November 24, 2015 —
I have two daughters, ages 16 and almost 13, who I co-parent with my husband, my ex-husband, and his wife. Raising teenagers who resist high-risk behaviors such as, drugs, alcohol and medicine abuse is a challenge for any home - and especially difficult in a blended family dynamic - but is possible when everyone works together.
Here are some pointers to raising strong, independent teens who make smart decisions:
- Communication is key. I try to check in regularly with both of my daughters about their lives. I’m not talking about the standard, “How was school?” The answer will always be “fine,” no matter how it really went. You have to ask pointed questions, pay attention to what your child says and pay even more attention to what they don’t say. Mannerisms, sleep patterns, study habits, friends they hang out with, grades, text messages and social media updates are all important clues to what your children are really thinking and feeling.
- Talk often. Communicating regularly with teenagers takes effort and time and effort. Talk about drugs, alcohol and medicine abuse. Find out what they think about kids who abuse these things, and discuss different ways to resist peer pressure with them. The key is to keep the dialogue open, letting them know it is safe to discuss these topics with you.
- Speak with the other parent/parents. Whether you are a two-parent family or a blended family like ours, communication with the other parent is key in all situations. It is impossible to agree with one another on every topic, which is where compromise comes in to play. We have co-parenting meetings to discuss serious topics. No matter how large or small the situation or in which household it occurred, we make one another aware. This also cuts down on the amount of child/parent manipulation that could otherwise happen. Our teens are unable to play us against one another if we are aware of everything happening.
- Monitor texts and social media. Both of our girls have phones with limited privileges, with the understanding that whatever they write or receive from other kids is fair game for us as parents to read at any time. They are not allowed to delete any texts unless we tell them they can. We encourage them to make a phone call if they have something to say they don’t want us to see. Some parents might feel this is an invasion of privacy, but we feel it’s imperative to monitor their activity. If we feel anything is inappropriate, the privilege is gone. Period.
- Spend quality time with your teen. Spending time with older kids can be challenging because they may not always welcome family time or parent/child time. Teens still need attention, just in a different form. I suggest finding a common interest that you and your teen both enjoy, like music, art, movies, books, letting them teach YOU something, cooking together, video games, dancing, hiking or photography. Spending quality time with teens creates an ideal opportunity to initiate sensitive conversations with them. Get to know them. Ask them about the other kids in their life and what their parents allow them to do. I know more than only the names of my children’s friends. I know which kids have gone through hardships, which teens have tried alcohol and abuse drugs. I know these things because I ask our girls, and I truly listen to what they say.
No matter what your family dynamic may be, when the communication lines are open between parents and the children, it is possible to raise strong-willed young adults who will stand up for themselves and do what they feel is right. Do you have additional parenting tips to share? Post them in the comments below!
Trish Eklund is taking a nontraditional approach to parenting children after divorce and remarriage. Raising her two daughters of twelve and sixteen with her husband, ex-husband, and his wife, they consult one another on all parenting decisions. Trish is the creator and owner of Family Fusion Community, an online community for blended families of all types. Trish is also the owner and creator of Abandoned, Forgotten, & Decayed, a photographic adventure in the abandoned and forgotten. She is a regular feature writer on Her View From Home, a lifestyle magazine that connects your view to the rest of the world. Trish Eklund has an essay, Happy Endings, in the anthology, Hey, Who’s In My House? Stepkids Speak Out by Erin Mantz. The first book telling the story of blended family life from the perspective of the stepkids. Follow Family Fusion on Twitter and Facebook, and Trish on Twitter and Instagram.