Many times when a teen is out of control and the parent is not capable of caring for the child, a family member or other person is called in to help. If a state agency is called in and the agency workers determine a child must be removed from the home, they will usually try to find a relative to care for the child versus putting the child into foster care. When a relative can be found, kinship care, the term for when a relative provides care, is preferred by most state agencies.
Many times kinship care is done privately between family members. In my family this happened when my great-nephew was arrested and facing juvenile detention. My niece was in a quandary as to what to do or how to help her son. Before they went to court, my niece asked if I would take in my fifteen-year-old nephew.
Unsure of what to do, I contacted a friend of mine who was on staff at the Oklahoma Baptist Children’s Home. I was fortunate because I had someone to guide me. Most people don’t know where to go or whom to consult regarding such an issue.
My friend offered me some great suggestions for making this situation comfortable and successful.
In this post I want to share some of his suggestions; some of the things I knew intuitively to do; and also some suggestions from a personal friend who was a teenage counselor.
If you are contacted by a church member, how will you help him set up his home so he can be successful at accommodating someone else’s rebellious teen?
- Bathe the entire situation in prayer.
- This means setting aside your judgments about the child’s parent or parents and praying for them, as they may possibly be grieving the loss of their child.
- It means praying for the child and for the person or people taking the child into their home.
- It also means praying for your role and the church’s role in this situation. A welcoming church family can play a huge role in this endeavor being successful.
- Advise the parent to get legal advice. In my situation, I went to court and asked for legal guardianship. That accomplished two things. First of all, it said to my nephew that I wanted him to live with me. It also protected him from being removed at the whim of his parents. So there was stability.
- Help the parent survey the home to assess what steps must be taken to accommodate this child. It is important for a teen to feel he is wanted and that preparations have been made for him.
- Is there a bedroom or a room that can become the teen’s bedroom? Or even a space the teen can call his own?
- Is there a place for the child’s personal belongings?
- Is there a table space for the child at mealtime? (You wouldn’t believe how important this condition is to the teen. It says to the teen that he is part of the family and belongs at the table with the rest of the family.)
The reason a teen must be removed from a home is because the teen’s behavior is out of control or it is an unsafe environment for the child. So before the teen comes to live with your church member, you should encourage the potential caregiver to meet with the teen before he moves in. The purpose of this meeting is to:
- Give the potential caregiver an opportunity to explain how he will physically accommodate this child.
- Give the potential caregiver a chance to explain the discipline techniques he uses.
- Provide the potential caregiver time to ask what some of the problems have been for the teen. If it is a forced removal, your church member should ask for a report and the reasons why the child is being removed from the home.
- Provide an opportunity for the child to ask any questions and to see the home where he will be living.
In my situation, my great-nephew didn’t really know me. We didn’t live in the same town, and I hadn’t seen him in several years.
I let him know at my house there would be boundaries and conditions. I didn’t use the word rules, because his recent behavior and actions told me he looked at rules only as a way to challenge an authority figure.
I explained right off that if he was going to be part of my family, then he had to change some habits. And for our situation, I had to be sure he understood coming to live with me was a choice, his choice.
Help the caregiver develop a written agreement
Many caregivers don’t know how to help this new child fit into their family. They are unsure of how stern or liberal to be, or what boundaries and conditions need to be used.
One of the suggestions from my counselor friend was to write out an agreement about the conditions of living in my home. He said to go over the agreement with my nephew and have him sign it. This way everything was out in the open. There were no hidden conditions, and my nephew was assured there would be no surprises regarding discipline.
I reminded my nephew that I had said there would be some conditions, and that I would like to go over what those boundaries and conditions looked like. I explained that in reality it would be his choice to follow the conditions of living in my home.
Many of these rebellious teens have never been allowed to make decisions. Most act out because they feel all of their power has been taken away. Choices allow the child to be empowered and to take responsibility for his actions.
The following ten conditions were put in writing. This way everything would be up front, with no surprises.
- If he was going to live in my family, he would have to attend church with me. He had to be up and ready to go when I was. My life included learning more about the Lord and worshiping Him. He didn’t have to attend any other time, just on Sunday. Going on Sunday was pretty much a shock to his system.
- He would need to see a counselor of my choice each week. I explained that he had a lot of problems, and a counselor could help him understand the poor choices he had made and how to overcome some of his behaviors.
- He would be required to help around the house with chores, and he would need to do them willingly.
- He would need to help me make up menus, clip coupons, check out the items needed for the meals, grocery shop, and cook some of the meals.
- I would give him a job at my child care facility, but I would not be his boss. My director would oversee him. I explained he would get a paycheck every two weeks. When he got his check, the first 10 percent would go to the church for his tithe. He would also put fifty dollars into the mail to pay back his mother for wrecking her car.
With his paycheck he would be required to purchase all of his school supplies and his own clothes, and he would have to buy his lunches each week.
- There would be no smoking in our home, nor could he use drugs or drink alcohol at any time.
- He was not to have any company in the house when I wasn’t home.
- If he wanted to spend the night someplace or be out late, he would need to ask me twenty-four hours in advance. I wanted to have time to check out what was going on. I also wanted to have time to think about every aspect of the situation. So if he didn’t ask at least twenty-four hours in advance, the answer would be an automatic no.
- If he wanted someone to spend the night or he wanted to spend the night with a friend, then I had to meet the friend’s parents.
- He would be required to attend school each day unless he was running a temperature or he had to go to court.
After we had gone over all the points in the agreement, I explained he would need to sign the agreement. I explained that by signing and dating it, he was agreeing to everything. He readily signed the agreement. More than once I brought out or referred to “the agreement” over the next few months.
Help the adults manage the transition
It is important to help the adults in the home where the child is headed to understand the importance of boundaries, rituals, and adjusting to day-to-day life. The adults need to keep in mind this child has been removed from the only life he has known. The following tips will make the transition a little more bearable for the child.
- Many of these kids don’t have a regular schedule, so the first thing I did was to develop a routine.
- The next thing was to develop healthy meals with foods he liked.
- I was very careful to never raise my voice to him. Soft and in-control voices and calm demeanor go a long way in helping these kids calm down.
I knew from the minute he entered my house that this was going to be a learning experience for him. I was going to be the teacher and help him change his behaviors. I entered the relationship with the “this is the way it’s going to be” attitude. I had laid things out very clearly how living in my family was going to be. I would expect nothing less.
I went into this arrangement knowing there were going to be challenges and he would falter occasionally, but I chose to see these situations with humor. (I imagine that is what God does with me most of the time.) By seeing the humor I was able to keep a sane wit about me and keep my cool.
When a child lives in another person’s home, the adults have to be stronger, wiser, and smarter than the kid. Many days I had a big smile on my face, but it wasn’t because I was winning or one-upping him; it wasn’t a game.This was serious business, and I was sincerely enjoying my role in this young man’s life. I knew that keeping a smile on my face would keep my heart softened toward him. (I also knew that smiling sends calming chemicals to the brain. And there were days I had to stay calm or I would destroy my witness with this young man. So I did everything I could to stay in control of my emotions.)
Prepare the adults in the home for difficulties
Let adults know there are going to be troubling times. Kids are going to slip up. They are kids, and while we’d like to think our influence will impact them deeply, sometimes it takes time for the child to grasp the new rules and new lifestyle.
One night my nephew came home stoned out of his mind. I didn’t say anything all evening about him being stoned. It was my birthday, and we had a little family party. When he went to bed and whatever he used was wearing off, I went and tucked him in. I did it just like I would have if he’d been a little kid, except after reading him a story, pulling up the covers around his neck, and giving his forehead a kiss, I said, “I need to tell you something. I know you were using this afternoon. You were high as a kite when you came home.” I put my hands on his face gently and continued, “This time there will be no consequence, but I want you to know that I trusted you and it hurts my heart that you betrayed that trust. If I need to start doing random drug testing, I will. It’s your choice.”
Gradually over the months I watched this kid turn around. I was so proud of the hard work he was doing. He was funny, gentle, and kind, and he added a lot of joy to my life.
Today as a young adult in his late twenties, he is a hardworking young man. Many miles separate us now, but across the miles via Facebook I watch how hard he works and how he enjoys life and treats his family well.
Unfortunately, we can’t guarantee outcomes when our church members invite a rebellious teen to live with them. But we can give them helpful principles that give them a better chance at success. Consider sharing these ideas with those who choose to care for a wayward teen.