There is a real shortage of people to foster teenagers. For any foster carer, managing pre-teen and teenage behaviour can be challenging. There are some simple approaches that can make the task easier and promote harmonious relationships. One of the most important things is to respect the privacy of a young person. This becomes increasingly important as a child develops – they must also respect your privacy of course. Very simply, knock before entering a teenager’s bedroom and don’t be over inquisitive. There is much in the media about the risks associated with the internet and smart phones, but you have to learn to trust a teen. They will not appreciate it if they feel their every move is being watched and monitored. This is not to say that you should be unaware. Children who are at risk from online activity usually start to exhibit certain behaviours. It is these a foster carer should look out for. If they are not present, grilling a teenager about their on-line life will create tension and resentment. Your approach should be to trust their judgement, unless, of course, you have reasons not to.
Foster carers should work on communication
No one said it would be easy: a surly teenager can be extremely frustrating. Look for subjects to talk about that are likely to mean something to them: fashion and sport are good examples. But don’t be too eager. It is important to always remember that a teenager’s brain is developing (in fact, this process has not finally stopped until the age of 24), so rudeness and inattentiveness are just a part of this process. Understand too, that adolescence is not an easy time for anyone. Perhaps as a foster carer you can think back to your own difficulties during this period in your life. Teenagers may come to hold views and opinions that may appear ridiculous, but it is important to be non-judgemental. It is often the fact that you are making the effort to communicate that really matters t a young person.
The value of praise
Teenagers are often afflicted by feelings of low self-esteem and poor body image. Have some sympathy for them as this generation confront pressures that are unknown to previous generations. The rise of social media means teenagers are subject to pressure over appearance in an unprecedented way. This can cause them considerable distraction and distress. At the extreme end of this, some suffer mental illness as a consequence of cyber bullying. Remember, teenagers are pushing boundaries all the time. As a foster carer you need always to be consistent: rules are rules but engagement is key. Give reasons for why there are certain house rules. Perhaps tell them that when they are parents one day, they will themselves need to have rules to ensure that their children are kept safe and happy. Praise works: even if it is the last thing you feel like doing and you get hardly any reaction, remember a teenager will be listening and registering what is being said.
Family time is important
Make sure you take a teenager on outings. These should be all about their interests: even better if a trip can support a school project. As they get older they will most likely want to spend more time with their own friends. This is natural. It is still important to make time to discuss topics that are important to them such as school activities. The fact you make the effort to do this will register with a teenager. They may not say so, but it does communicate your interest in them which helps them to feel secure.
Guidance: striking the right balance
We all make mistakes! Hopefully we learn from them. If a teenager is embarked on a course of action you disagree with, and know the end result will not be likely to be successful, give them the space to learn from the experience. Obviously this relates to examples where there isn’t the risk of harm or danger. An example might be to let them discover for themselves that ignoring your advice to wear wellington boots on a rainy day might not have been such a good idea. Giving guidance is all about the controlled use of language. Where there is an area of potential dispute,
simply saying “do it your way” is confrontational from the start. For a challenging and argumentative teenager, this is precisely the kind of reaction likely to cause an argument. A much better approach is for guidance and what might be termed ‘observational’ comment. Invite them to consider the consequences of a particular action. This would mean saying “do you think you will be uncomfortable at school all day if you have wet socks because you didn’t wear wellington boots?” Clearly there will be times when a foster carer has to stand firm over a particular decision and lay down the law. Again, this is where there is the potential for risk and harm for a teenager. If they can see that you have engaged with them in a reasonable way around every day issues, they will be more likely to recognise your right to be firm when you need to be.
Giving teenagers responsibility
No two teenagers are the same. Part of your role as foster carer is to give a young person age- appropriate responsibility. It is, after all, important to promote self reliance. Without this a teenager cannot develop their own life skills. The maturity levels of teenagers vary – just to complicate matters.
Keeping teenagers safe
As a foster carer, you have always to keep your young person safe. Teenagers make the assumption that they are safe – and always will be. They do not have the experience to make an objective risk assessment of a particular situation. A young person can often be very naive and not be able to see the danger inherent in a situation. Believing they can look after themselves is not the same as actually being able to do so. A thirteen year old girl may see no risk in staying out until midnight and then making her own way home from a friend’s home. But an adult will see there is a real risk in such a situation and, rightly, prevent such behaviour. Again, the language that is used is key: invite the teenager to imagine the kinds of risks that could be present so they can see why you are making the decision. And as the foster carer you are not being over protective in such instances – you are doing your job.
Don’t respond personally
Young people are hugely sensitive: they will not appreciate you intruding into their personal friendships or being too inquisitive. Older people can be an embarrassment to teenagers. As a foster carer you have a job to do, but the way you do it can determine how easy or not it is. It can be very easy to be provoked and take things personally. With the right training, a foster carer will understand the processes at work, and not become emotionally entangled by taking things that are said personally. Accept you will not get much recognition for what you are doing from a teenager. This will come much later.
As a foster carer, always be ambitious for a young person
The support you give as a foster carer whilst your teenager is in education is vital. If you are enthusiastic about their career ambitions – and these often change a great deal – they will feel supported. They will feel someone truly cares and shares their ambitions.
If you can foster a teenager, you will have done one of the most valuable jobs it is possible to do. As a foster carer why will have helped them through one of, if not the most difficult stages of life. Although it can be challenging, it can also be uniquely rewarding as you will have guided them toward adult life and enabled them to make something of their future.
Online safety guidance at
Photo credit: Steiner Engeland
Could you foster a teenager in 2018
People to provide foster homes for teenagers, sibling groups or for parent and child placements are urgently needed. Rainbow provide specialist support and training to cover all these different categories: specialist further training for people who want to focus on therapeutic foster care is also available. So if you have further questions about therapeutic foster care training online, therapeutic foster care uk, training for therapeutic foster care, you can speak with a member of our recruitment team on 020 8427 3355. We can also arrange a home visit to meet you and discuss this specialised area of foster care in more detail. This means you can be sure you are making the right decision. For therapeutic foster care training, we particularly welcome applications from people with experience working with children. You have the option to write to us at Rainbow Fostering Services Ltd, 10 Churchill Court, 58 Station Road, North Harrow, London HA2 7SA
Today’s Rainbow news page:
Foster parents now able to access additional childcare
21st December, 2017
During a recent debate in Parliament the children’s minister has announced that foster children in England aged three and four will be able to access 15 extra hours of free childcare. This will be from September 2018. The leading charity, The Fostering Network, played a prominent role with other organisations and individuals in bringing about this change (more) http://bit.ly/2e8PrIK
And the good news at the end of this December Rainbow…the season of goodwill is upon us. Happy Christmas and a huge thank you to all our foster carers and congratulations to all our foster children for their hard work and efforts.