Stepparent's Guide to Raising a Teenager

Stepparenting a teenager isn't easy.
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Becoming a stepparent to a teenager presents some unique challenges. Despite those challenges, families who successfully blend together reap many rewards. Whether you're entering a child's life at age 13, or age 19, being a successful stepparent to teen takes a lot of effort.

Have Realistic Expectations

It’s not realistic to think you’re going to be one big happy family from day one. Blending two families takes time and hard work, so make sure you have realistic expectations about the process.

Patricia Papernow, author of Becoming a Stepfamily, found that it takes the average stepfamily seven years to integrate and experience authentic relationships. Therefore, patience and consistency is the key to successful stepparenting.

You may not have seven years to build a new family before a teen moves out of the house. But that doesn’t mean you should try to rush things. Instead, it means that you should respect the fact that stepfamily dynamics are complicated. 

Focus on Building a Relationship

Avoid trying to become a disciplinarian until you’ve established a healthy relationship. It’s important for kids to have a healthy respect for you before you begin handing out consequences or setting too many limits

Show interest in your stepchild’s activities. Provide plenty of positive attention and assurance. Being consistent will show that you’re not going away and that you’re invested in being a part of your step-child’s life.

Although there are six essential roles biological parents play in the life of teens, your roles may be very different. Until you build credibility, your role may be to be an ally to your stepchild while also supporting the biological parent's role as a disciplinarian. 

Establishing a relationship during the adolescent years can be particularly challenging because it's the age when children begin to separate from family as they form their own separate identities.

As a result, teens aren’t likely to want to spend a lot of time with a new stepparent. But, spending time together can be one of the best ways to build a relationship.

Avoid Taking Things Too Personally

Also, be aware that you may represent a lot of hurt and anger. Your entrance into the family may serve as further proof that a teen’s biological parents will never reunite. There may be a lot of sadness and grief that stems from your arrival.

When you hear things like, “You’re not my real parent!” or “I don’t have to listen to you!” try not take it too personally. Instead, focus on remaining a positive, consistent role model.

Work With the Biological Parents

It's essential to work together with your partner on establishing a united front. Be supportive, while also being careful not to create too many changes all at once. Healthy communication is imperative as you adjust to your new role as a stepparent.

If you’re fortunate enough that a child’s other biological parent is willing to work with you, be willing to do so. It’s in the child’s best interest when all parents and stepparents can work together to support a teen.

It's also important to never speak negatively of the teen's other biological parent.

Saying things like, "Well your mother is lazy," or "Your father never fixed anything around here the right way," will only create more problems and cause a child more stress. 

Seek Professional Help When Necessary

If you’re having difficulty identifying your clear role in the family or you can’t seem to tell if you’re making any progress, consider seeking professional help. Talking to a professional can help you identify strategies to reduce stress while also making the transition smoother for everyone in the family.

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