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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.

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