Magazine article Work & Family Life

Building Rapport with New Teenage Stepchildren

Magazine article Work & Family Life

Building Rapport with New Teenage Stepchildren

Article excerpt

Today, more than four in 10 Americans have at least one step relative in their family- either a stepparent, a step or half sibling or a stepchild, according to a nationwide Pew Research Center survey. About half of U.S. teens are part of a stepfamily.

Because teenagers are at a stage when they're trying to assert independence, it's not easy for them to integrate into a stepfamily.

"From the adolescent's perspective, it's like discovering that another layer of management (the stepparent) is being thrust between you and the boss (parent) you've reported to for 12, 14, or even 16 years," says author and psychologist Laurence Steinberg, PhD. "Or worse, that the business (the home) has been bought out from under you. From the teenager's perspective, remarriage can feel like a hostile takeover."

The key is to go slow and to be aware that teen stepkids can be moody and feign indifference, but down deep they need to feel they belong to their new family.

Good communication helps

Stepfamilies grow and develop through shared experiences and good verbal communication, and this also takes time. But how stepparents communicate is as important as what they communicate.

Teens want to be taken seriously. Show respect for their ideas, temperament, desire for privacy and the physical changes they're experiencing. The bonus for showing respect is winning respect.

Teens' needs are different

Teenage stepchildren need positive, caring discipline, but it's hard for them to accept yet another authority figure in their lives. So, typically, it is the new stepparent who bears the brunt of a teen's anger and rebellion. If he or she is afraid of losing a biological parent, lashing out at a stepparent becomes a way of coping. Teenagers are also old enough to sense any insecurity that you may have-and are likely to use it to their advantage.

If you are the biological parent, reassure your child that you are not abandoning him or her and that no one will come between you. Put your words into action by continuing to do the things you enjoy doing together. …

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