Ten golden rules for parents and foster carers of teenagers

Ten golden rules for parents and foster carers of teenagers

How can foster carers and parents keep things positive and guide their teens’ development?

Do you remember what you and your friends were like when you were teenagers? Well it’s not a surprise that no one describes being the foster carer or parent of a teen as ‘a walk in the park’. But the flip side to this tricky time is the energy, richness and joy that an adolescent can bring into a household.

In her book Happy Kids, British author, freelance writer and blogger Cathy Glass shares her ‘golden rules’ for caring for pre-teens and early teens (aged 11-15). These tips are drawn from her experience as the mother of two biological children and one adopted child, as well as a foster parent of more than 100 children during the last 25 years.

  1. Respect privacy

    Privacy becomes very important for teenagers, and feelings that their privacy is not being respected can lead to resentment. Cathy writes, “Knock, if their bedroom door is closed, before going in. Don’t read your child’s letters, emails or texts, listen to their phone conversations, spy on them or search their room or bags, unless you have grave concerns for your child’s safety. And don’t give them the third degree every time they return home from seeing their friends – they will resent it. Trust their judgement unless they have given you cause not to”.

  2. Hear their views

    Cathy notes that teens will want to use you as a sounding board to express a lot of views about a lot of things (and some may well seem to be “absolute nonsense”).

    She suggests, “Listen to what your young person says, and always take his or her view seriously. If you know what they are saying is wrong or misguided, gently explain what is generally held to be true, consigning it to someone else if necessary – ‘I heard on the radio that . . .’ or ‘I was reading an article that said…’ “.

  3. Communicate

    Maintaining open lines of communication can be difficult with someone who sometimes responds to your questions with a grunt. Try this teen speak decoder: “When your teen talks to you, a single grunt usually mean yes, while a deeper grunt accompanied with a sigh can be taken as no”.

    “Ask for your young person’s opinion about anything that might elicit a response – world events, a new dress you’ve bought, the poodle’s new hair cut; and ask about his or her day at school, or evening with a friend, but don’t pry, “ writes Cathy.

  4. Praise

    It can be easy to start to drop the level of praise as children get older but they need it as much if not more in their teen years.

    “A drop in self-confidence and poor body image is the blight of many pre-teens. Praise them each day; even if you have had a bad time, with their seeming to relish confrontation, still find something good to say about them or what they have done. Although they are unlikely to acknowledge your praise, other than with a grunt, they will hear and appreciate it”.

  5. Don’t criticise

    Cathy reminds us that, “Children of this age are very sensitive to criticism, often seeing and feeling it even where there is none”.

    “If your young person’s behaviour is unacceptable and needs altering, or they have made a really bad decision, don’t criticise them personally and explode with, ‘How stupid can one person be!’ Instead, temper it to ‘I don’t think that was the best option, do you?’ or ‘I know you are annoyed, but please don’t speak to me like that’”.

  6. Guidance

    Giving guidance and advice to someone who doesn’t think they need it can be difficult, but Cathy’s advice is not to be tempted to give in of it’s about something important.

    “Steer your young person to the correct decision, and confirm that they got it right with praise and acknowledgment. Children of this age need guidance more than ever; it’s just that they don’t always realise they do. Don’t be tempted to ‘throw in the towel’ and give in … if it’s something major that can affect their well-being, then your young teen needs to accept your guidance”.

  7. Maintain family time

    Despite teens sometimes wanting to stop hanging out with their family, it pays to stay the course and keep it up – even in the event of grumbling or eye rolls.

    Cathy says that keeping family time, “helps cement family relationships and bonding, and reduces confrontation and rebelliousness”.

    “However, you might have to adjust the extent of your young person’s participation. While you took your five-year-old to visit granny twice a week, visiting that often might not be appropriate for a 13-year-old who has homework and club activities – fortnightly might be more practical”.

  8. Give responsibility

    “Give your young person age-appropriate responsibility and encourage self-reliance so that he or she gradually develops the life skills on which to base his or her own (sensible) decisions. Remember that the level of maturity reached and life skills acquired at this age vary from child to child.”

  9. Maintain safety

    Of course the golden rule of all golden rules is to keep the young person you care for safe.

    “At this age children assume they are safe, and will always be safe, without making any objective risk assessment of the situation. A young teen can sometimes show an astonishing disregard for danger and indulge in very unsafe behaviour, and look totally amazed when you point out that they are at risk. At this age teens are still very naïve, and while they believe they know how to stay safe, they often don’t – they are only just out of childhood and haven’t the life experience to recognise danger in situations which are obvious to adults.”

  10. Don’t tease

    Teasing a teenager with the intention of sharing a laugh is a mistake made by lots of well-meaning older relatives. But it’s important to avoiding teasing, and discourage family or friends from teasing the young person you care for.
    “Don’t satirise or make fun of your young person or their actions, some of which may appear quite juvenile and silly. And don’t tease, or make your young teen the butt of a joke…they will take it personally and will feel very embarrassed and resentful, especially if there is an audience and everyone has looked at them and laughed.”

This information is sourced from Happy Kids, by author Cathy Glass which is available on ITunes or Google play, or read her blogs at www.cathyglass.co.uk/ or www.thefosteringnetwork.org.uk/blogs/cathy-glass

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