Category Archives: For Parents

5 Things I Learned About Fostering Teenagers

At the age of writing this, 28 years old, many people tend to think that I wouldn’t have an insight on fostering teenagers. For me, I never thought I would even have any insight on raising children- let alone teenagers! However, when it comes to life, as you know, things never go as planned. At the age of 24, my wife and I became the kinship foster parents for my two brothers. They were ages 14 and 15 at the time. Because of this situation, we’ve received many different reactions (yes, even eye brow raises) when people find out my brothers live with us. Since I’ve had to transition into this role, I’ve finally had that “aha” moment, that hopefully, a lot of parents of teenagers feel. I finally have that reasoning for the rules and the questioning. But, when you are in foster care, it’s different. I’ve spent time on both sides of the table, so this has taught me a lot of things about fostering teenagers (even the things I didn’t want to necessarily want to find out).

raising teenagers

They are going to be sneaky. Yes, this is naturally a teenage thing, but it can be worse with foster kids. Many times, children are taught this survival technique to endure the situation they are in. That behavior is then embedded in them as they grow older. Teenagers that may be unnaturally sneaky, tend to continue this survivor mode even when they don’t have to. Some children to the extent they just can’t understand any other way. So, I’ve tried to be rational with them, but aware. “Eventually, everything comes to light, and if these behaviors continue, you will be disciplined. If you continue these behaviors, you know the consequences.” This is about teaching the desired behavior.

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’ve had it, means you’ve accomplished that much more when you make it.” This is important because the world does not feel sorry for them. The bill collector doesn’t care what kind of childhood they had. They must own it. As a foster kid, you have to realize you will work harder for the finer things in life, so every mistake or unthought out decision will hinder your progress. This I know from experience.

The only thing you 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-it’s truthful. 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 (third) home situation wasn’t good. They could be in some foster home (yes, we know they are not all good places), but instead they are in a safe, caring, and respectful living situation with family. Things should not be taken for granted and at times you have to teach appreciation. Privileges are earned and with good behavior comes more freedom. I can promise, you will have to remind ungrateful teenagers how things could be, then remind them that they don’t have it that way. Explain you’re just trying to help them through a situation, but they have to make the process go smooth, by fighting for themselves.

Sometimes you should let things get tough for them. This is the only way they will learn to figure it out. It’s better that they learn it under your wing rather than 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 a repair. Then, they take it to the shop and it will be $500 to fix. Now what? If your teenager could find the part and connect to a person that works on cars, shouldn’t they do that to cut the cost? The answer is “yes”. We know that your teenager will at some point “age out” of foster care, so they need those connections. Teaching them early, will be essential for their life toolbelt. The networking and opportunities come into play when they get in these tough situations. The point here is not really about getting the car fixed, but about how they will get it done- on their own. Yes, there will be situations that arise that they may need help. But, if you fix everything for them, just know you will continue to do so long after they’ve flown the nest.

You should set down with your teenagers and plan for their future. Not too many teens are thinking about their future, let alone putting a plan together and actually taking the steps to achieve it. So, you must set a move out date for them- or it may just never happen. There needs to be a sense of urgency or you can quickly get in a situation where there is none whatsoever. This is going to be a part of their life plan, and it goes back to the realty of their situation. But, it unfortunately just doesn’t stop with a “plan”, you must follow-up and ensure they are taking those steps. As I’ve mentioned, they will have to work harder because of their situation, but hopefully they have the right amount support to guide them. The fact is, it’s possible for them to achieve this plan. Regardless of their past, it does not define them- unless they allow it.

We’ve all seen it too often, and we may even do it ourselves- making excuses because of our past woes. I tell my brothers that it’s unfortunate that so many of the decisions that they will make between the ages of 15 until about 25, will majorly affect the rest of their lives. Often they’ve made decisions that have gotten themselves into the situation they are in, and we can warn and guide, but in the end, it will be their decision. That’s why as parents, especially foster parents, we must 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.

Teaching Healthy Dating

healthy datingBeing a teen in foster care is tough for a truckload of reasons. For starters, 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 also in that transition period from child to adult, trying to figure out yourself and life. As a teen in foster care, when I looked ahead I was scared. All I really wanted was someone to just care for me. Fortunately, in my case, there were a few adults around that did, but at the time I didn’t trust pretty much anyone. It was hard for me to trust or to understand why someone, especially someone who wasn’t my family, would even have a reason to think twice about me. One thing I did understand (at least I thought so at the time) was relationships and dating. However, what I didn’t comprehend was what “healthy dating” really meant.

Now, we all know that dating is normal whether you’re in foster care or not, but as teenagers grow, the more interested they become in the dating scene. I think it’s also safe to say, that what we were taught as children affects how we treat the other person we are in a relationship with and how we will interact being in that relationship. I know that foster kids aren’t the only ones that have gone through or seen negative things, because well…life. You get the picture. However, I guarantee 100% of foster kids have either been taken from relationships they thought were good, have seen unhealthy relationships, or they have been hurt by someone who they love-who is also supposed to love them back without conditions. If abuse, yelling, fighting, and arguing is all you have lived in your life, or the example has been the toxic relationship of your parents, then more than likely it will be your first instinct to have some of those exact same behaviors.

Let’s talk about this pendulum swinging another way. As you know, you are not another person, not your mother nor your father, you are just you. In some instances, foster kids have lost parents and set out to seek that love and comfort. Some foster kids have been put on the back burner by their parents for other relationships, or they may have been abused in several different ways. Most of the time, this abuse comes from the ones that were supposed to teach these children how to have those healthy relationships. A foster child’s way of coping may be trying to seek that individual love they never had. Which means they can be used by people who they think love them, but end up going from relationship to relationship to try to fill this void.

Bad relationship skills don’t just happen, they are a learned trait. These traits are embedded into us and in most cases, this is who we will end up becoming. Foster children just don’t grow up and one day think it’s “okay” to hit their significant other. Foster children just don’t grow up to be controlling, abusive or mean; they were taught to be this way. Often, these children tend to lose too much of themselves to their past woes. For foster children, the risk of staying in a relationship with a person that is inflicting the abuse, or becoming the abuser themselves, is much higher. This means the stakes skyrocket even more for a foster child to eventually become a victim or a perpetrator into their adulthood. Too many people in abusive relationships think that what’s going on is justifiable or believe they actually deserve the destructiveness. I mean, it is what has happened to them for their entire life, right? So, what does the definition of “healthy” even mean to them? You could take these same group of people and ask ANYONE of them whether they are the abuser or victim, “Is abuse wrong?”, and every one of them would say “Yes.”. However, the cycle of abuse still occurs in many dating relationships.

Foster kids need to be shown that what they’ve seen many times over in relationships, is not the way things actually 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 just down right embarrassing. Looking back, especially now that I’m sitting in the parent’s seat, they were quite acceptable and in fact necessary. Some of the rules I can remember are that you must be a certain age to date, you must live at the home for a certain length of time before dating, the house parents must meet the person you’re dating before you were able to go anywhere with them, and you must be supervised or in a group setting at all times. I always had to let them know what I was doing and where I was going, without exception.

Even when I had a girl come over, there were rules set in place for that as well. We weren’t allowed to touch, no P.D.A., or sitting on laps or being under the blankets together. What was most embarrassing about this is at times something innocent may have happened, but it was always gently corrected. Most teens aren’t used to rules that are so strict or so strictly enforced. Innocently enough, 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. These are the times that you instill the values the children need to have successful relationships. Be open and honest about the effects of life while dating, but try not to have these conversations while the person the child is dating is in the room. These pivotal points are learning moments and must be handled with care.

Too many teenagers, foster kids or not, make life changing mistakes when it comes to dating. They think about their past and their now, more than their future. However, the emotional damage that may occur from these choices can be prevented for the teens that are not yet ready for the consequences of their actions, if handled well. 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’ve experienced in their own dating, marriages and relationships. Which then continues another cycle that their children grow up seeing. 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.

10 Simple Gift Ideas For Teens In Foster Care

When I was in foster care I was lucky enough to live in group home where I was able to make a Christmas list. Our group home was good at finding donations to make it possible for us to receive some nice things. We also live in a community that is very giving with their donations for those less fortunate. I never really knew what to put on my gift list. I wasn’t used to asking people for things, not from my family and especially not from “strangers”. Since I hadn’t known my foster parents long, they didn’t know what to get me. It’s hard to buy for teenagers, especially teenagers you may not know too well. Here are 10 simple gift ideas for teens in foster care.

  • New clothes and shoes- A child in foster care doesn’t get much of a clothing allowance, and if you want it to be extra special, a foster kid never gets jewelry, so getting plantwear jewelry accessories would be just perfect. Especially when you factor in sometimes needing higher priced items like shoes and coats. Getting clothing donations was great but I always hoped to get some new clothes for Christmas. It’s hard enough fitting in while in high school, especially as a foster kid so feeling good in some new clothes or shoes is a self-esteem boost.
  • Prepaid phone- nowadays everyone needs to stay in contact. Teens especially those in foster care need to get out into the world to figure things out but I recommend any teenager having a way of getting in contact with you at any time. A prepaid phone is a great way to keep that contact while also giving a little responsibility. Since it’s prepaid they can rack up a bill. Also since they have a “bill” there’s more incentive to maintain a job to keep it going.You can get a prepaid phone for as little as $20.
  • Book- An educational or inspirational book is always a great gift. As a teen in foster care, they may have to go out into a tough world and figure some things out. They will also face tough times mentally and work on discovering who they are. Sometimes a great book with a little insight can give a different perspective. I was given a book gift called “Wild At Heart” that I remember to this day. Also, educational books about life situation will get teens prepared for the real world. Books can be expensive and can sometimes be found cheaper on the internet.
  • Journal- A Journal is a great gift for teenagers in foster care. Writing is a great way of getting out emotions in safe way. There were many times when frustrated with my situation that I would write. With this, I was also able to look back on my experiences. There were many reminders of good things I had forgotten about or maybe taken for granted at the time. There were also tough times that when I looked back on gave me the strength to push forward during other obstacles.
  • A class or lesson- Going into the world I never really felt like I had a trade. Some people are tech savvy, others mechanically inclined, or maybe how to build something. If your foster kid is pretty good at or interested in a trade, you can get him classes or lessons to learn more. A hobby is therapeutic and can also earn some extra money when things get tight.
  • Gear from a favorite sports team- Sports fans with the favorite team usually love anything that has their team on it. It pretty much doesn’t even matter what it is. If you can find out your foster child’s favorite team check out the sports store or website.
  • Spa day, makeover, or nail certificate- For those with young women, a spa day, makeover, or getting a certificate to get their nails done are great gift ideas. Maybe she’s in need of a new hairstyle. Some young women have never had the chance to be pampered or do extra things like getting their nails done. What doesn’t girl like to be pampered?
  • A blanket- One of the most memorable gifts I received was a blanket. It was a gift that I used often and still have to this day. Blankets can always be used and can meet a real need. Blankets are something that you can also take with you. Hopefully, it’s a gift that can carry good memories with through their foster care journey.
  • Gift card- Many people don’t like to give gift card because they aren’t personal. At the same time, I’ve never known anyone that doesn’t like to receive money. There are gift card to different places such as restaurants, or to iTunes, and Google play stores if you know your teen has a preference. Gift cards are always a great fall back gift in any situation.
  • A simple toy- Sometimes we over think gift giving. Teenagers like to act adult like and not like kid stuff. Give a teenager a simple child’s game, a toy car set or one of those finger skateboards and bet they don’t play with it. They may not when they are sitting in front of everyone but I bet they will at some point, and love every minute of it. Teenagers, just like adults, sometimes want to relive those kid moments. some may have never had a chance to have them.

My favorite part of the holidays is giving gifts to others. It always feels good to give somebody a smile, let them know they were thought of, or even help them out. Gift giving for foster children doesn’t have to be complicated. Many are just thankful for a safe home and being thought of.

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