You’ve probably heard of a helicopter parent—a parent who takes an overprotective or excessive role in the tiny facets of their child’s life. There’s even a new term, lawnmower parent, a parent who goes out of their way to mow down any hardship, obstacle, or adversity their child might possibly face. On the face of it, these sound like good things. Who doesn’t want to be involved in their girl’s life, or keep them from tough times and hard mistakes? A good parent wants the best for their child, so what’s wrong with making decisions and doing it all for them?
Unfortunately plenty. Girl Scouts is a girl-led organization, because letting girls take the lead in Girl Scouts and their own lives is how they learn and grow into strong, capable young women. It’s more important than ever for leaders to establish this with their families from the get-go to avoid any confusion about how your troop is run. We all need and want help running our troops, but when it comes to decision-making, projects, and money-earning activities in Girl Scouts, it’s important that the girls make all the decisions and take the lead in the entire process.
And if something doesn’t go according to plan? You as the leader can help guide the girls’ discussion on how they can improve next time. As much as you might sympathize with your troop parents (especially if you’re a parent yourself!), they can’t be the ones making decisions, interjecting ideas during meetings, crafting a perfect poster for their cookie booth, or doing the work for a Bronze Award.
If you realize you’ve got an overprotective or overly involved parent in your troop, there’s no reason to fret! If a parent’s good intentions are taking away from her girl’s Girl Scout experience, here are some conversation starters to help them take a step back and let their girl lead the way.
Redirect Their Efforts
Remind parents that their help is appreciated and show them the roles they can take on to best help the troop and their girl. Troops need drivers, treasurers, Fall Product Program and Cookie Program managers, first aiders, snack coordinators, and more. Refer to your Volunteer Essentials for a complete list of troop parent roles—nothing gets a parent excited in the right direction like telling them a specific role would be amazing for them, or that they would be the perfect fit.
Trust the Girls
Remind parents (as often as you need to) that Girl Scouts is a girl-led organization focused on developing leadership skills. Let them know that in order for the girls to get the most of their experience, learn to work together, make decisions together and grow together, parents need to step back. Girls need space and time to grow as leaders, so trust them to do their own work.
Mistakes are Healthy
Making mistakes is not only ok, it’s a requirement for learning! If she misspells “Trefoil” on her Cookie poster, that’s okay, she’ll remember next time. If she isn’t scheduling her time on her Bronze award the way you would, that’s ok—she’ll understand why she should or shouldn’t do it that way in the future. There are no grades in Girl Scouts so if she “messes up,” she can try again. As a leader, I am looking for growth and smiles—not perfection.
Be Her Silent Safety Net
Being a G.I.R.L. means taking risks and persisting through challenges. In Girl Scouts, girls explore, have adventures, try new things, and learn independence. It’s important for girls to learn this independence on their own without looking over their shoulder for parental approval so they can become confident and successful adults. She’ll have to take risks on her own someday, so help her learn the confidence to try today. You know you’ll be there to catch her if she really falls, but she’ll never learn to balance if her parent won’t take off the training wheels.
Ask your parents at your first meeting of the year (every year) why they put their daughter in Girl Scouts. It’s a great icebreaker and gives you an idea of what they want their daughter to get out of their experience. You will know at that point if you need to have a conversation with the whole group, or specific parents, about the purpose of Girl Scouts and your troop.
I know that this can be a tough conversation to have. It may require a complete mindset change for you and/or your parents. But it is completely worth a little awkwardness to make sure that the girls are getting the girl-led experience they need to grow with every opportunity, to take risks, learn from their own mistakes, and develop the resilience to trust their own ideas and try again. After all, Girl Scouts is an organization that allows us as adults to take a step back and watch our girls grow into amazing leaders. Once you’ve established everyone’s roles within your troop, it should be very clear who is running the troop—the girls!
What to do next
- Need more suggestions on how to keep Girl Scouts girl-led? Review the section in Volunteer Essentials and read up on 5 Reasons Why Girl Scouts is the Best Leadership Program for Girls and How to Empower Girls to Plan and Lead Events
- Want more tips on communicating with parents? Here’s 4 Tips for Working with Parents and Volunteers and 4 Topics to Cover During Your First Parent Troop Meeting.
- Parents are an awesome source of Girl Scout support and want what’s best for their girls. Remember to say thank you!
Angela Borchert—Angela just completed her seventh year as a Girl Scout leader in Vacaville/Travis Air Force Base service unit. She leads Juniors and Cadettes and loves the wide range of activities and interests that both groups have and the challenges they provide her along the way. Girl Scouts have helped her embrace glue guns and dirt while taking her on her first kayaking adventure. She’s been camping more times in the past five years than she has in her entire life thanks to Girl Scouts!