If a foster carer understands the dynamics at work, responding appropriately becomes easier. Accepting that teenagers will behave in ways that are frustrating and very often exasperating will help. Knowing this happens because they are going through a period of confusion and uncertainty should elicit empathy: one of the most important skills a foster carer can have. And remember communication; even if difficult at times, is still communication. Always keep the channel open recognizing there will be good days and bad days which is quite natural.
Teenagers can often display anger and upset over something seemingly trivial. A foster carer should be aware this emotion may be displaced. The real reason for their emotional state might be quite different. There is a reason why the behaviour of teenagers is commonly described as being sullen and moody: it’s a time in life when the mind and body are going through rapid changes. Most teenagers become preoccupied with their body image and the pressures this can create are considerable. The predominance of social media plays a significant and often harmful part in affecting teenagers. And a foster carer should always be aware of just how influential this can be. Foster carers should always keep a watchful eye which can be a difficult balance to strike as prying is something to be avoided.
If a foster carer is successfully managing the relationship, they will have a good idea of the pressure points – as well as areas of opportunity to strengthen relations. Praise is a good example: a foster carer should look every day for the opportunity to praise some aspect of their young person’s behaviour. This should not be gushing and over-the-top as this will be counterproductive. It’s effective to focus on something quite small that is positive – remember no one can be achieving great things in life every day. Be subtle: when a teenager behaves in a responsible and adult fashion make sure this is recognized. But don’t overreact and heap too much praise as this could make them feel childish. Teenagers are almost by definition over sensitive and ‘touchy’. Appreciating this can help a foster carer deal with behaviour that can come across as moody and dismissive.
As children get older, they will be faced with more decisions. Some of these can be potentially life-changing such as which subjects to choose for GCSE. They will also be thinking longer-term about what job or career they want to have. Their way ahead may often be far from clear. After all, the teenage years are a time of development and exploration. Whilst exciting, this can at times feel unsettling. This is a period in their lives when they need more guidance than ever before. The problems arise because they don’t always recognize this which can cause friction. The best way forward is for a foster carer to appreciate this and give a young person space. Judgment is called for as young people cannot be left to make wrong decisions as that can have serious consequences. The trick is often to invite them to discuss different ideas and options with you. This gives a sense they are being treated in an adult fashion. Just telling them what you think they should do and thereby making them feel the matter is closed can invite argument. Especially if a young person is frustrated, or insecure about something else. It’s important for a foster carer to choose the right moment to start a conversation and to then think in terms of steering a young person toward making a good decision. Getting a teenager to feel they are supported and that you are collaborating with them is an effective approach.
Managing teenage relationships that can be difficult, infuriating, and fractious is, of course, challenging. However fraught things might get, as long as a foster carer continues to engage, this is sending an underlying message of care, support, and interest. This commitment will be registered by a teenager – even if grudgingly – and once the storm has passed – be acknowledged. It’s important a young person be given age-appropriate responsibility. This helps to encourage self-reliance.
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