Adding one at the opposite end. 16 year old "adopted" daughter.
November 19, 2010 4:56 PM   Subscribe

How do we "parent" a 16 year old girl? My family is taking in a 16 year old girl to be a new member of our family. She's an amazing young woman in a tough situation. No behavior or academic issues (I taught her in 8th grade, she babysits for us regularly), some emotional issues (most likely due to her environment). We're going to go through the process of temporary custody, so this is not a question about "the system" or "legality". This is a question of family dynamics. We have other children in the house who are super excited as well, but our oldest is 7 and we have no idea how to come up with rules, routines, and boundaries for a 16 year old. Of course we'll have to come up with what will work for us, but what kind of things should we be thinking about? We're already talking about curfew, bedtime!!!!?????, computer use, etc. What should we be thinking about that we might not be. Any help from those with teens or those who have adopted older kids would be appreciated.
posted by allthewhile to Human Relations (17 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: Just a couple thoughts....
If she's responsible enough that you let her babysit regularly, I'd involve her in the process of setting these rules. It'll also be easier to hold her to rules she helps develop.

As for your list of Curfew, bedtime, and computer use, you might also add driving, dating and household chores. Will she now be expected to babysit for free? Its hard to anticipate EVERY possible situation, but I think that's a good start.
posted by blaneyphoto at 5:24 PM on November 19, 2010 [6 favorites]

Best answer: Is she going to have authority over your children on an ongoing basis, or just when you're out of the house, or just when you specifically say so? How should she make her material needs known to you (tampons, new jeans, lunch money, etc.)? What constitutes a "need" versus a "want"? Is it OK for her to give you a wish list for her birthday and Christmas? Are you planning to teach her to drive, and/or let her use your car? Should she be looking for a job, volunteering, etc.? Does she have plans for next summer? Is she on birth control? Do you keep alcohol in your house? Will she be helping out with meals, with giving kids baths, with taking out the trash, washing the car, raking leaves, shoveling snow? What's the plan if she's out somewhere at 2am and finds herself feeling uncomfortable and needing a rescue? What happens if she does get a bad grade?

Do you have veto power over boyfriends? Do you want her to hold sleepovers at your place? Will you be giving her a cellphone, and if so, will she have limits on texting, have to give it up overnight, etc.? Can she have friends over when you're not home? Will she have a debit card or student credit card of some sort? What happens if she has an argument with one of the kids? Will she be allowed to lock her bedroom door? If you have pets, will she have an equal share of the labor involved? If she wants a cat or fish or chicken, what will your answer be? Is she in school activities (band, drama, track, etc.), do you want her to be, do you want her to tell you when stuff happens so you can attend, how is she going to get there, are there any "deal breakers" where said activities could be taken out of her life (like getting a C in math or something?)

Does she know how to use a fire extinguisher, a checkbook? Does she already know all the people who are likely to be visiting your house (cousins, friends, grandparents?) Is she going to be on call for picking up the kids from school in an emergency? If she wants to watch something on Pay Per View, can she order it using your remote or should she ask first? Can she be on your Netflix queue, or get on your Blockbuster account? Can she go to R-rated movies? Does she have to be on time for dinner every night? If she wants to bring someone else for dinner, how much warning does she have to give you? Does she need to show you her homework each night, review it with you once a week, or just wait till you see her report card? Is she on track for college (signed up for the SAT this June) and does she need to spend a certain amount of time working on that?

Who gets priority access to the bathroom(s) in the morning? Does she have to shower at least once per (day/week/year)? Is there a certain time everyone has to be up, for prayer or breakfast or "if you're not in my car you have to walk?" What happens if she gets sick in the middle of the school day? How much freedom will she have over her schedule on Saturday and Sunday? Does she have to finish homework before watching TV, before going to the mall? Will she be continuing to interact with her existing social network, or do you need to help her find new friends? What are the rules about contact with her previous caregivers? What are the rules for sharing your address, phone numbers, full names, with people in person, with people selling stuff, with strangers on the internet? If you're near an international border, can she cross it? Without you there? What about wacky spring vacation driving trips across country? What about camping trips with no adult supervision? Does she have a passport?

Do you have a policy of disclosure of major issues (I'm thinking here of things like "if you're feeling really sad, tell me way before you're at the point of running away") and of not hiding things (like bullying, sexually explicit text messages, creepy feelings about the gym teacher, etc.?) Have you created a safe space for her to tell you things without direct confrontation?

I assume here that she's already comfortable with your home, that she's cooked there, that she knows where the toilet paper is kept, she is OK with using stuff like your TV, that she has fairly normal personal habits (I have met 16-year-olds who seem well-adjusted, and then learned they don't know how to shower, do laundry, or recognize serious safety hazards) and that she has well-established personal boundaries with the entire family, especially any adult males. I also assume you've given her lots of empowering information, such as but not limited to your pastor's name/phone number (if applicable,) the address of the nearest Planned Parenthood, the Boys Town national hotline, and so forth.
posted by SMPA at 5:28 PM on November 19, 2010 [60 favorites]

Response by poster: Oh wow. Not sure how that answer can be topped, SMPA. Thanks so much this is the type of ideas/concerns that we're looking for.
posted by allthewhile at 5:32 PM on November 19, 2010

No problem! I have four younger siblings (two teenagers, two in their twenties) and switched between my divorced parents' houses and my college dorms endlessly during my teenage years. Toilet paper location angst is something no kid should have to face.
posted by SMPA at 5:38 PM on November 19, 2010 [3 favorites]

And to tag onto SMPA's list: Does she have any plans for post-highschool? It would be good to know what she expects, and what (if any) preparations have been made (money? coursework decisions? extra-curricular training?) for the post-high-school years, since they will be arriving with a vengeance, like, next year or the year after. It would be kind of awkward to have her get to end of her school years and either not know what to do with herself or be totally shocked that no one had told her there was no trust fund to send her to college with.
posted by Ys at 5:41 PM on November 19, 2010 [1 favorite]

wow I would almost print that answer from SMPA out to use as a template. also I very very much concur please have her be a participant in developing these parameters, she's old enough to be given some respect, freedom and privacy and the opportunity to take on some adult responsibilities with it.
posted by supermedusa at 5:42 PM on November 19, 2010

I like the suggestion above about inviting her to discuss it. You have final say, but you get to start an open discussion about her place in the family.

I'm guessing she may not have had healthy boundaries set by her previous family. It may be a great relief just to have people who care about what she does.

I would recommend considering: how late she can use the computer, how late she can be out, whether she needs to call you to let you know where she is, how she can rely on you for health- and sex-related issues if she needs you.

But most of all, that you're loving, fair and willing to talk about anything.
posted by zippy at 6:17 PM on November 19, 2010

How much access to the computer will she have, and how much access to HER access will you have? Will she have a private computer or will the family computer be in the living room?

This is what a lot of my friends with teens that age are dealing with, how much internet autonomy to let them have. The trend among my friends with kids that age is towards computers in public areas of the house (with a lot of fretting about phones that can surf). Generally the parents require that their kids "friend" them on social networks and keep tabs that way (some say that hiding posts from parents results in grounding, if the parents find out). Some require theoretical access to their kids' entire internet life (e-mail passwords, etc.) but I don't know any who actually use it ... they seem to feel it keeps their kids from serious misbehavior if they know mom MIGHT look.

Internet life is so fraught these days for kids that age.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 6:25 PM on November 19, 2010 [1 favorite]

Very interesting that you'd post this. A close family friend had a similar experience. They were already parents of adult children when they met the young woman who they later adopted - their youngest is about a decade, give or take, older than the young woman. The Mom was the adopted daughter's teacher in high school, and the daughter (who was having a very very difficult time at home - she was essentially abandoned and is no longer in touch with her birth family) asked if they would take her in.

They had some concerns about it, but ultimately did take her in. I don't remember the details of how it happened, but it was processed through the foster care system, there was training and a case worker involved, etc.

They are a couple who were pretty firm with their boys, but also in many ways laid back in their attitude towards parenting. As a consequence, the kids excelled in school (and in life) and were able to express themselves creatively.

My memory is that they decided to be fairly laid back with her as well. They sat down and had a conversation about rules coming in, including general house rules that she wasn't aware of (as a previous non-occupant, basic things like this is how we do laundry, this is what we expect when you use the kitchen, etc). They also set out several basic behavioral expectations, telling her that since she had asked if she could live with them as their daughter, that they would have the same expectations of her that they did of any of their other kids. They never treated her any differently than any of the other kids.

I think what they chose to be more rigid about was related to school (studying for school, learning is important) and safety (curfew was 11, they decided that at 16, bedtime wasn't something they were going to determine). They opted to be very laid back about other things. I know, for example, that a year after she moved in she dyed her hair a shocking color of purple right before Thanksgiving (when the somewhat conservative grandparents were about to arrive), and the parents didn't say anything. The grandparents suggested grounding. The parents maintained that she could dye her hair whatever she wanted.

Ditto for when she got a non-conventional piercing. They had some issues with foster care about the piercing (foster care wanted them to LAY DOWN THE LAW, they said, "Please, don't make this the place we have to draw the line, let it be something that is actually significant to her well-being") but they didn't argue with her. They just said, if you're getting X piercing, one of us is coming with you for the piercing for health and safety reasons. She got the piercing, end of story.

A bunch of years later - she is their adopted kid, and very energetically part of their family. She calls them Mom and Dad, and the conservative grandparents Grandma and Grandpa, and the whole family has adopted her as a family member - albeit one who arrived a little late in her life. She is very happy, and very well-adjusted. She asked her Dad recently why he didn't stop her from dying her hair (she went through dozens of colors during her teens) or doing the piercing. He laughed and said, "Because it didn't hurt you, and you were experimenting with and having fun. Your brothers went through the same phase." And he hugged her.

I'm not sure if any of this is helpful to you, but I just want to let you know that this isn't unique, and that other people have gone through similar experiences. And that this may be the best thing you ever do, giving this (older) child a chance for a happy, healthy home experience. You don't mention what her earlier life is like, but it is never too late to find role models to model your future relationships and human interactions on. And it sounds like she has found a wonderful family that will embrace her and simultaneously demonstrate healthy ways to relate to others.

The only piece of advice I'd give you is to decide, if she is moving in, that she is part of the family. She is not a guest, she is one of your kids. That is good, because it means she has a family. It also means responsibilities and the expectation that you guys, as the parents, are the adults that are in charge. Talk to her ahead of time about this, and try to be consistent.

Best of luck.
posted by arnicae at 6:25 PM on November 19, 2010 [12 favorites]

Be prepared for the possibility that she will test you a bit to see if you reject her for misbehaving. A lot of children, and many teens, will push their parents to make sure that they will be loved even if they make their parents mad. It may not happen, but if she does misbehave or seem to be testing you in this way, be prepared for it so that you're not just surprised and confused but instead are ready to jump right back in with a "your behavior needs to change, and we're not going anywhere."
posted by prefpara at 7:32 PM on November 19, 2010 [3 favorites]

You have my admiration, you're undertaking a huge task.

I would encourage you to identify a counselor/mentor/whatever to meet with on a regular basis to give you feedback, suggest course corrections, and affirm what you're doing right....

Hang in there... and, be thankful she's not 14! :)
posted by HuronBob at 8:36 PM on November 19, 2010

A data point: I didn't have a real "bed time" after the age of 8-10. I had to be in my room doing quiet things that didn't bother others, but that was it. Lights out and the time I would actually go to sleep was for me to determine years before I was even a teenager.
posted by Sara C. at 8:38 PM on November 19, 2010

Re: SMPA's list.

If I was 16, and my new mom sat me down to discuss hundreds of new rules and routines that would govern every aspect of my life -- from "can I lock my bedroom door" to "how do I let you know when I need new jeans" to "how do I interact with people selling stuff" to "will you be vetoing my boyfriends" to the all-important "what happens if I ever want to keep a chicken" -- well I'd think she was a crazy control freak.

Honestly, many of those things are in the cross-that-bridge-when-you-come-to-it category. Especially the chicken rule.
posted by dontjumplarry at 9:51 PM on November 19, 2010 [4 favorites]

Seconding dontjumplarry. Considering that the girl does not have behavior issues, I don't see the need to set rules for every little thing, especially not ahead of time. I understand the urge considering that she is a new addition to your family and you want to be prepared, but still. 16 is two years away from 18, a.k.a. legal adulthood. I don't think you need to limit her computer time.

Also, SMPA, why do you assume the girl is gonna have boyfriends?
posted by randomname25 at 10:28 PM on November 19, 2010 [1 favorite]

I think the list is just to help SMPA think about things in advance so that when they come up s/he's not put on the spot.
posted by freya_lamb at 12:58 AM on November 20, 2010 [1 favorite]

Er, yeah. A rule book would be crazy. it's about the difference between living with a 2nd grader and a kid who's old enough to drive.
posted by SMPA at 8:32 AM on November 20, 2010

Privacy is a huge deal to teens. Make sure New Daughter has her own space (ideally her own room, if you can swing it). She also needs her own bathroom space, for personal care needs (tampons, razors, etc.). It would be a good time to talk to the younger kids about the concept of privacy and personal space, and that they should always knock before entering New Big Sister's room, and ask permission before using New Big Sister's stuff. You and your spouse(?) should respect her privacy too. My 15yo daughter HATES when my husband opens the door to her room without knocking first, even though 99% of the time she's just reading a book or whatever. It's the principle of the thing!

Also, you've probably already thought of this, but make sure her school knows about the change in her circumstances. Will you now have access to her grades? Many schools have an online grade reporting system so parents can check grades at any time. Will you have access to that?

Good luck to you and your family. It's a great thing you're doing.
posted by SuperSquirrel at 9:31 AM on November 20, 2010

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