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.

Getting Past the Thought - My Teenager is Lazy

When my phone rings with a parent of a teenager, I often hear "my teen is so lazy.” Many parents think of therapy as the "teen fix-it shop." While therapy is very helpful when your teen's behavior has spiraled beyond your ability to handle, here are two tips that can make a huge difference with your teens behavior:

Teenager lies across bed during day texting.

1) Keep an open and respectful relationship with your teen

Don’t play against your teen, find a way to be on their team.  You can create more influence by working with your teen. Avoid the typical parental ploy of threats, manipulation, punishment - these get you nowhere, but even more importantly these can be detrimental and push your teen away. Keep feelings of fear, anxiety, and worry in check. While these are normal emotions to experience in the teen years, reacting to your teen out of these feeling will be ineffective.  

Remember, your teen is not a lazy good-for-nothing and they are not behaving this way on purpose to make your life miserable. If you start to get worked up and emotionally reactive, try to say to yourself “My teen is just not there yet, they need help figuring it out.” Our job as parents is to help them learn how to be responsible. When you resort to negativity or trying to make a “moral issue” out of your teens behavior,  the result may be a defiant teen.  Be your teen's cheerleader and see then participate on your team.

2) Incorporate "if then rule" – Grandma’s Principle (you get cookies when…)

As a young girl my grandma taught me this principle with my annual summer visits.  My grandma made the best ever oatmeal raisin peanut butter cookies (trust me, they are awesome). Grandma’s rule was – when you pull one patch of weeds in the back yard you can have some cookies.  This was an important life lesson of delayed gratification and work equals reward – something that is quickly fading with today’s teenagers and the instant access via social media. As adults we have learned – when we work hard we get a paycheck and maybe a raise at our annual review. We can teach this simple principle with everyday opportunities.  For example if your teen plays a sport encourage them, when you practice your game will improve. For example: practice shooting hoops every day, you increase your baskets. Other ways to incorporate this lesson is by saying things like “you can have 2 hours of computer use, when you finish your homework.” OR “When you are done studying you can go to the mall”.  OR “When your show me your book report is done, we can discuss what movie to see at the theater this weekend.” Enforce the “if this, then that” rule – be sure to stick to it!  Sticking to this rule teaches your teen perseverance and you are helping them learn how to do what their own brain is not yet equipped to do, which is to create the structure for success.

If you are faced with teen behavior issues and need professional help, seek a therapist with a specialization in working with adolescent behavior issues.

Photo by Tobias Quartey on Unsplash

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

Reducing Disrespect From Your Teen

As a parent, you love unconditionally, and only want what’s best for your teenager. But sometimes, that love and affection can be misinterpreted, and leads to back-talk, disrespect and anger from your teen. This is a problem that almost every parent has faced at some point while raising a teenager; know that you are not alone. Don’t blame yourself, and don’t blame your teen; instead, try to understand why it is happening. Here’s what you can do to establish a better rapport between your adolescent and yourself: 

Disrespectful teenager with attitude sits on a dock.

Analyze the Situation

Try to get to the root of your child’s disrespectful behavior. Did they ask for permission, which you denied, evoking a snarky retort from them? Or did they roll their eyes at you because they asked you a question and you said something along the lines of, “because I said so”? Sometimes, an act of disrespect is actually your child’s frustration coming out. You are the parent, and mostly, it is your duty to mend relationships, because although they believe themselves to be the adult, in truth, you are. It is therefore important that you take the first step and communicate to them that you are open to what they have to say, and they don’t need to feel frustrated as long as they try to explain their perspective to you, and vice versa. Don’t expect this to work the first time, it will take time for your patterns of communication to change, but if you keep at it, both you and your teen will see the difference.

Give to Receive

Teenagers are stuck in this limbo between childhood and adulthood, and as nothing around them makes sense, they try create autonomy as some form of stability, helping them exert control over at least one aspect of their life. You can’t treat them like children, and can’t expect them to comply with rules without an explanation. If your daughter asks for an extended curfew, and you just say no, it may come across as lack of trust on your part. You have to gently explain your reasoning, and try saying something like, “I know you want to stay out a bit later, but we have to get up early tomorrow to go to a family function and we both know that when you don’t get enough sleep it is hard for you to get up”. Once you talk to them with respect, they will view you as someone deserving of their respect. Look for opportunities to increase their autonomy. At times find a comprise on their desire to extend curfew that you can see as reasonable and create a check-in time if you are feeling a little nervous about extending the curfew.  For example, “I am feeling a little worried letting you stay out to 1am, how about you call me at 11pm to let me know how everything is going and that you are being safe.” As much you hate it, the truth is they are growing up, and must be talked to as adolescents reaching adulthood.

Choose your Battles

Parents can be embarrassing to a teenager; it’s a general rule of life. You were probably at some point embarrassed by your parents, your parents were embarrassed of theirs, and it went on and on for generations before you, and will continue to go on till the end of time. When you say something goofy, your children will probably smirk at you, or roll their eyes, and sigh. They may even call you “weird” or other name. Don’t take these too personally or make a big deal out of them. Sometimes, you can even be amused by how much your cheesy behavior may affect their “cool status”. So don’t hold on and to every little sign of “disrespect” and punish them for it. If, however, you feel that their behavior is specifically directed to hurt you or others around you, you need to take action and call them out for it. If you nag constantly about every little thing, they will build up a tolerance to your words, and you will cease to affect them on an emotional level.

These interactions will take time before they show you results, but perseverance is key, and eventually, you will soon begin to see a transformation take place.

If you are struggling with communication or behavior issues with your teen, a psychotherapist that specializes in teen behavior issues can help.  Learn more by contacting Jennie Marie at www.Hope-Therapy-Center.com

Photo by Mikail Duran on Unsplash