You may have heard horror stories of parenting teens, but you’ll also find plenty of light along the way. The truth is, teenagers are susceptible to outlandish behaviour because their bodies are flushed with hormones, and they’re still finding themselves. When it comes to fostering teens, you’re likely throwing rocky upbringings and turmoil into the mix, which can make things that little bit more difficult. If you’re in this position, you’re not alone, and we’ve got you covered with this short survival guide for fostering teens.
1. Get to Know Them Completely
Teenagers in foster care have likely had to take on responsibilities far beyond their remit. As a foster carer, your job is to take those responsibilities away by providing a secure environment, where they can learn about themselves and discover new interests. This doesn’t mean they shouldn’t help out around the house, but they should be left to fend for themselves.
The best time to get to know your teenage foster child is while doing an activity, which will remove the interview feel from any questions you have. If you find that direct questions don’t work, they’re simply feeling too much pressure.
2. Don’t Take Misbehaviour Personally
Teenagers act out – that’s a fact. With a foster child, you may feel this is more common, but that doesn’t mean it comes from a place of malice. Teens enjoy testing the waters to see how far they can push responsible adults, and the worse thing you can do is play into it. Therefore, always keep your composure and avoid taking negative behaviour personally.
In some cases, you may need support with behaviour management, especially if negative behaviour is coming from a place of deep trauma. In these circumstances, you can always turn to your foster agency. In some cases, as with Orange Grove Foster Care, you can get in touch with support teams 24/7.
3. Create a Welcoming and Fair Environment
Foster children need to feel like equal members of the household. Therefore, if you have other children, make sure the bedrooms are set up fairly. For example, if your children have wall-mounted smart TVs in the bedroom, make sure your foster child has that too.
Another great way to make your foster teen feel at home is to avoid holding their hand through everything. For example, when a new teen placement arrives, show them where the essential rooms and places are, lay down the rules, and let them explore at their own pace.
4. Food, Memories, and Comfort
There’s a reason people enjoy eating out at restaurants – enjoyable food makes for great memories. Use this logic to make your foster teen feel more comfortable. Ask them about their favourite foods, involve them in shopping trips, and ask if they want to cook with you. When they get involved with food in a positive light, they’ll feel more at home and take fond memories with them.
Not only is food a great way to provide a safe place, but it’s also a fantastic opportunity to promote healthy eating, which can sometimes be difficult. When you’re cooking food, experiment a little with recipes to make everything interesting and accessible. Additionally, you should adopt more healthy cooking methods, like using the oven over a frying pan.
5. Authenticity Goes a Long Way
Teenagers can detect feigned authenticity, and fostered teens have this power amplified. Teenagers don’t want to see a “fake” version of their caregivers; they want to spend time with the real deal. Therefore, you should allow yourself to be vulnerable and authentic – you’ll be amazed at how much trust it builds.
If you have the opportunity, try and share stories with your foster teen. However, you should think carefully before you speak because you don’t want to give any ammunition to be fired back at you later. The type of stories you share should relate to issues they’re currently facing, which will make them feel less isolated.
6. Take Change Slowly
When a new foster teen arrives at your home, you must accept that their upbringing is different. They may exhibit behaviours that don’t fit with your household routine, and that’s okay. Seeking positive change is great, but you need to take it slow to avoid unnecessary confrontations.
If you all eat dinner around the table and your foster teen wished to eat alone, let them – they likely aren’t used to sitting as a family. If they watch TV all the time, let that slide regardless of your views. Let your foster teen settle in around a new routine, and then focus on making changes.
7. Learn About Their Interests
Finding common ground with your foster teen will help strengthen your bond, and make life easier. A great way to do this is by finding out what they’re interested in. Having this information allows you to facilitate their needs more effectively. For example, if they have a passion for music, perhaps you can get them an instrument to learn.
As well as helping your foster teen reach their full potential, it puts you in a great position for spending time together. For example, if we stick with music, you can take them to a concert to see their favourite artists – but try to avoid cramping their style.
8. Talk to Your Foster Teen
Everything mentioned so far forms a fantastic foundation for connecting with a foster teen. However, most importantly, you need to talk to your foster teen. There’s nothing that will build your connection more than simply being present and available. You’ll never find out their thoughts or interests if you don’t ask. You may not get through straight away, but that’s not an indication to stop trying. As long as you be persistent in your communication efforts, you’ll be successful in the end.
There’s no denying that foster teenagers can present a challenge, but there’s always a way to find peace and make it through. The best thing you can do is keep up with communication, create a homey environment, be vulnerable, and be available for anything they need.