BBYO Parents

Don’t get me started….
Over the years I’ve seen all kinds of BBYO parents, from the very good to… oh well. A recent comment by Samantha, the advisor for Shore BBG, inspired me to visit this topic.
Like Samantha, I am astonished by the level of disengagement of many parents. Many really don’t seem to have a clue as to what their sons and daughters are doing or are going through. What’s funny is that this can express itself two different ways. Some parents see BBYO as a baby-sitting service. They pay little or no attention to events, and barely seem to care when their kid gets home. Other parents constantly complain about what’s going on to the advisor or staff – anything to avoid actually talking to their son or daughter! Amazing!
Curiously enough, the latter group is the easiest to deal with. When a parent comes to me with a chapter issue, the first thing I do is bring the appropriate chapter members into the conversation. It’s good practice for them to engage directly with parents – there is no better way for them to understand their responsibility to the parents and community. And it’s good for the parents in that it helps them see the chapter as youth led. I remember one time a parent came up to me at a PIT to complain about something he found in the chapter paper. I called over the Aleph Sopher responsible for the paper so they could discuss it. Turned out the Sopher was his own son! Now that’s engagement!
I could whine about awful parents all day. But I’d rather tell you about the good ones. Here are some observations I’ve made about parents.

Staff Run – Youth Led

One of the most interesting comments I read on Facebook recently was from an advisor in Washington D.C. who posted the following:

One thing to note however (and this is primarily to the CRW people) is that there are only a small number of regions that function like yours where the teens actually do have a large amount of latitude, EGR is one of them, and Mountain Region is another, however as you head east you will find a lot more staff control, and red tape so know that is not just the international staff you are having to deal with but much more conservative teens and parents as well.

This reminds me of a non-BBYO program I attended in Washington D.C. where I got to see first hand the culture clash between the West and East Coasts. As I recall, the arrival of the California group sent as many tremors through the conference as the earthquakes their state is so well known for. Their students were intelligent, engaged, and were outstanding students – but God help the staff person who didn’t treat them with the respect to which they had been accustomed. They did not well tolerate being treated in a condescending or controlling manner. I confess, even their staff did not quite fit in.
BBYO is said to be a staff run and youth lead organization. And frankly, to this day I’m not entirely sure what that means. I suspect it means different things to different regions. On one extreme, you probably have regions and chapters, where youth leadership is more form than substance – where members have titles and get to make small decisions, but their advisors and staff are “running” the show. On the other extreme, you have regions and chapters where the organization is effectively youth run and youth led – and the staff serves primarily as a safety net and a true advisory role.
Personally, I prefer the latter. As a new advisor I was taught that anything the youth can do, they should do. I was also taught that it was my job to allow them to make mistakes. Youth run and youth led was the ideal, and I think we’ve done well on that score.
I’m not suggesting that other regions should follow that trend. Frankly, I’m not sure how one would go about changing a chapter or region’s culture in that manner. But these cultural differences, more than anything else, demonstrate the need for caution in creating national policies – that they should not destroy a successful local culture.