Fostering teenagers is a topic that some foster parents shy away from for a variety of reasons. Some foster parents have concerns about taking in teenagers, but are these concerns and fears valid, or should more foster parents consider giving an opportunity to teenagers? Are you considering fostering a teenager?
A teenager foster child has either been in the system for most of their life, or something tragic has happened more recently and they didn’t have any other family members to live with for a few years until they’re adults. Either way, this is incredible difficult on a young person, and people handle trauma differently, so by the time someone is a teenager in the foster system, they’ve probably been let-down by the system and been unlucky in life more times than they can count. Regardless of their specific situation and how it came to be, even as a teenager, you simply cannot blame these people for the circumstance they’re in. Some of them may have made bad decisions in the past, lacked guidance and role-models, misbehaved, and felt forgotten and unloved.
As a foster parent, you already know how important it is to show love and support to people who have literally no other source of it in their life, and teenagers are no different.
People are very impressionable as children, but even as teenagers, it’s possible to change someone’s life for the better. Sometimes, all it takes is knowing that someone cares.
Imagine this: There are teenager foster kids who have never felt any sense of love, stability, or support in their entire lives. They’ve still made it this far without any of that, so imagine how well they could do with a sense of family and feeling like someone finally has their back and wants to see them do well.
Here are some things to remember when fostering teenagers:
5. They’ve Had To Grow Up Very Fast, But They’re Still Kids…
A teenager in the foster system has most likely been through more than most people will face in their entire lives, they’ve experienced loss, felt hopeless, live with trauma, and more… but they’re still kids! They’ve had to grow up quickly and learn to fend for themselves, but even behind a tough persona or the wall they put up, there’s still a kid there who didn’t get to experience the type of childhood that most parents want for their kids.
This is important to remember, because on the one hand, they missed out on a lot and have had to come up with defense mechanisms for themselves, but on the other hand, if they are more grown up than other teens their age, you can treat them as such – you don’t need to treat them like they’re a child.
4. Privacy is Important When Fostering Teens
Every teenager craves privacy, and when you’re a foster teen who has been let down before, it’s easy to put up a wall and to struggle letting people in. Imagine how hard it is to trust someone, when you feel like almost everyone you’ve ever trusted has let you down.
On the other hand, if a teenager is hanging out with a bad crowd, has contraband or paraphernalia, is struggling with substances, or getting into trouble – it’s hard to trust them or to want those types of things in your home. That’s looking at the worst case scenarios, not the normal experience!
EVERY teenager needs privacy, whether it’s for art they create, letters they write to friends, a journal they keep, or just having their own space that’s really theirs.
There’s a balance between setting rules and ensuring you can enforce them, without being too overbearing and not giving them room to breathe and grow.
3. Communication is Crucial
When you take in a foster child, it’s a little easier to set the structure and to make the rules, you’re in charge and you want what’s best for them. When you’re taking in a teenager, however, the dynamic can be a little bit different. You’re still in charge in your home, but your foster teenager is probably a bit more jaded. They’ve been through a lot, on top of the normal stuff that every teenager struggles with.
Open communication is going to be the factor that decides whether this works or not. Talk to them, and let them know they can talk to you. Don’t just listen to the words they say, but really hear them, hear where those words come from, and learn to listen to what’s going on just below the surface, the things that aren’t always expressed directly with words.
The more your foster teen learns that you’re on their side and want what’s best for them, the more they’ll buy-in to the whole process.
2. Give Them What They’re Missing
This is going to be a difficult process, for one reason or another! Even if everything goes smoothly the entire time with zero hiccups, it will still be difficult to say goodbye!
At the end of the day, you’re trying to help them get through a difficult stretch of time, like a bridge, and during that time you want to show them what a home can feel like, what love can feel like, and what having support is like. You can build up their self-confidence in that time,
1. Everyone Needs Love
Every human being has basic needs like food and a roof over their heads, and that’s one thing you’re providing as a foster parent to teens, but they also need love, and depending on their exact circumstances, that’s something they may not have felt much of throughout their life.
Fostering and Helping Troubled Teens
If you want to take extra steps to prepare to foster troubled teens or teens in general, then taking some courses or reading some book about trauma and abuse in children and teenagers will help you gain a better perspective of what they might be dealing with.
There are also programs for troubled teenagers that can offer support and guidance.
Pros and Cons of Fostering a Teenager
For some people, creating a pros and cons list can help with decision making. In this context, since you’re dealing with individuals, and not all teenagers are the same nor do they have the same experiences, it’s a little strange. None the less, here are some very general things to keep in mind.
PROS and Benefits of Fostering a Teenager:
- Opportunity to make a profound difference in someone’s life when they need it most.
- Teenagers will have more interesting things to talk about, more personality developed than a small child. A lot of them are very clever, genuinely funny and interesting people – life experience tends to lead to those traits!
- You could form a connection with someone who will keep in touch for years to come, even when they’re long gone from your home. You’ll get to see them excel during their prime years, and know you had some little part of that.
- They may have a harder time finding a home, so your contribution is much more needed.
- You can do your part to help prevent someone from slipping through the cracks.
CONS of Fostering a Teenager:
- It’s possible that they’ve had plenty of bad fostering experiences in the past just by virtue of being older and in the system for longer, and might be jaded to the whole thing. This is NOT their fault, and it’s a logical response to their experiences, and a method of trying to protect themselves. You need to work extra hard to help them feel safe and loved, but it can be that much more rewarding when you break through.
- Working with troubled teens can be a challenge, but it’s something you can learn to handle. Remember, not every teenager in the system is “troubled”, and it’s kind of a strange label to place on someone who has been through so much, anyways.
Teenage Foster Kids Aren’t “Damaged Goods”: Fostering Teenagers Is Rewarding
Despite the warnings you’ll hear and some of the things discussed on this very page, these are teenagers, a lot of them are basically kids! They have hobbies and interests, they have dreams, passions, they have good days and bad days…
Don’t paint foster teenagers with some scarlet letter like they’re going to be the biggest challenge in the world, you’d be surprised! If you’re interested in being a foster parent, then fostering teenagers can be incredibly rewarding since they’ll be old enough to have real conversations with, and to make a genuine impression on them. They have a lot of love to give, and they need someone to step up and be there for them. It could be you!