On crafting a post-divorce parenting plan for teens

Teens and Divorce are usually a tough combination to circumnavigate. One of the main issues is custody & visitation. The challenge is how to craft a meaningful parenting plan that will be effective and that both teens and parents will love.

Here are some of the things to consider in crafting a parenting plan that is good for teenagers.

1. Remember that teens are really just big kids. Teens still need guidance, they still need their parents. But they are not babies. So consider their ideas and wants and desires, but ultimately, as the parent, the adults have the responsibility of making the parental decision that is in the teens’ best interest.

2. Respect that teens do have a  life Teens are very particular about their social lives and anything or anyone that messes with that is asking for trouble and resistance. When a marriage is intact, this is easy to circumnavigate. It’s not like a parent is going to stop a kid from attending football practice to sit and have heart to heart talks about their feelings. What divorce does, however, is it messes up everybody’s schedule. And all of a sudden, something as routine as football practice gets to be a big deal if it gets in the way of visitation time for the non-custodial parent. Both parents need to be able to be mature enough to not get their feelings hurt if a child’s practice time or other social activities occasionally conflict with visitation and parenting time. In other words, parents have to be a lot more flexible after a divorce, especially when there are teens involved. A parenting plan that has all these rigid hours fixed in stone is going to be a problem. It will create resentment and frustration for both parents and teens. Whenever possible, parents should strive for a more open-ended plan that has a lot of flexibility built in to accommodate the fact that their teens have a life and not all of it is about the adults whose marriage happened to break up.

3. Plan to work social networking into the parenting plan. Teens are totally into social networks like Facebook, Twitter and Myspace and these should be incorporated into a parenting plan. Teenagers like smartphones that allow them to send text messages. And they like Skype.  So do the courts, btw. Just last week in New York a judge ordered visitation by Skype. To the extent that parents are open to these social networking structures and alternative ways to communicate such as by Skype, the happier co-parenting experience they are going to have, post-divorce. More courts will naturally issue orders that incorporate social networks and technology into parenting plans. It is the new way things will be done and parents just need to suck it up and deal.

Teens & Divorce
Teens & Divorce

4. Differentiate between teens and younger children.   A parenting plan that fails to factor in the different age groups of the children involved is probably doomed for failure. A teen is intrinsically a different animal than a tween or even a younger child. The amount of free time children have varies depending on their age. Parents don’t want to “baby” their teen or force teens to infantilize him or herself by having a blanket parenting plan that is etched in stone. What is good for a nine year old will likely be preposterous for a fifteen year old and vice verse.

5. Make room for fun. As a practitioner, I’ve sometimes wondered whether some parents insist on rigid parenting time simply to aggravate the other parent. Is it about the kids and continuing a close, loving relationship with the child that is predicated on good times and quality experiences? Or is it about getting at the other parent? Spending time with parents post-divorce shouldn’t all just be about court orders and strict adherence to rules. It should be fun. Teens want to enjoy themselves and enjoy life. They want to laugh and have a good time. So the parenting plan should take that into account. And what’s the harm with a little bit of spontaneity? So what if it wasn’t in the parenting plan? Why can’t daddy take the kids to Spain for four days?

Parenting’s got to be fun. And in a divorce scenario, it needs to be even funner to make up for any deficit that came from the divorce. That is what kids remember when they grow up: how much fun or lack of fun life was as a kid. Parents can use their parenting time to attend kids’ sports games, take the children to the park and playground and go on fun vacations. And the other parent, the custodial parent should encourage that. A lot of times, the custodial parent can act as if by taking the kids to a fun activity, the non-custodial parent is not acting like a parent, or could harm the parent. It’s unreasonable behavior that sometimes end back in court where one parent tries to stop the other from taking the child on a trip or allowing the child to engage in certain activities that may be deemed “dangerous” or “inappropriate” for some reason. But a lot of times, it is not about the child. It’s the parents fighting each other and not wanting the kids to have fun with the other parent. Rest assured that teens want to have a little fun. So to guard against a parental fight that kills all the joy for the teens in your life, make sure the parenting plan is explicit about what a parent can do as far as fun and extra curricular activities, trips, toys, clothing, cars, motorcycles and things like that.

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