Being 26 years old I don’t think many people would think that I would have insight on fostering teenagers. I didn’t think I would have any insight into raising children let alone teenagers for a long time but things don’t ever go as you plan. At 24 I became a kinship foster parent to my 2 brothers who were 14 and 15 at the time. I get many different reactions when people find out my 2 brothers live with me. Since they’ve been here I’ve had that aha moment that hopefully a lot of parents of teenagers feel. I finally got the reason for the rules and the questioning. It’s different when you’re in foster care though. My time on both sides of the tables has taught me some things about fostering teenagers.
- They are going to be sneaky. Yes this is naturally a teenage thing but it can be worse with foster kids. Many times kids are taught to be sneaky to survive the situation they are in. That behavior is then carried on with them as they grow up. Teenagers that are unnaturally sneaky do so when they don’t even have to be, to some extent they can’t help themselves. I try to put it in a rational matter to them. “I find everything out eventually so your going to get in trouble. If you do it your asking to get in trouble, don’t do it if you don’t want to get in trouble”.
- You cannot feel sorry for them or let them feel sorry for themselves. It’s important to acknowledge the situation but they should use their past as a measuring stick. The harder you had it means you accomplished that much more when you make it. This is important because the world will not feel sorry for them. The bill collector doesn’t care what kind of childhood you had. You have to own it. As a foster kid you have to own it and realize you may have to work harder, so every dumb thing you do is only holding you back. That I know from experience.
- This is the reality of the situation…the only thing I must do is give adequate clothing food and shelter. Many people think this sounds harsh but sometimes if the action warrants a reality check so be it. Foster kids that have come into your home, whether kin or not, are not your kids. My brothers have come to live with me because their home situation wasn’t good. They could be at some other foster home (yes the reality is they are not all good places) , but instead they are (or should) be in a safe, caring and respectful living situation. Things should not be taken for granted and sometimes you have to teach appreciation. Privileges are earned and with good behavior come more freedom and privileges. Sometimes you have to remind ungrateful teenagers how things could be, then remind them that they don’t have it that way. You’re just trying to help them through a situation but they have to make the process go smooth by following the rules.
- Sometimes things you have to let things be a little tough for them so they can figure it out. It’s better they learn it under your wind then someone else’s. The lesson of networking is one of the biggest lessons that can be taught to assist them with their future. For example, let’s say their car breaks down or needs some work. They take it to the shop and it will be $500. Now what if they found the part they needed and know a person that works on cars to cut the cost? It’s not the point of getting the car fixed it’s about how you get it done. There will be situations that arise that they will need help. If they can’t fix it then they will need to figure out how to go about finding a way to get it fixed.
- You have to set down with teenagers and make a plan for their future. Not too many teens are thinking about their future, putting a plan together and taking steps to go towards it. You have to set a move out date for them or it may not happen. There has to be a little sense of urgency or there may be none. It goes back to the realty of the situation. They may have to work a little harder because of their situation but hopefully they have some support and the fact is, it is possible.
Too often people make excuses because of their past. Often they’ve made decisions that have gotten themselves into the situation they are in. I tell my brothers that it’s unfortunate that so many of the decisions that you make between the ages of 15 til about 25 majorly affect the majority of your life. That’s why as parents, especially foster parents have to push and sometimes drag teenage foster kids in the right direction. They may hate you at times, but if you do your part and they do their part, one day they will look back and not only thank you but be thankful for you.
Being a teen in foster care is tough for a truckload or two of reasons. You’re living in a place away from your family, who you may weirdly want to go back to even though they may have hurt you. You’re in that transition from kid to adult, trying to get yourself figured out. As as a teen in foster care, when I looked ahead I was scared. I really wanted someone to care for me. Fortunately there were a few adults around that did care for me but at the time I didn’t trust pretty much any adult. It was hard for me to trust or understand why someone, especially someone who wasn’t my family, would even have a reason to care about me. One thing I did understand (at least I thought so at the time) was relationships concerned to dating. What I didn’t understand at the time is healthy dating.
It doesn’t matter if you’re in foster care or not, we all know that as most teenagers get older the more interested they are in dating. I think it’s also safe to say that how we treat the other person and interact in that relationship is taught to us as children. Now I know that foster kids aren’t the only ones that have gone through or seen negative things, but I guarantee 100% of foster kids have either been taken from a relationship they thought was good, have seen bad relationships and/or has been hurt by someone who they love and was supposed to love them unconditionally. If abuse, yelling, fighting, and arguing is all you have seen from the relationship of your parents than most likely it will be first instinct to have some of those same behaviors. This can go other ways as well. Some foster kids have lost parents and seek that love. Other foster kids have been put on the back burner by their parents for other relationships or may have been abused in several different ways by the ones that were supposed to teach these children how to have relationships. Their way of coping maybe trying to find love. They are used by people who they think love them, going from relationship to relationship searching.
Bad relationship skills don’t just happen and are a learned trait. People just don’t grow up and one day think it’s ok to hit their significant other. People just don’t grow up to be controlling, abusive or mean; they were taught to be that way. Often we also lose ourselves too much in the one inflicting the abuse in the relationship and lose focus on the one that’s abused. Not only do those abused sometimes turn into abusers themselves, they also may learn about being a victim. Too many people in abusive relationships think that whats going on is ok or believe they deserve it. Even though if you were to ask ANYONE whether abuser, victim or neither “Is abuse wrong” and every one of them would say “yes”, the cycle abuse still continues in many dating relationships. Foster kids need to be shown that what they’ve seen many times over in relationships this isn’t they way things should go. Often it means being re-taught how to treat people and how to respect yourself.
In the foster care group home that I lived in there were many rules in place to help with healthy dating for teenagers. At the time I thought they were annoying and embarrassing. Looking back, especially now that I’m siting in the parents seat, they were pretty acceptable and in fact necessary. Some of the rules I can remember are being a certain age to date, having to live there a certain length of time, they had to meet them before you go anywhere with them and you have to be supervised or in a group. I had to let them know what I was doing and where I was going. When I had a girl come over there were rules as well. We weren’t really allowed to touch, no P.D.A. or sitting on laps or under blankets. What could sometimes be embarrassing was when something innocent in mind happens and is corrected. Most teens aren’t used to rules that are so strict or strictly enforced. Innocently someone can sit on your lap or share a blanket with you. The truth is though this needed to happen. There needed to be safe boundaries not only because I was a foster kid, but because I was a teenage kid as well.
Too many teenagers, foster kids or not, make life changing mistakes when it comes to dating. They think about the past and the now more than a future. The emotional damage can be prevented for teens that are definitely not ready for the consequences of their actions. It’s important for foster kids to see and often be re-taught how to have healthy dating relationships. There are also too many foster kids that grow up and continue the cycle of what they experienced in their own dating, marriages and relationships. Which then continues another cycle that their children see. It’s up to us as foster parents to set boundaries and teach kids in our care how to treat others, to help them learn how to have healthier relationships and break the cycle.