Creating Healthy Visitation for Teens After a Divorce
You may want your marriage to be over, but when that marriage shares children, you and your ex will inevitably be connected for a very long time. Regardless of how you feel about your ex, your role as parents require each of you to ensure that the divorce is as painless as possible for your children and to prioritize spending time with each child. Generally, the attitude of the parents decides whether visitation improves a child’s sense of family or creates strife.
Child visitation is usually set up in two ways: reasonable visitation, which leaves it up to the parents to specify dates and times; and scheduled visitation, which is a fixed schedule. However, regardless of whether you are newly divorced or have an established visitation schedule dating back to your child’s elementary school days, creating a healthy visitation schedule for teenagers is quite difficult because of an adolescent’s own crazy schedule. Here are a few things you should keep in mind:
During adolescence, a child’s priorities revolve around friends, school, sports, activities, dating, and jobs. If you have a visitation schedule that ends up restricting your child’s ability to enjoy those essential activities, you will have a very resentful teenager on your hands. The best thing you can do with your teen is to be flexible. Instead of trying to stick with the strict visitation schedule from your divorce decree, get creative and work with your ex to create balance in your teen’s life. It’s important to allow your teen to continue the activities that make him who he is and that matter to him, while also making room in his schedule for spending time with each of his parents. Married couples would not require their child to skip his sports game because they want to spend time together – divorced parents shouldn’t either.
Get their input.
It is difficult to force an adolescent into a schedule he or she did not help to create. A teen’s social agenda will be paramount to them. Although spending time with their parents is very important (and sacred for the noncustodial parent), parents who respect their children’s needs to develop a social life of their own will be honoring their individuality. You and your ex should gather your teen’s feedback about what’s most important to them on their schedule and then develop a system that works for all of you in determining visitation.
Create a minimum visitation.
In today’s society, everyone is busy, so you may need to establish rules to ensure that your teen will spend time with both parents. Most teens and parents have packed schedules, so one of the best ways to develop a flexible schedule that still meets everyone’s needs is to agree to some kind of minimum time your teen will spend with the non-custodial parent each month. For example, maybe you will all agree that the non-custodial parent should see your child for at least four overnights per month and four other evenings or afternoons. This is the flexible way to fit in the “every other weekend and one night a week” plan into a busy life. Your teen can then schedule the time in the same way he or she schedules a date or school activity.
Instead of forcing your teen to stop activities to spend time with a parent, the parents should try to join the teen in his or her interests. For instance, take turns taking your daughter to basketball practice or designate one parent to teach your son how to drive, while the other parent oversees his weekend band activities. This may feel like you are not spending time connecting – like you might in a one-on-one chat – but remember that one of the most valuable ways parents develop close bonds with their children is showing interest and support in their child’s activities.
Stay connected your teen’s way.
Teens are not especially open with their parents, so a non-custodial parent may feel it is difficult to stay connected. So, use a teens’ favorite mode of communicating for your own purposes! Teens love texting and using Skype. Maintain a close relationship and find out how they’re doing with their day to day lives through frequent texts and other technology.
If your teen should absolutely refuse to go to one parent’s home, please take them to counseling. Regardless of what your teen thinks, he or she needs both parents in their lives. A counselor can help the teen and parents work out their issues for a much healthier family dynamic.
It may feel difficult to work cordially with your ex, but try to put aside the past and think of your ex as a coworker in the job of parenting. In adolescence, now more than ever, you and your ex need to be consistent with setting rules and limits. Teens are notorious for getting one parent to approve something after the other parent said no. It is well worth the effort to put aside strife in the name of parenting.