Co-Parenting a Teenager with Your Ex

Teenagers are balancing on the thin line between childhood and maturity, and because our own teen years are so far behind us, it’s usually very difficult to relate to their problems. Raising a teenager is never easy, but when divorced or separated, it gets even tougher. You end up constantly worrying about the effects of the divorce or break-up on your teen, and often spend too much time arguing with your ex over parenting styles and rules. We will try and help ease the process by sharing a few expert tips on co-parenting a teenager with your ex, especially if your marriage or relationship ended on bad terms.

Father hugs teenage son.

Present a United Front

When married, or cohabiting, parents should always present themselves as a unit so that children can’t manipulate them individually and pit them against each other. When divorced, you have to remember that you still share a child, and still have to remain a single unit in that sense. Set down strict guidelines about curfews, rules, chores, etc. and make sure each parent follows them. Don’t try to be the favorite parent, or play good-cop-bad-cop. That’s allows room for manipulation, and may also lead your teenager to develop separate identities for both their homes.

Encourage Love for the Other Parent

Don’t badmouth your ex or let your teenager do so. If your child wants to spend a weekend with his father instead of at your place, let it happen without resenting either your teen or your ex. Encourage your kid to remain a big part of your ex’s life as well as yours. Don’t let them alienate the other parent, because they may end up blaming you later on if their relationship with their mom/dad deteriorates. Always try to remember that it was your relationship with your ex that ended, not your child’s, and so, when it comes to your children, be amicable towards each other.

Don’t Treat Your Teen as an Adult

Understandably, marital breakdown can leave a huge psychological impact on you, and of course you need someone to talk to. But don’t let your teenager become your confidante, because even though he or she may be taking all of this on with maturity, a teenager is not an adult. You can’t weigh them down with this emotional trauma, or turn them against their other parent, because they are emotionally and psychologically fragile. Teenagers, even those who come from tight-knit families, are struggling to find themselves, and are usually unsure of their identities; confiding in them the way you would to a friend or shrink may shape them and mold them in ways neither of you expected. All your teenager needs from you is support, guidance, and unconditional love.

 If you suspect that your teenager is engaging in illegal or unsafe behavior in order to deal with the new family situation, you may need to sit down and have a proper discussion with your ex, and then seek counseling with a therapist who specializes in working teens and their families. Don’t forget that both of you love your child equally, and only want what’s best for them. Don’t let your feelings towards your ex cloud your judgment, and have adverse effects on your teen.

Casual Marijuana Use Linked to Brain Abnormalities

This is an issue that many parents are concerned about - marijuana use with teens. Some studies suggest that as many as 30% of high school students smoke pot daily. 

Teens might use pot to relive stress, be part of a social crowd, lessen anxiety, etc.

Parents can make a big difference on their teens decision to use drugs.  However, if you find you need help seek professional help by working with a teen therapist.

5 Ways to Raise Capable Kids

I found myself flipping through daytime TV the other day and landed on an episode of Dr. Phil. What caught my attention was a mother and father begging Dr. Phil for advice on how to get their 37 year old adult son out of their home. Their son worked part time for a local pizza shop, and played video games the rest of the time. There were no extenuating circumstances, no disabilities, no necessary reason for their adult son to still be at home. These parents were at their wits end. This was the real-life version of the Matthew McConaughey movie "Failure to Launch." Unfortunately I was not able to finish the episode, but it got me thinking - Isn’t it obvious? Don’t they know where they went wrong? The more I thought, the more I realized the answer isn’t so obvious.

As parents all we want for our kids is the best. We want them to be happy, and have a life better than the one we had. Each day we do the best we can. Days turn into weeks, months into years, and suddenly we too could be like the couple on Dr. Phil wondering where we went wrong? Why didn’t our son become independent, successful, capable? The truth is, parenting is hard. It is. It takes effort. It takes time. It takes consistency. No one wants to be the “bad guy” and say “no you can’t go to a party, or no you can’t drive alone with your friend”- but giving in and saying “yes” all the time isn’t the answer either. Don’t fall into the trap of “I wish my parents would have given me X.” If there is something you wished your parents gave you, check-in with your kid to see if it is something they would like and if so create a way for them to earn it. For example, if do your weekly chores for the next month without my reminding, you can have that new X-Box game; or if you maintain a B+ average in school this semester you can get that new iPhone.

A mother, her daughters and grandson.

Here are 5 ways to help raise capable kids:

  1. Set Limits - When you tell your child, “no you may not have a cookie”- mean it.  Follow through.  Do not give in when the crying starts.  If you set a boundary by saying no, then stick to it.  This helps teach kids where the boundaries lie, and what the rules of the house are.  Rules and boundaries provide comfort, security, and help kids learn a sense of right and wrong.

  2. Help with Contributions - Some people call them chores, but I like to call them contributions. Contributions are ways of helping around the home. Children are active members of the house and need to participate in taking care of their world.  Of course this can be scaled to age appropriateness, but your teenager certainly can be setting and clearing a table, doing their own laundry, and cleaning their own room.  I like to have these household tasks not contingent to money or an allowance.  Kids need to learn to take care of their space because it’s the right thing to do- not because there is a reward at the end.  As adults they will take better pride in their home, school, and earth because helping is a good thing to do.

  3. Volunteer - In this media driven age, it’s so easy for all of us to get caught up in the hustle of life.  We can become egocentric and hyper focused on our life and not on the world around us.  Teenagers can easily become annoyed that their fancy coffee order is wrong, and miss out on the real struggles happening in the world.  While formal volunteer organizations like a Soup Kitchen or Hospital are great, you can start as simple as helping a neighbor rake leaves or mow their lawn.  Volunteering will help kids learn to put others needs before their own, and keep them humble to the blessing in their own life.

  4. Let Them Stumble - If you are always there to swoop in and solve their problems how will they learn to do it themselves? It is important to sometimes take a step back and let your child face the consequences of their actions.  Consequences can sometimes be small: they forgot their coat on a chilly day and had to go without it, or they forgot their backpack at school and have to take a lower grade because the work was not turned in on time.  Our own anxiety from watching our kids stumble makes us want to jump in and save them.  While it’s important to keep your kids safe from harm, allowing them to experience the natural consequences of life will greater prepare them to be responsible in the future.

  5. Start Early - Do not wait until your child is 37 years old to start setting limits, or contributing to your household.  You can begin as early as the toddler years.  Toddlers are great a testing limits, and you can get good practice setting boundaries just by keeping them safe. “No, you cannot play with that electrical cord”.  A “time-out” can also be used as a consequence for not following your limit.  You may be reading this panicked about your teenager- but never fear- it’s not too late to start. Keep your contributions and volunteer activities age appropriate- be creative.  Something as simple as making breakfast in bed for a child’s sibling can be a good start.  

If you are struggling with limit setting, or want to learn more about getting your child to help with contributions - Hope Therapy Center can help.  With specializations in children and teens, we are happy to help you navigate the difficult world of parenting and help you raise capable kids.

Photo by Sharon Mccutcheon

Anxiety in Children

I’d like you to take a minute to think of something that makes you anxious.  Public speaking? A creepy-crawly spider on the wall? Confronting a co-worker or spouse? What happens to you when you think of this scene? Elevated heart rate? Sickness in your stomach? Pressure in your chest and maybe heavy breathing? As an adult you have the ability to understand that an upcoming public speaking event may make you anxious.  You understand the symptoms associated with it, and may even have the skills to manage your anxiety and give a killer performance. 

Children with anxiety do not yet have these skills. An anxious child’s behavior may be seen as unacceptable and disruptive to others.  They may be labeled as “difficult”, “unruly”, “obnoxious”, or “too sensitive”.  In fact, they very well may be difficult to manage on a regular basis.  Let’s talk a little more about anxiety.

Parent comforts scared and anxious child on the beach.

What does anxiety look like in Children?

All children will be anxious at some point. Have you ever heard of separation anxiety or stranger anxiety? These two types of anxieties are present at typical growth development milestones.  Many times these types of anxiety are referred to as a “phase”.  For example, your child will temporarily experience crying when you leave them.  Then after a few weeks you will notice the crying will subside.  For children with anxiety disorders these symptoms last longer than a few weeks and will need extra care to help relieve their anxious feelings. .  For children, you most notice anxiety becoming a problem when they begin avoiding tasks or situations.  Here are some avoidance behaviors of a child experiencing anxiety:

  • Not wanting to eat in cafeteria

  • Not wanting to go to swimming lessons because of fear of putting face underwater

  • Not wanting to go to preschool or school because a parent is not there

  • Not wanting to raise hand in class or read out loud

  • Not wanting to sleep in your own bedroom

  • Not attending age-appropriate activities unless a parent is there.

  • Not wanting to be away from home unless they have a cell phone.

  • Not going out unless they have a complete change of clothes with them, in case they are sick.

Not All Anxiety is Bad

Anxiety is a very normal feeling that we all experience.  Many times anxiety is helpful and even keeps us safe.  You may experience anxiety when crossing the street. Being cautious before crossing may prevent you from being hit by a car.  Anxiety can also be motivating.  If you are anxious before a presentation at work or a big test coming up, anxiety can drive you to practice more frequently or study harder for the exam. 

When does Anxiety become a problem?

While anxiety can be motivating and protect us from danger, there comes a point when anxiety begins to interfere with every day life.  For children, it is when you begin to notice “the phase” not lifting.  For example:

  • It is healthy for a young child to be fearful and hesitant around strangers, but it is not healthy for your child to be fearful of “safe adults” (grandparents, teachers, babysitters) after a period of transition. 

  • It is normal for a child to be nervous the first day of school, but it is not healthy for a child to cry every day at school after the parent leaves. 

  • It is normal for your child to be nervous before a big test, but it is unhealthy for your child to throw up or want to call out sick the day of the test.

What can you do to help your child?

Anxiety in children is very treatable and Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) is the number one treatment method, with overwhelming success.  CBT is a type of talk therapy designed to identify sources of anxiety, and create concrete usable solutions to manage the anxiety symptoms.  Teaching the child the concept FEAR, which stands for 1) feeling frightened 2) expecting bad things 3) attitude or actions that will help 4) results and rewards for effective coping. This process helps your child to challenge their negative thoughts (instead of allowing them to accept the belief as truth) and creates long lasting skill building. These skills allow children to safely face their fears, and break down their fear into smaller more manageable steps.  Over time, they will be able to use the skills they’ve learned in more broad situations.  Eventually these skills will help them adapt to an anxiety-provoking scenario more quickly. 

Hope Therapy Center specializes in Cognitive Behavioral Therapy and the treatment of anxiety in children/young adults.  Contact us today to schedule your first session, and begin the process of helping your child cope with anxiety. 

Photo by Xavier Mouton