TIPS FOR CO-PARENTING TEENS
Back in August 2011 we spent some time providing tips for co-parenting children returning to school as well as some helpful tips for transitioning into the role of stepparent. As we all know, teenagers are transitioning through their own unique growth process. Divorced parents are struggling with navigating the teenage years while simultaneously co-parenting from two separate households. This extra layer of challenges deserves special attention.
1. Authorizing a minor child’s driver’s license, and providing a car for the child to drive
“We all know how important driving is to teens. A car should not be used as a tool to lure a teen into spending time at a parent’s home. Unless you’re sharing your car with your teen, the car should travel with him or her and not to be held for exclusive use in the home of the parent who purchased it.”
2. Toys, Cell Phones, Lap Tops, iPods and Clothing
“Co-parents need to cooperate by permitting toys and clothing to move freely between households whenever it is reasonable. As each child gets older, he or she can be reasonably expected to remember to bring particular items they may want. If one of the adults has a special request regarding the return or use of a particular item, that request can be made directly to the other parent, outside of the children’s’ presence.”
Tip #2 reminds us of two additional concerns. Don’t make your children the ‘go between’ for exchanging information, even when they are older and the temptation is greater. Don’t make the fact of your divorce the reason schoolwork is not completed because a book or computer was left at the alternate parent’s home.
3. Permission for tattoos, piercings, and other alterations of the child’s body
“I think it’s perfectly reasonable co-parenting etiquette for parents to discuss a child’s haircut before it happens. When children know you’re talking about them in a productive way, even about seemingly small matters, it can make them feel more secure. Tattoos and piercings are more permanent alterations and therefore they are larger issues that should carry a higher degree of communication and agreement.”
The most common parenting difference occurs when one parent is more lenient and the other is stricter. The stricter parent resents the feeling of having to carry the load for both parents while the more lenient parent tends to believe that the strict parent has unreasonable rules and restrictions. If the parents don’t agree on any permanent alteration of their child while they are under the age of 18, the alteration should not occur. There is plenty of time for the child to make that decision for him or herself, or change their mind, when they are over the age of majority.
4. Employment prior to the age of 16, 17 or 18 years
“Whether your child is interested in working in a shop, restaurant, babysitting, modeling or acting, employment discussions are another example of co-parent cooperation that helps children grow the kind of resilience they need to navigate the passage between two homes.”
I don’t agree that children should, “grow the kind of resilience they need to navigate the passage between two homes.” The entire purpose of co-parenting tips has always suggested that the co-parents should be working together so that that kind of resilience isn’t necessary.
The decision as to whether the child should be working outside the home should be a joint decision considering whether the child wants or needs to work, has a suitable place of employment, and is able to continue to maintain schoolwork in conjunction with the added responsibility.
5. Enrollment or termination of attendance in school or university, marriage before the age of 18 years, and/or joining a branch of the military service
“School attendance may be a problem, particularly if children are resistant to it. Remember never to lose focus on who is at the center of this. Your first loyalty is to the children. Your child is looking for and finding a safe perch and nest in your world. You two must give mutual consent if you have joint legal custody when it comes to marriage or joining the military.”
The child should at least complete high school before anything else. Then you can talk.
6. Household Chores and other Routines:
“I encourage discussion over whether or not co-parents agree to have similar household routines and expectations around chores, bedtimes and restrictions on television viewing and video game playing. Co-parents should think about this in advance and develop a narrative to explain differences and similarities in the households.”
Conflict on this issue abounds when couples are divorcing. Co-parents should do their best to present a united front regarding rules and chores. It is impossible for both households to maintain the same routine. It is much more common for there to be one home which is more regimented and one home which is more relaxed. One of the byproducts of divorce is that each parent loses control over what goes on in the alternate parent’s household. The best you can do is get agreement on your most important and pressing concerns and pick your battles with the smaller issues and details.
7. Teenage Sexuality, Curfews and Substance Use
“Unlike other household rules, parents must maintain a mutually consistent set of expectations and rules regarding teenage sexuality and substance use. They must clearly explain these guidelines to the children and enforce them the same way in both households.
With regard to sexuality, such rules may include an “open door policy” for entertaining children’s friends and partners in each home. Also important are consistent restrictions about sleepovers and protocols involving communication with the parents of children’s’ partners and friends, especially when the situation includes another minor child.
As for teenage substance use, agreements with preplanned consequences for breaking the rules — such as taking away the car — are important. Agreements about using a parental residence for a party and parental supervision, and what degree of tolerance over tobacco and substance use, if any, that each parent is comfortable with requires full knowledge and discussion with the teenager of what the law provides.”
Couldn’t have said it better myself.