills out with activities, what they had for dinner, friends they saw, family they spent time with, anything that went on at home to encourage writing in their journal as well as conversations with staff and peers. We also do the reverse and send home a School/Today News which the students fill out by writing or circling activities. On this form is an area for myself or therapists to write how a student’s day was, behaviors, funny things said or done, questions the student may have had that need to be answered by a parent… Sometimes I might just write “great day!” I may write about an inappropriate behavior or a new task that was introduced and how successful the student was. I always let the parents know I will stay in touch and if they have any questions or concerns please feel free to call or email. I know parents can get very defensive. When or if you do get that phone call remind parents that you bring this to their attention to ensure appropriate and safe behavior when out in the community and the importance of this kind of behavior in holding a job. Regarding the aggressive behavior make sure you share with the parent any information about why it occurred, what the antecedent might have been and what strategies you have in place now to prevent any future occurrences. Ask them to let you know if they should see the behavior at home. Keep them informed! Let them know what’s happening, that you care about their child, what positive strategies you have put in place to prevent any further aggressive outbursts. Send home any visuals, social stories or language being used by staff. In my experience this is not the first time this behavior has happened and the parents probably know this. Often I might hear back that there are changes at home that may be causing the behavior. Use whatever data you are taking as a tool to inform the parents in a positive manner.

  4. Thanks so much for your feedback Marianne! I love the idea of a daily home/school communication system. I have done that in the past with some students! Great points 🙂

  5. I so agree! Those are SUCH difficult conversations to have. Thanks so much for your comments! Good to know we all struggle with this 🙂

  6. Really good point Kara – I guess (unfortunately) it may be like other subjects we teach that aren’t reinforced at home either. I think embarrassment is a big part of it. But – all kids (even those without disability) deal with the puberty thing! Half the boys in my hallway are tugging on themselves lol!

  7. Your tihinkng matches mine – great minds think alike!


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