Fostering a teenager can be a downright scary endeavor. For one thing, it can be much more difficult to manage and bond with an unfamiliar teenager than with an unfamiliar child of a younger age. Teens are naturally more independent, and they’re already dealing with the physical, emotional, and social turmoil of teenhood without the added stress of a new living situation with a new guardian who has new expectations and rules. Keep the following tips in mind to help make your teen foster care experience a positive and productive one.
Balance Your Expectations
Believe it or not, the way you mentally prepare for the arrival of your foster teen can have a significant impact on how the two of you interact. There is a line you’ll need to walk balanced between naievety and pessimism.
On the one hand, it’s important to expect anything when you’re being introduced to a new foster teen in order to avoid being caught in the proverbial headlights. If your initial reaction to harsh language or bold behavior is shock, you’ll be much less prepared to address it. On the other hand, you don’t want to go into this new situation expecting the worst. It is true that many foster children, including teens, come from bad situations, but don’t let this intimidate you. Approach your new role with confidence, offering wisdom and love instead of fear.
Set Clear Boundaries
This particular piece of advice seems to show up on all parenting blogs at one point or another, but that only reinforces its importance. Kids need boundaries, and this truth does not go away when kids become teenagers. Be sure to establish the expectations and guidelines of living in your home prior to your foster teen’s arrival. You may even write these down. After giving your charge a bit of time to adjust, discuss these boundaries together. Explain not only the expectations but also the reasons for them and the possible consequences if they are not met.
That being said, it will be important for you to be fair in your expectations. Do not expect too much too quickly, as this can be overwhelming for both of you. In addition, don’t be afraid to be flexible if your foster teen argues a good point. As adults, we like to believe that we’re always right, but sometimes teens know what they’re talking about, too, and it may take them explaining it for us to realize that we are being unfair.
Get to Know Them!
When you invite a foster child of any age into your home, your job doesn’t end with providing the daily necessities like food, shelter, and clothing; you’ll also need to sit down for long conversations, ask questions (and actually listen to the answers), play games, and genuinely get to know him or her. It can be too easy to simply assume we know how a teen is feeling or what he or she is thinking, try your best not to do this. When you catch yourself making an assumption, voice your concerns to your foster teen. He or she will most likely be happy to share what is actually going on. In general, teens enjoy being listened to, and they appreciate an adult who actually takes the time to understand what they’re feeling.
Whether or not you decide to work with Family Care For Children & Youth as you join the foster care community, be sure to stay in touch with the teen’s case manager. Just because your initial training is over doesn’t mean you’re on your own.