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The Challenges and Rewards of Stepparenting a Teen

Published on: June 28, 2011

Patti Skelton-McGougan, Youth Eastside Services“You’re not my real parent!” Something that every stepparent dreads hearing. Words are powerful and may even make you question your worth and effectiveness as a parent. Take comfort, you’re not alone in this battle and to a large extent, statements like this are a normal by-product of adolescence.

“Keep in mind, many of the experiences with your stepteens would be the same if you were the biological parent,” says Bertie Conrad, supervisor of school based counseling for Youth Eastside Services and as stepparent herself.

“The fact is that teens are wired to push away from their parents as they prepare to enter adulthood. Unfortunately, this can sometimes take the form of harsh words,” she adds.

That said, the stepparent must earn the respect of the teen and hopefully develop a positive relationship before they have the same parental “rights” of the biological parent.

Conrad also notes that each family has its own dynamic, and in many cases it may be better to take a lesser role in the rule setting and discipline and let the biological parent(s) take the lead, especially in the first year or so.

If a positive relationship develops, one of the benefits that stepparents may have is a unique friendship. This can mean that your advice and suggestions are more accepted. Kids know parents worry too much sometimes and for that reason they don’t always take them as seriously.

Most stepparents will find themselves at some point faced with a child who complains or is upset at their biological parent. This can be especially true with teens. In general, it’s always best to remind the child that their biological parent cares about them. It only harms the child to put a parent down, no matter how deserving you may feel it is.

When tensions rise, remember that teens have a lot on their plates as they deal with hormonal changes, social acceptance, and academic pressures. Adding a complicated family dynamic to the mix can create additional stress and you may be the tipping point. Try to be supportive and loving and keep in mind this is a phase that will pass.

Patti Skelton-McGougan is Executive Director of Youth Eastside Services (YES). YES is a nonprofit organization and a leading provider of youth counseling and substance abuse services in the region. Since 1968, YES has been a lifeline for kids and families, offering treatment, education and prevention services to help youth become healthy, confident and self-reliant and families to become strong, supportive and loving.  While YES accepts insurance, Medicaid and offers a sliding scale, no one is turned away for inability to pay.

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