Dealing with Your Adolescent Stepchild
The World's Dangers
Kids are exposed to temptations of sex, drugs, and alcohol everywhere, at almost all ages. By the time your stepkid is 13, she's already making decisions about becoming involved with chemical substances. Sex rears its head early, too. If you're not used to teenagers, it may shock you what they are like, what they are into, and what they are exposed to. My primary two words of advice? Be knowledgeable. Be knowledgeable about the risks and dangers. Be knowledgeable about the “norms.”
Stepsiblings are related to each other only by marriage. When parents of unrelated children marry, the children become stepsiblings. There's no biological relationship between stepsiblings. Half siblings share one biological parent, either a mother or a father.
“You're Having a What? Gross!”
For a teenager between the ages of 13 and 17, the idea of having a pregnant mother or stepmother is just about enough to make him curl up and die with embarrassment. Sex feels like his domain (even if he isn't doing it, he sure is thinking about it). Your stepchild doesn't want to know that you are having sex. The idea is repulsive, horrifying, humiliating, and oddly titillating (and that there is some titillation makes it feel even more uncomfortable!).
Unfortunately for your sensitive stepchild, remarriages are often more sexually charged than first marriages, especially at first. And sex is harder to ignore. In his book You and Your Adolescent, Laurence Steinberg says, “When parents stay married, adolescents tend to write off their expressions of physical intimacy as affection. When parents are single and dating, this self-deception is more difficult.” When there's a pregnancy, this difficulty changes to impossibility.
There's more on general reactions to a parent or stepparent's pregnancy and to the new baby in Bringing a New Baby Into a Stepfamily, but here are some specific hints for teens:
- Look for the positive intent. When 14-year-old Ramona screams, “You're just as bad as a cow!” upon hearing of the upcoming little wonder, look beneath the cruel words to hear the fear of displacement and anxiety about sex. (It doesn't make it okay for her to behave like that, but it may make it easier for you to cope with her reaction.)
- Don't automatically limit your stepchild's involvement. Willa's 14-year-old stepson Barry attended childbirth classes with her and her husband Hank, paced with her up and down the hallways during her labor and, though at the last minute he felt too squeamish to watch the delivery, was one of the first people to hold baby Brianna.
- Encourage them to be involved in their baby brother or sister's life, but don't assume that they'll automatically baby-sit.
- A new baby in a parent's life when a teen is already struggling with separation issues may make her feel even more displaced. Think about holding a special ceremony to mark a stepchild's entry (or re-entry) into the world of being a sibling. A teenager may laugh when you bring it up, but it will matter to her. She'll feel cared for and thought of.
There can be some wonderful advantages to being the stepparent of a teenager. Teens desperately need adult allies who aren't their bioparents. If you play your cards right, you can be the confidante, the “other” grown-up, the understanding one when the bioparents don't have a clue. The same teenager who is so beastly to parents that they want to turn her in for a new model often shows her very real charm, enthusiasm, compassion, and fresh view of life to other adults. And that may very well be you.
More on: Nontraditional Families
Excerpted from The Complete Idiot's Guide to Stepparenting © 1998 by Ericka Lutz. All rights reserved including the right of reproduction in whole or in part in any form. Used by arrangement with Alpha Books, a member of Penguin Group (USA) Inc.
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