Teenagers present their own unique challenges for stepparents. Here are some things you need to know about dealing with teenage stepchildren:
Teenagers are less interested in bonding with a step-parent
One of the things you’ll be battling when it comes to teenage stepchildren is that many adopt the attitude of, “I’ll be out of here in a few years anyway, so why bother?” Whereas younger kids are in it for the long haul, teenagers are at least two-thirds of the way through their childhood. They are also in the stage where they’re craving independence. So when faced with problems, it’s a lot easier for teens to give up and simply stop trying.
One way to counterbalance this is by stressing that stepfamily relationships don’t end at eighteen. Even if all goes according to plan and they’re out of the home before the candles are blown out on their eighteenth birthday, these relationships are going to be with them well into adulthood, for better or worse. Help them see the long-term picture, and the benefits of forming a positive relationship compared to the drawbacks of maintaining a negative one. This might give teenage stepchildren a little more incentive to try and make things work.
The biological parent should be the one having this conversation. Point out things like…
A) Even once you’re off to college and out of the house, you’ll still have to deal with a stepparent during holidays or family reunions, or when simply calling on the phone or stopping by to visit a biological parent.
B) Talk to them about the concept of human capital. This is a social psychology term, and it refers to the benefits that social connections have in our life. For example, one reason children in single-parent households do more poorly as adults is that they’re missing one parent and the social benefits that parent brings. Each parent may have 2 dozen close relatives, 3 dozen friends, and another dozen or so associates. This web of contacts can do things like get a child’s foot in the door in a particular industry or provide other opportunities they wouldn’t otherwise have. This same principle takes effect in stepfamilies. Working towards a healthy relationship with a stepparent opens the door to a much larger network of human capital – stepbrothers, stepsisters, step-grandparents, aunts and uncles, and so on. Maintaining these connections can literally determine the course of their life. (You can Google research on the importance of human capital if more proof is needed.) In this world, contacts matter, and who you know is often as important as what you know.
C) Talk about the stress involved in maintaining an adversarial relationship with stepfamily, and whether they really want that in their lives. Even the simple act of despising people or maintaining enemies creates psychological stress, because every time you fail at something or make mistakes, you’re going to envision them gleefully gloating in your demise. Life is hard enough as it is, you certainly don’t need to go around creating adversaries.
Give teenage stepkids their space
Just as important as loving them and trying to connect with them is to give teenagers their space. Sometimes less is more when it comes to dealing with teenagers. Don’t smother them or try too hard.
Understanding why teenage stepchildren act the way they do
Very few people truly understand teenagers, and there’s a good chance you’re one of them if you reached this page. So we would strongly suggest you immerse yourself in some of the material provided in our parenting teens section, specifically that which relates to understanding teens. Reading this information may even give you a leg up on their biological parent, and just might help you become the “cool” stepparent who understands what they’re going through.