Sep 01, 2017
by Subaricca Robinson MS, ABD, Supervisor/Program Coordinator, Guardian ANGELS* Foster Care Program, Bethany Christian Services in Atlanta
*Adolescents in Need of Guidance, Exemplary care, and a Loving home with Solidarity
A lot of people love the idea of fostering young children. Kids are silly and fun, and they usually like spending time with you. Teens, though, tend to be more withdrawn, and they don’t always reciprocate love and kindness.
Keep loving them.
Keep telling them you love them.
Keep demonstrating that you love them.
The teen you’re loving today was a child once who was hurt, and that child is still inside of them, wanting and needing love.
One myth I regularly encounter is that teens are difficult. They’re set in their personalities. They’re not open to change. But research shows that our brains are still developing into our 20s—there’s still room for a teen to learn and grow, which means there’s still time for a foster parent to make a difference in a teen’s life.
Here are three ways foster parents can do that:
Set clear expectations.
Teens want to have fun all the time. They want to be with their friends all the time. They want to disagree with you all the time… about everything. Remember, their brains are still developing. It’s normal teenage logic to want these things without considering that these choices will have consequences.
No, they can’t hang with their friends all night.
No, they can’t play video games all day.
But wanting those things with no responsibilities is normal.
Many kids are in foster care because they haven’t had boundaries. Parents who aren’t looking out for their kids let them stay up all night, and no wonder the kids don’t want to go to school in the morning. That’s when teens start getting into trouble. They need parents to provide structure and enforce boundaries that will keep them safe.
One of the foster moms I work with is very good about establishing boundaries and guidelines in her home. But she doesn’t just hand teens a list of rules; she invites them to the table to write the rules together. She posts it on the refrigerator. When the teens stay within the agreed-upon boundaries, they get incentives (added privileges). When they go outside the boundaries, she brings them back to the table, and they talk about what happened.
Get into their world.
A teenager’s world feels a lot bigger today than it did when I was coming up. Getting into their world isn’t an easy task. My daughter was watching a reality show on TV called “Catfish.” I’d never seen it and asked her what it was about. These guys go around busting people for using fake personas online. I watched it with her, and we talked about appropriate ways to use social media. I often watched “America’s Top Model” with my daughters and used that to talk about self-esteem and the real meaning of beauty.
Use whatever you can to connect with them. Music is important to most teens. I don’t listen to a lot of today's rap music, but I will listen to Drake if that’s what I need to do to connect with you. If the kids are into sports, get out there with them and have fun. My kids are surprised when I put on their TV shows or turn on their music, but they’ll come and sit with me, and we’ll talk sometimes. Even when they’re argumentative, they are communicating what they’re thinking and feeling, information I wouldn’t otherwise know.
The Apostle Paul said, “I have become all things to all people so that by all possible means I might save some” (1 Cor. 9:22). You don’t have to have experienced exactly what these kids have to relate with them. You were a teenager once—did you ever feel like an outcast or like you didn’t measure up? Kids today are going through those feelings times 100 with the pressure of social media, relentlessly calculating your worth with friends, likes, and shares.
Plant a seed.
When I train foster families to work with teens, I stress that we have an opportunity to make a difference now. Teens who age out of foster care (about 21,000 across the U.S. each year) have an elevated risk for unemployment, homelessness, substance abuse, and incarceration. Foster parents need that conviction that this is an opportunity to plant a seed in a teen’s heart and pray that, down the road, that seed will be watered and grow.
Sometimes kids are going through hard things, and you won’t know how to respond. Maybe all you can do is put your arm around them. But even that gift of presence creates an environment where they know they’re not alone. Even if you’re not sure what to say or what to do, the love in your heart will compel you to find the help they need.
As you talk to these teens and listen to what they’re saying, you can often find that young child inside them who has been hurt, rejected, or neglected. Maybe they didn’t get the help or compassion they needed as a younger child. Or maybe a seed was planted long ago and now is your time to water it. In those moments, your presence—your love and your grace—will speak when you don’t have the words.
- Family Makes the Difference
- An Alternative for Michigan Teens Aging Out of Foster Care
- I Remember: Understanding Teens in Residential Care
- We Believe: Finding Families for Teens in Foster Care