Ask Abbie: Steering parents toward getting more involved

Published 1:14 pm Saturday, April 6, 2013

Question: I work with an organization that provides after-school programs for youth. One big problem we have is a lack of parental involvement. We have sponsored a variety of parent/child events and have even made sure the functions are both convenient and social for the busy parents but turnout has been very poor. I’m looking for some new ideas. What do you think?
Out of ideas

Answer: The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration reports 98 percent of all traffic accidents are a result of one visually, cognitively, or manually distracted driver. An uninvolved parent is like a distracted driver. When he diverts his focus away from the road leading to his child’s future, he becomes an uninvolved parent, one who will more than likely cause an accident to hinder his child’s mental, physical, or emotional advancement.

Both drivers and parents realize the danger of becoming distracted and uninvolved so why then do they continue to drive and parent dangerously rather than defensively? Because they are making a choice, whether it be a result of selfishness, unbroken generational cycles, or ignorance, to place themselves ahead of others including their own children.

Although many parents refuse to acknowledge prioritization of their own needs over those of their children, they will claim to give equal and adequate attention to both. To disprove the validity of this logic, studies have shown there is no appreciable difference in the crash rates as a result of cell phones usages while driving when it comes to hand-held versus hands-free phones because the human brain is incapable of fully attending to a conversation and to the road simultaneously. So, even if parents were able to give equal attention to themselves and to their children it would be done in a very compromised manner.

The severe nature of distracted driving has elicited the efforts of many governmental initiatives, for example laws to penalize drivers for texting while driving, to reduce the resulting number of traffic accidents, yet many tragedies continue to happen. These third party efforts are similar to those of your own which attempt to get parents more involved, yet uninvolved parental tragedies continue to abound. It is time for a new approach.

One solution is to have a second set of vigilant eyes alongside the distracted drivers and uninvolved parents ready to redirect the focus back to the road. To support this philosophy, evidence suggests that although in-vehicle conversation distracts the driver, it may not be as likely to cause crashes due to the countervailing quality provided by having a second set of eyes on the road. Yes, uninvolved parenting will most likely continue despite outside persuasion, yet a countervailing quality will prevail if there is a second set of eyes along for the parenting ride. You and others willing to dedicate yourselves to working with the youth of uninvolved parents are that second set of eyes.

Having accepted this responsibility you must first shift your own focus away from trying to get parents more involved and toward the children themselves. The parents you are working with have driven negligently for many years. Getting them to change is not likely. The children, however, are ready and willing to learn. Here is where your efforts will have the biggest impact. Instill within them the tools they will need, such as solid foundational values, self-confidence, and how to appropriately adjust expectations to strong amidst and to eventually rise above their parent’s lack of involvement.

Throughout your ride alongside the disengaged parent do not allow episodes of frustration, anger, or your own misappropriated expectations to divert focus away from the child’s developmental road. This type of inconsistency sends mixed signals to the children in your company, which over time serve only to confuse their concept of right versus wrong. Stay focused. Do not give the children you are carrying any reason to question where they are going or the right way to get there. Should your eyes begin to grow weary, imagine the day these children get their own licenses and start to drive. Your efforts to instill within them safer driving practices than those of their uninvolved parents will make our future roadways much safer. Thank you.

Abbie Long is a Franklin native and advice columnist for The Tidewater News. Submit your questions to