Teens the world over get a bad rap. “Moody, thoughtless, rude, lazy…” are just a few of the adjectives bandied about describing teens. What we as adults forget is that teens are going through intense hormonal changes, and those hormones start raging about two years before any outward physical changes can be seen.
If you have inherited teenagers, you may find yourself overwhelmed or intimidated. You may even be shocked! Teens today are exposed to temptations that were unheard of when I was a teen. But don’t fear. You too can conquer the teen years. Here are a few tips from someone who has been there, done that.
1. Don’t take it personally.
Parents are the bane of all teens. As a stepparent, you are just one more person they have to answer to–and one they didn’t ask for either! You may be the target of moodiness, anger, nonchalance….Respect it. You were once a teen as well and it is a time for challenging authority and establishing boundaries. Wait it out. It’s a tough time for teenagers and parents while teens are attempting to figure out their own values. Keep in mind that others have walked this path before you and we have lived to tell the tale. Teen attitudes and behaviors likely have little to do with you being a stepparent or their familial situation. In all likelihood, you are witnessing a growth spurt in ways that are more than physical.
2. Allow for their privacy.
Teens need time alone and private space. While it’s important to be involved in their lives, it’s also important to let them know that you trust them. Knock on their door. Don’t read their journals or text messages…(unless you have a legitimate concern regarding their health and welfare). Give them time alone. My husband and and I made a point of being at the kids’ events. It was a way of supporting the kids but it also gave us the opportunity to interact with other parents and listen to what they were hearing through the grapevine. Thus, we would know when it was time to pay more attention to behaviors or enforce rules more stringently without having to spy on the kids. Also, dinnertime was our check-in point. The kids were quite open and frank because we let them talk and steer the conversation. We were actively listening for things we should be concerned about. If they spoke about a friend or fellow student engaging in a volatile act or behavior, we had the good sense to know that our kids may soon follow suit. We also learned a whole new vocabulary!
The point is, involve yourself, don’t push.
3. Allow the bio-parent one-on-one time.
Your stepteen has watched the demise of the bio-family. He/she may feel insecure or unstable. That’s a normal feeling. By allowing the teen alone time with the bio-parent you are assuring him/her that the parental relationship is intact. You are also assuring them that you respect the parental relationship and realize that they need to spend time together, perhaps enjoying traditions that they had once established. If your stepteen feels they are not losing access to their bio-parent they will grow more secure in the stepfamily arrangement.
4. Take sides.
Really! Teens desperately need adult allies. Here’s your chance. You can be the confidante, the friend, the one the kids come to when the bio-parent doesn’t get it. My husband is considerably older than me which puts me closer in age to my stepchildren. My stepchildren put this to good use. They knew when I would understand their point of view. They also knew that I had the ear of the man making the decisions. At other times, they just needed an adult friend to help them sort through an issue. I was happy to fill that role. It gave me the opportunity to have experiences with them that their dad didn’t. My husband knew and supported my efforts. The only rule….I could keep any and all of their secrets unless it was something that could bring them harm. Then, I had to fess up and allow him to get involved. Done. By taking their side, I developed relationships with them and solidified my husband’s trust as a parent.
In sum, the teen years are a a time of exploration and growth. Consider yourself blessed to get to be involved at such a pivotal time in their lives. One day, they will appreciate that you did.