Perhaps a teenager is not your immediate choice; you are perhaps worried that they will be a challenge and believe it would be easier to have a younger child in your care. However, often teenagers become the preferred option for many of our foster carers. Fostering teenagers does come with specific challenges but approached in the right way (we are here to help train) they are not things that should cause unnecessary concern.
When Fostering teenagers it is important to recognise how much they are their own person, and they have their own identity and personality, it's important for foster carers to both give them room to be themselves, to listen to them but to also ensure that boundaries and rules are in place and stuck to. Below we have some important aspects foster carers identify as key to successfully caring for teenagers.
It is not just about the education of the teenager in your care. They will need to learn the usual skills that teenagers and young people need to learn such as how to cook, clean and keep good hygiene, to encouraging and supporting teenagers to stay in education and gain qualifications. But, it is also about what you (as a foster carer) need to learn and support. The young people in your care are there because they can not be within their family environment. The could well have experienced neglect, trauma or abuse. Their life experiences to date could deviate very far from the teenage years you experienced, the results of their life to date will have a substantial impact on who they are and how they perceive others, as a foster carer you will need to learn to respect and understand the impact of these experiences.
The Training provided by Affinity is designed to help you to develop your skills and knowledge. By learning about the specific behaviours demonstrated regularly by teenagers, and gaining the understanding of the traumatic events that lead to this behaviour you will be in the best position to help support the teenagers in your care.
Guidance and Praise
Teenagers need guidance, their brain is wired to take risks, but they don't have the maturity to always think through the consequences of their actions. It is also often the time they least want advice and guidance, so a level of perseverance is required. Just because they are growing and in some instances are as tall as the adults in your house it does not mean they are fully grown. These are formulative and challenging year, peer pressure, body confidence issues, the sudden inability to communicate with more than one word, and hormones they have no control over, would any adult really want to be a teenager again? Remember to understand and find something to praise them for.
It is essential to understand it is a two-prong approach. It is steering your young person in the right direction, giving them both the guidance and space to make the right decision and then acknowledging and praising that they got the decision right.
The young person in your care may not be used to quality family time, the concept of spending time together with adults in a fun and safe environment could be quite an alien concept. Also, teenagers, by their very nature, often try and become hermits in their bedroom during these years.
Keep trying! Even with non-foster teenagers, family outings can be a challenge. Mood swings and a sudden desire to be anywhere but out in public with you, but underneath they do want it; they want you to be thier safety net or touchstone. So be what they need, be resilient, stand firm.
As they get older and find activities that they are interested in committing to, along with the inevitable increase in homework, the time they have available will diminish. This, however, only makes the quality time together more important, remember to have them engage in family life regular.
Often, as far teenagers are concerned, they are already know everything they will ever need to know and grownups are just their to spoil the fun! Whilst it is important to give teens the space to learn and grow, they do need structure. They need, but not want, clear, consistent boundaries that are to be respected. Whether it is a set time they need to be home, limits on time on game consoles or times for phones to be off at night. Young people in care can be at greater risk of being taken advantages of by gangs or older individuals looking for children with vulnerabilities. Having clear boundaries helps to keep the children in your care safe.
Trying to communicate with a teen that has decided to be monosyllabic for no apparent reason, if you exclude the changing direction of the wind, could try the patience of a saint. However, keeping the lines of communication open falls on your shoulders. Find ways that they feel comfortable to talk, be that flicking through the news or social media on their phone during breakfast can bring about a conversation that needs to be had. Removing the need for direct eye contact and allowing them to have somewhere else to look or pretend to be focused should hopefully allow the lines of communication to be open a little longer.
Sometimes they loiter behind you like a shadow claiming they want nothing, need nothing, and eventually, you pry it out of them with what feels like a crowbar. The desperately wanted to talk, but they had no idea how to start or were worried where the conversation might lead.
Other times you walk into what feels like a torrent of information, views and emotions that need your complete undivided attention. This is often at a time you are about to walk out the door or have something cooking in a pan.
However, whatever the circumstances are, if they have chosen to speak, listen to them. They have chosen you to confide in, you to turn to for advice, you to trust. There is an old saying "if a child does not feel you hear them when they tell you the little things, why would they tell you the big things."
Fostering Teens, Challenging? Yes. Rewarding? Extremely
Being able to provide a safe, caring environment, and supportive guidance to allow a young person to grow into a young adult should be considered an extraordinary privilege. They will challenge you, they may well change you, but you have the opportunity to make a real difference to the path of someone's life.