Make changes progressively to avoid unsettling the kids.

How to Cope With Teenage Stepchildren

by Alysia D. Roehrig

In 2009, 5.6 million children in the country lived with at least one stepparent, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. When families come together to create a stepfamily, some challenges are bound to arise. Children can rebel or resist; accommodating an “outsider” can be difficult for them, and parents may find it tasking to deal with all the changes. When dealing with teenage stepchildren, some measures can help make your co-existence easier.

1. Build a Relationship

Teenagers do not express feelings openly and can be very sensitive. Because you cannot force a relationship with them, accept where they are presently and work on your connection over time. Make it a point to learn your stepchild’s activities in school and home, and aim to be part of them. For example, you can play tennis with him, watch a game together, or even help him make college choices. The aim is to spend time with him and create an opportunity to talk about your expectations on areas you need to work on as a family. Remember to genuinely listen to his opinions, be friendly and do not impose your ideas.

2. Exercise Patience

Teenagers may involve themselves less in a stepfamily life, but just because they take longer to accept a relationship with you doesn’t mean they don’t want one. Exercising patience and accepting that a friendship between you and your stepchildren -- especially adolescents -- takes time to develop, will help you set realistic expectations. Having to cope with changes in their lifestyles can become a source of frustrations for teenagers, which can trigger immature demands and behaviors.

3. Discipline

Teenagers may rebel to test your limits. Accepting a new authority figure just when your teen is at a stage in her life when she is valuing her independence. However, a successful stepfamily is one that is able to put in place a working discipline system, where parents act as a team. When the family is still new, follow the lead of the biological parent on how and when to discipline a teen. While you may disagree with your stepdaughter eating on the couch rather than at the dining table, her biological parent may be comfortable with it and may have even encouraged it while your stepdaughter was growing up. Over time, you can set boundaries and assert your authority.

4. Respect Their Privacy

Letting your teenage stepchildren know that you trust them creates a respectful environment. Teenagers value their privacy and stepchildren especially will not automatically invite you into their private lives immediately. Resist the urge to ransack their rooms, go through their mail or phones. While it's a matter of safety to know where your stepson is, what he is doing, with whom he's doing it, what time he will be home and how to reach him, let him know you're asking the information for safety, not to be nosy, advises Kids Health in its article “A Parent’s Guide to Surviving the Teen Years.”

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