• Co-Parenting through the Teen Years in Missouri
  • June 25, 2014
  • Law Firm: Stange Law Firm PC - St. Louis Office
  • Practicing effective co-parenting strategies based on consistency, receptivecommunication and positive attention will help ease conflict between the co-parents and the teen. This is sometimes difficult for co-parents because each may have differing parenting styles, personalities and lifestyles. The more specific the parenting plan, the less confusion in being consistent as a co-parent. Sarah Brown, a senior attorney at Stange Law Firm, PC, sheds light on how parents should work together and the reasoning behind it. “The more flexible the parents are and the more they try to co-parent together, the easier it will be on the child, especially the teenage child, says Brown.“ The older the children get, the more they have social engagements and activities in school, the more it becomes paramount for parents to work together.” Brown believes this flexibility in co-parenting should also be translated into a flexible parenting plan.

    Certain things are normal as a child matures. The teen may:

    • spend more time with friends and less time with family;
    • challenge authority and family rules;
    • need more privacy;
    • become concerned about appearance;
    • doubt or question feelings of self-worth;
    • be subject to academic and social stress;
    • require more and more independence;
    • experience feelings of sexuality;
    • resist traveling between households on a frequent basis;
    • start planning his/her future away from home.
    As your adolescent ages certain changes and activities need to be defined and agreed to between co-parents:
    • Driving a car and getting a driver's license: A car is a major responsibility. There is the original cost plus ongoing expenses of insurance, maintenance, fuel, etc. Cost issues should be addressed between co-parents as well as the question of safety. Who will help teach the teen to drive and when? What should a teen do in case of an accident? What are the consequences of getting a ticket for a traffic violation? What are safe driving rules that need to be observed? A car may be one of the first steps in a teen's independence, but it should be one that is earned.
    • Personal property of the teen: Today teens usually have a large inventory of personal property: cell phones, lap tops, iPods, X Boxes, various technical and music components, clothing and the list goes on. It is usually agreed that co-parents need to allow the teen's property to move between households as it remains the property of the teen not the parents. However, its usage may be dictated by the co-parents.
    • Dating and social activities: The question of curfews should be addressed between co-parents. It is critical that co-parents agree on and maintain a consistent set of expectations and rules regarding teenage sexuality. Using the approach of "advising rather than trying to control" may be more effective, but each teen is unique as are the parents.
    • Underage drinking: This is a hard one, but critical. Drinking and driving, and/or getting in trouble with authorities, and/or doing something that the teen would not do if sober, is not worth it. This guideline must be clearly explained to the teen and enforced by both co-parents.
    • Teen employment: It can be a sign of maturity and independence that your teen wants to get a job. However, employment decisions should be discussed between co-parents and the child. Questions such as: Will the employment affect the teen's grades at school? Will the employment impinge on extracurricular and social activities? Will the employment be a learning experience? What are other pros and cons to consider?
    • The teen trying to beautify his/her body: This may be as simple as a haircut or a little more drastic as a change in hair color (to maybe purple?). It also could be more permanent such as ear and other body parts that are pierced or it could be tattoos. Communication and agreement between co-parents and the teen--with the teen's best interests taken into consideration--is the best approach.
    • Applying, being accepted, enrolling, financing, and/or dropping out of a school or university: It is prudent for parents to have provisions for higher education in their divorce decree. Today, with the cost of college tuition, a plan with a payment formula is beneficial. In addition, a certain amount of hours and grades the teen is to maintain may be stipulated as a condition of support.
    • Joining the military before the age of 18 years: Should your teen decide to join a branch of the U. S. Military, if you have joint legal custody, both parents need to consent.
    • Marriage before the age of 18 years: The ideal situation is for a teen to delay marriage to a later date. If you have joint legal custody, parents need to give mutual consent.
    • Counseling: The teen years can be stressful and there are times when seeing a counselor or psychologist would be beneficial to the teen. Medical and emotional treatment and its cost should be addressed in the parenting plan with co-parents agreeing to its implementation.
    Co-parenting a teen is a challenging task. The stakes are high. But, as co-parents, the reward of seeing your teen mature into an independent and responsible adult is well worth the time and energy spent in effective co-parenting.