Teens are like toddlers on hormones who want and need to separate from you. Parenting them under any circumstances can be tough, but co-parenting teens who move between two households presents particular challenges. The following are a few common issues that face co-parents, and some language you might use when communicating with your ex, whether the separation or divorce occurs later in your child's life or your kids are young and you're setting up a plan until they turn 18.
1. Authorizing a minor child's driver's license, and providing a car for the child to drive:
We all know how important driving is to teens. A car should not be used as a tool to lure a teen into spending time at a parent's home. Unless you're sharing your car with your teen, the car should travel with him or her and not to be held for exclusive use in the home of the parent who purchased it.
2. Toys, Cell Phones, Lap Tops, iPods and Clothing: Co-parents need to cooperate by permitting toys and clothing to move freely between households whenever it is reasonable. As each child gets older, he or she can be reasonably expected to remember to bring particular items they may want. If one of the adults has a special request regarding the return or use of a particular item, that request can be made directly to the other parent, outside of the children's' presence.
3. Permission for tattoos, piercings, and other alterations of the child's body: I think it's perfectly reasonable co-parenting etiquette for parents to discuss a child's haircut before it happens. When children know you're talking about them in a productive way, even about seemingly small matters, it can make them feel more secure. Tattoos and piercings are more permanent alterations and therefore they are larger issues that should carry a higher degree of communication and agreement.
4. Employment prior to the age of 16, 17 or 18 years: Whether your child is interested in working in a shop, restaurant, babysitting, modeling or acting, employment discussions are another example of co-parent cooperation that helps children grow the kind of resilience they need to navigate the passage between two homes.
5. Enrollment or termination of attendance in school or university, marriage before the age of 18 years, and/or joining a branch of the military service: School attendance may be a problem, particularly if children are resistant to it. Remember never to lose focus on who is at the center of this. Your first loyalty is to the children. Your child is looking for and finding a safe perch and nest in your world. You two must give mutual consent if you have joint legal custody when it comes to marriage or joining the military.
6. Household Chores and other Routines: I encourage discussion over whether or not co-parents agree to have similar household routines and expectations around chores, bedtimes and restrictions on television viewing and video game playing. Co-parents should think about this in advance and develop a narrative to explain differences and similarities in the households.
7. Teenage Sexuality, Curfews and Substance Use: Unlike other household rules, parents must maintain a mutually consistent set of expectations and rules regarding teenage sexuality and substance use. They must clearly explain these guidelines to the children and enforce them the same way in both households.
With regard to sexuality, such rules may include an "open door policy" for entertaining children's friends and partners in each home. Also important are consistent restrictions about sleepovers and protocols involving communication with the parents of children's' partners and friends, especially when the situation includes another minor child.
As for teenage substance use, agreements with preplanned consequences for breaking the rules -- such as taking away the car -- are important. Agreements about using a parental residence for a party and parental supervision, and what degree of tolerance over tobacco and substance use, if any, that each parent is comfortable with requires full knowledge and discussion with the teenager of what the law provides.
The more clarity and definition you have in your co-parenting plan the better. For many of you, the co-parenting plan will be put in the drawer and rarely, if ever, looked at again. However, thinking these issues through and taking them seriously will make a world of difference in the smooth functioning of your child's life when moving between households.
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