EPIC Blog: 4KIDS Family Interview: Connecting With Teens - 4KIDS
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EPIC Blog: 4KIDS Family Interview: Connecting With Teens

April 8th, 2021 l Author: Daniela Bolla, BSW

Cassi and Andrew are 4KIDS foster parents in the Treasure Coast who have been fostering teen brothers for two years now. During a phone interview, they shared with us what it’s been like building relationship with the two boys, and offer great insight on how other parents can best connect with teenagers. Read on below!

1. What was it like when the boys first came to your home?

When they first arrived at our home, RJ* was 12, and AJ* was 15. Their 14-year-old sister had also come with them as well. They were brought to us in the middle of night after their father was incarcerated and they had been evicted from their home. These kids had nearly no belongings with them, and that first night they all huddled together in one room and wouldn’t come out. They were so scared and shocked over what had happened. Honestly, we were scared too! But we did our best to try to be there for them and assure them that we would find a way to get into their old house and get all their stuff as soon as possible.

2. What kind of strategies did you use to help them learn to trust you?

I think we just tried our best to listen to them and allow them to express their feelings whenever they became frustrated with their situation. Even to this day, when they get upset, we stay in the room. We talk it through. We ask them, ‘what’s going through your head right now?’ ‘I see you and hear you doing this, but can you tell me how you feel inside?’ Overall, it just took time for them to see we were for them. Teens try to push you to your breaking point to see if you will stay, and we were committed to showing them that we would not give up on them no matter what.

3. How do you connect with each of the boys individually?

We are big on love languages, so we learned early on that RJ loves doing acts of service, and AJ loves words of affirmation. We use those two things to our advantage and try to reward them according to those love languages when they do well in school or make a good choice.

They (like a lot of teens) also really love having their own “nice stuff,” like their XBOX, their brand-name sneakers, their cell phone, etc. We teach them to save their allowances and offer additional chores as bonuses so they can buy these things for themselves. Before COVID, we would make a big day out of going to the mall to make their purchases once they’d saved up enough money.

4. What would be your best tips to anyone else working with teens?

Take interest in the things that interest them (i.e. their favorite musicians, brands, hobbies), and spend time having them show you their interests. Even if video games aren’t your thing, for example, entertain it and play anyways.

Encourage their independence and try to not coddle them. Remember, if they came into the child welfare system as older children, they most likely have been raising themselves and operating independently for a very long time. Allow them to feel in control of their lives by offering them choices that are reasonable for you.

Help them set goals and celebrate the small wins. While AJ has been with us, he improved his attendance at school so that he was eligible to get a learner’s permit, then he spent a year learning to drive with us, then scheduled his exam, and got his driver’s license this past December. The ultimate prize was a hand-me-down car we gave him, but even so we celebrated each of these accomplishments along the way!

Make time for everyone to decompress. Many teens nowadays struggle with anxiety and we think in part it’s due to the overwhelming amount of technology and information coming at them all hours of the day through their phones, tablets, social media, etc. So every night in our home, everyone shuts off their devices and we have one hour before our bedtime routines where we all hang out in the living room together. It’s easily our favorite part of the day and we have seen how beneficial it is for the whole family unit to have scheduled quality time.

5. Any final thoughts?

The Bible verse that has become a reoccurring theme for us as foster parents has been, “Let every man be quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to anger” (James 1:19). This generation is living in a world that is completely different than it was when we were growing up. All of us as parents need to be willing to listen to our kids, keep an open mind, and create a safe space for them to be themselves, even when it’s hard to relate to them.

For more information on working with teens who have experienced trauma, we encourage you to attend an upcoming EPIC Training, available virtually or in-person. View upcoming dates and/or register, click here.

*To protect the privacy of the children and families we serve, names were changed above.