Co-parenting a Teenager
Every parent fears the teenage stage. As the dreaded age range slowly approaches, parents naturally see a change in behavior as hormones kick in and your child suddenly turns into a stranger! Sadly, co-parenting can sometimes seem to exacerbate the hidden surprises that the teenage years contain. The longer the gap between seeing your child, the faster and more sudden the changes appear. If you still have problems with your ex, it can feel like you’re fighting a battle on two fronts!
Independence & Trust
Becoming a teenager is a step towards independence and they will definitely want it that way. Don’t be afraid to let go a little. This doesn’t mean giving them full authority to do what they like. Intuitively, we all know that kids also need to learn to be responsible! It’s normal to worry about them and what they’re up to at this stage in their life, and you have a right and a responsibility to know. But this must be kept in balance. Over-intrusive parenting tends to backfire. Staying up all night reading their Facebook messages probably isn’t going to end well!
The trick is to find a happy medium. When they show maturity, respect them for it. Reward this with trust and leeway, but remember to enforce relevant disciplinary measures if you’ve said you will. Follow-through is huge. Most important of all, be consistent with the levels of independence you allow them in each household. If there are slight differences in rules between houses, make sure you explain these differences and what is expected by each parent when your teen is with them.
Maintaining a Connection
It is easy to feel like you’re drifting apart from your child once they reach their teens. Their pastimes and points of view change and often do not align with yours at this difficult life-stage. Try to empathize with their emotions. We must remember how it was as a teenager; you against the world with no one really understanding you. Perhaps this sounds over-dramatic, but it can be a fair assessment of how people often feel at that age. Emotional instability is intensified by the divorce process, so bear that in mind and work to understand your kiddo.
You need to encourage communication, especially if you don’t have full custody and have limited time with your child. Give them a call when you’re not with them. Try and indulge their interests and go out for food together. Everyone likes food no matter what age they are! Practice indulging their interests. Be flexible in your plans and accommodate their hobbies, even if this means changing your plans when your ex requests it! If it is of benefit to your child, it is the right thing to do.
The teenage years are a common time for children to experience parental alienation. Avoid turning your child against their other parent; a healthy, happy family is good for everyone. Don’t give your teenager an opportunity to exploit you or your co-parent through your differences in opinion and personal grievances. Ensure they continue to develop a relationship with both parents even if it’s long distance. In this case set up a specific long distance custody schedule so that they can keep a consistent visitation routine and maintain that connection.
Give space, privacy and recognize boundaries, but be there for your children and support them as often as you can. Keep the communication channels open, not just with them, but with the other parent as well. Consistent communication between co-parents helps protect children by tracking behavior and emotional well-being; sharing concerns and staying aware of any changes either of you may notice. Teenagers are emotional and can often say things they don’t mean. Retain a thick skin, forgive, forget and move on. Expect and prepare for conflict and disagreements. Teens want respect, freedom, understanding and independence; it’s just about finding the right balance.
Krishan Smith is the new Senior Editor at Custody X Change.