Saturday, November 15, 2008

Sharing Time with Teenagers

Christine Bauer, of the Florida Divorce and Family Law Blog, has a very timely post on visitation issues with teenagers. In addition to the usual stresses between parents going through a divorce, parents of teenagers must deal with a very different environment when they are trying to arrange a visitation schedule for children who are teens.

  • The children often don't want to be considered kids (and often shouldn't be).
  • They frequently want some role in deciding where they will be and what they will be doing.
  • At the same time, they can be very manipulative.
  • They also have more and more activities and greater independence, particularly when they drive.
  • School work can become more demanding and time consuming, while extra-curricular activities can eat up a lot of their free time.
  • One way or another, there often isn't much free time left for teenagers to be around their parents.

Another complicating factor can be changing relationships between parents and children. There often is a lot of conflict and communication problems. To make it worse, if one parent has not been very involved with the children during the marriage, but suddenly, because of a divorce, wants to make up for lost time, children sometimes will not quickly welcome that parent back into their lives. That can create a lot of frustration and conflict for both parent and children, and a court order alone is usually not a good or sufficient solution.

Here's what Christine Bauer had to say about the topic:

"When Judges impose time sharing for children who are young, these types of rulings are very easily enforced and its likely that the children aren't really given a choice as to whether or not they should visit with one of their parents. With teenagers, this is a much more grey area. Teenagers have busy schedules, often times have anger issues towards one parent, and/or are easily manipulated into feeling a certain way towards one parent. What do you do if your teenager refuses to spend time with you doing your designated days? As a parent, how can you encourage your teenager to spend time with a parent when they say they have no interest in doing so? I have the following suggestions:

"1. Be flexible. If your teenager primarily resides with you, you have the benefit of spending time with this child during the week. Encourage your child not to make plans that will affect their ability to spend time with the parent who only sees their children during the weekend. If plans are made during their visitation with the other parent, be open to switching weekends so that the other parent doesn't go weeks without any quality time with their child.

"2. Don't speak negatively about the other parent or project your own angry feelings towards that parent onto your children. Often times a teenager will feel protective towards one parent and may decide that they don't want to spend time with their other parent in order to protect the parent they feel is being wronged. Remember that your child deserves to have a loving relationship with both parents and its your job, no matter how hard, to insure that this happens.

"3. Always keep the other parent informed about extracurricular activities so that the non-custodial parent can be actively involved in your child's life and be afforded the opportunity to see the child even when its not their designated time sharing days.

"4. Encourage family therapy if there are issues and problems that preclude the child from wanting to spend time with either their mother or father. Family therapy can be tremendously helpful to a child who feels they don't have the ability to communicate with their non-custodial parent.

"5. Don't allow your child to make too many decisions about visitations. Remember that you are the parent and that there are many things that you 'make' your children do that they don't want to do, like homework, cleaning their room, etc. One of the things that you should make your child do is spend time with their mother or father."

These are all good ideas for dealing with visitation issues that seem to get worse as kids get older. Some of these will take some time, such as family therapy, and there are no instant cures. Take your time. Getting both parents to work together on solutions is the best appoach. Good luck!

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