How to Connect With a Teenager in Foster Care
There are approximately 442,995 children in the foster care system, and about one-quarter are young people aged 14 or older.
Teens have a tough time in foster care. They're going through many pivotal moments in their lives, but constant moves and disruptions can make it difficult to focus on their studies, friends, or futures. Many of these young adults entered foster care young and are on the brink of aging out of the foster care system.
Kids who age out of social services and foster care programs face significant obstacles; these difficulties range from employment and housing to finding a support system they are able to rely on.
If fostering a teen sounds daunting, don't worry. We're here to help you with great ways to connect with, build trust with, and spend time with foster care teenagers. So, if you're a foster parent who wants to help, here are some ways to make a big difference in a teenager's life.
Understand What They're Going Through
Many parents dread the teenage years, expecting arguments, challenges to their authority, and mounting frustrations. This is quite common as kids grow up. So, why do teens argue or lash out?
As kids grow, they go through incredible physical, psychological, and social changes. They must adjust to new schools, schedules, friend groups, the new demands of social media, and possibly romantic relationships. Hormones affect their bodies and brain activity and may lead to moodiness, anxiety, and more.
Don't forget that teens in the foster care system go through additional trauma. They may feel abandoned or alone or may want to close themselves off.
Teenagers have also shifted from concrete thinkers to exploring their independent ideas. They may have difficulty accepting that parents know best or that your way is the only way. Saying, "Because I said so," will no longer be a valid way to end an argument.
In many ways, teenagers exploring more abstract ideas and ways of thinking is good. However, it can cause headaches for parents.
Understanding what they're going through is the first step.
Give Them More Control and Responsibilities
Teens may become argumentative with a foster parent because they want more control. Foster teens may feel like much of their life is out of their hands, from where they're living to their future. That's a scary thought for anyone, especially for a child undergoing many changes.
You don't have to relinquish all control. However, you also shouldn't be making all the decisions on their behalf. Talk to your teen about giving them more freedom while also maintaining boundaries.
Give them responsibilities as this can help them to feel more independent. It also provides a way for them to build character and gain new skills.
Learn when to be flexible and when to remain firm. It will take some trial and error, but finding common ground may not be as difficult as you think.
Help Them if They Need It
Foster youth go through frequent moves and school changes. As a result, they may fall behind in certain subjects, struggle to keep up with their peers, or even fail to graduate.
A high school diploma is a requirement for most jobs these days. Without one, your foster teen will struggle to find decent employment.
Help them with their homework, or look into tutoring services. Talk to their teachers and show an interest in their education.
Finding and assigning a balance between responsibility and fun is also challenging for a foster parent. Teens may want to hang out with their friends or lounge around on their phones. You should give them time to do these things, but you also need to stress the importance of studying, getting enough sleep, and taking care of themselves.
Show Them They're Loved
Psychologists have a theory on attachment as a way to create "lasting psychological connectedness" between children and their caregivers; the attachment theory applies to all children and may be particularly crucial for those in foster care.
What's the importance of attachment in the lives of foster children? For one, attachment is a deep emotional bond with another human being and can help children feel protected and comforted.
Children raised in foster care may not be able to develop an attachment with their birth parents or primary caregivers; they may show more behavioral problems or have difficulty forming relationships.
As a foster parent, you need to teach teens that you're there for them to provide the care and support they need.
You can show them, love, in many different ways.
Make Time for Them
If you're caring for a teenager in foster care, you must understand they're going through a lot. There will be times when they argue or become moody. You may feel these episodes have no specific cause, leading to frustrations.
Miscommunication is one of the primary reasons parents have difficulty connecting with teens under their care. If you truly want to know how to connect with a teenager in foster care, make time to talk with them. Ask them how they're feeling and if there's anything you can do to help.
The offer is there even if they don't want to discuss it.
Help Them Cope With Trauma
There are many advantages to creating a foster family for a teen. You can help guide a foster child through difficult times and make a real difference. You may be one of the first loving caregivers they've had in a while.
Listen to them, take time to learn about trauma-informed care, and help them find treatment, such as therapy or medication, if necessary. Educate yourself further by reading about foster care success stories, reaching out to other foster families, or taking parenting classes.
Help them cope with trauma triggers. Most importantly, remember to remain patient and to be understanding.
How to Connect With a Teenager in Foster Care
Teenagers in the foster care system may struggle to feel wanted or loved. They're going through many changes, but you can help them to adjust. Now that you know how to connect with a teenager in foster care, you're better prepared to assist a child in need.
Being a foster parent or adopting a teen is a rewarding and admirable path. If you want to make a difference for a teenager here in Virginia, fill out our online form to get started.