Advice on how to care for fostered teenagers.
Adolescence is a difficult time for everybody. For children in foster care adolescence can exacerbate issues of self-esteem they may already be feeling. Successful foster parents need to know how to manage this period in foster children’s lives carefully:
• Respect their privacy. Privacy is very important for teenagers. Respect their need for privacy and make sure they respect yours. Knock, if their bedroom door is shut. Do not read their texts or emails. Likewise, do not listen in on their phone conversations or look through their bags and room. Trust their judgement and do not question them when they return home from meeting friends.
• Respect their opinions. Young people develop a lot of opinions at this age and will want to express them. You might disagree with a lot of what they tell you but listen to what they are saying, and always take their views seriously. Similarly, you should encourage them to form their own opinions.
• Communication. Try to remain communicative in this period, although it may be difficult. Ask them about their opinions and anything that might get a response. They need to know that they can talk to you if they are struggling with something.
• Praise them. Poor self-esteem and body image can often afflict many teenagers. It is therefore important to praise the teenagers in your care as much as possible. Try to praise them each day, even if it is difficult. Although they might not acknowledge it, they will appreciate it and it will help improve their self-esteem.
• Do not be too critical. Teenagers are very sensitive to criticism, often seeing it and feeling it even where there is none. If their behaviour is unacceptable, do not criticise them personally. Instead, patiently and calmly explain why you could be annoyed.
• Guidance. Offer support and guidance to steer the teenager in your care towards the correct decision. Although they often will not recognise it, teenagers need guidance now more than ever. However, be tactful in your support as they can often resent too much direct interference.
• Spending time as a family. Go on outings and continue to do things which help to promote a strong familial relationship. Again, teenagers may be reluctant to spend too much time with their foster parents. This is because they are getting their own sense of independence and have their own interests. However, maintaining a strong bond with them helps to reduce the potential for confrontations.
• Giving responsibility. Give the teenager in your care age-appropriate responsibilities. This helps to encourage self-reliance and to develop the life skills necessary to make independent, sensible decisions.
• Safety. Always keep the children in your care safe. At this age children can often assume that they are safe without making any objective risk assessments of a situation. Teenagers can sometimes show a disregard for danger and participate in very unsafe behaviour. Teenagers are still very naïve and do not have the life experience to recognise danger. At this age, young people can also begin to experiment with sex, alcohol and drugs. It is important to educate them about the risks involved, without being judgemental. Correct education from a young age can protect them from making poor decisions which could affect them for the rest of their life.
• Try not to tease. Do not make fun, or make a joke at the expense, of the teenagers in your care. Some of their actions might seem juvenile or silly, but teasing them can often be misinterpreted. They will take it very personally and could feel embarrassed, ashamed and resentful. This is especially the case if there has been an audience and everyone has looked at them or laughed. Teenagers in foster care are very sensitive and easily become embarrassed. It can have a negative impact on their self-esteem. In addition, try to stop other adults from teasing the teenager in your care too.
• Do not take things personally. Do not expect too much acknowledgment or thanks of your care and concern. At this age children are often embarrassed by their parental figures. Often just being in foster care is an embarrassment for a young person of this age. However, everything you are doing will benefit them later in life. Although they might not understand it now, as they get older they will realise how essential you were to their upbringing.
Raising teenagers can often seem like a thankless task. Prospective foster carers are often reluctant to foster teenagers. Because of this, teenagers make up a disproportionate number of the children in care. In Britain, 60% of children in care are teenagers.
97% of fostering agencies have an urgent need for homes for fostered teenagers.