Fostering parenting of teens can be “pretty awesome!”
Mechanicsburg, Pa. Thursday, May 6, 2021
Foster-parenting teens is different from caring for younger children, say Derrick and Kara Brigham.
The effort, they advise, is not as much about “parenting,” as one would with a younger child, but being a guiding light and safe harbor as teens chart their lives in their last few years before adulthood.
The Mechanicsburg, Pennsylvania, couple should know.
So far, they have fostered four children, including two teens currently with them, a 16-year-old boy and a 14-year-old girl. They also have two children born to them, ages 10 and 6.
In fact, they trace their interest in fostering to family ties involving a teen.
“When we were both 23, we took in my sister, who was a sophomore in high school,” Kara says. The girl stayed with them until Derrick’s military career moved the couple overseas.
“It’s not so much raising them, but ... guiding them to make choices themselves ...”
When they returned to the U.S., Derrick and Kara decided to continue foster parenting, pursuing training and licensing through Diakon Adoption & Foster Care, recommended by an acquaintance who had adopted through Diakon.
They’ve now been licensed through Diakon to foster for a year and a half, says Kara, a financial analyst.
There are indeed challenges, they note, but those challenges can segue to a positive experience of learning and bonding. And, they add, there are “way more rewards” than challenges.
Teens, says Kara, “often have not learned the best ways to cope with their emotions. Their reactions may seem more childlike. But it turns into a learning moment if they damage something, then learn how to fix it and help doing so.”
An important approach, she explains, is to “have natural consequences and say, ‘let’s work together to fix it.’ They are used to having over-the-top reactions and unnecessarily harsh punishments. It thus becomes a learning and bonding experience to say, ‘Let’s fix this together.’”
The couple love seeing how young people handle things on their own. “It’s not so much raising them, but helping them to act and think independently and guiding them to make choices themselves.”
For example, the Brighams believe it’s better for teens to choose on their own not to stay up all night because they have school the next day, rather than force them to go to bed each night at the same time.
“They also are great examples for our kids, who thought of them as brothers and sisters right away,” the couple say, noting that their younger children accepted the teens “from Day 1” and the foster youths have grown into the roles of older brother and sister. In fact, the younger children look up to them.
And the teens have never uttered a “bad word” in the house, Kara says, because they don’t want to be bad examples to the younger children.
The Brighams focus on fostering teens, they say, because many times what youths most need at that age is somewhere safe with people who can guide them through their last few years of school, obtain their driver’s license and figure out what they hope to do with their lives.
And because both Derrick and Kara work outside the home, teens’ school schedules relieve the need for daytime care, necessary for younger children. “They don’t have to be watched all the time,” says Derrick. “They are mostly looking for guidance and a home.”
“It’s like we play more of an aunt and uncle role,” says Kara, noting that many teens still have contact with their parents. “It’s really wonderful seeing them grow up and succeed.”
The couple believe fostering teens may be a good approach for resource families hoping to have a long-term commitment. “Many people are afraid to foster because they think they will get attached to a child and the child will leave. But older children often are those who have severed parental ties. People who don’t want to foster older children are missing out on awesome kids,” Kara says.
Derrick adds that “it’s great to get to know these kids’ personalities, opinions, likes and dislikes.”
That long-term commitment is evident in the Brighams’ occasional contact with former foster children, who have returned to their parents. “The parents and kids are ok with us having continued contact, with being part of their lives.”
They are excited that the boy they are fostering is choosing permanent custody and will stay with them permanently. “We’re have told him that after he’s 18, we are open to adoption if he wants that,” Kara says.
“Some people,” she adds, “are afraid to foster teens because they think they have an attitude, but so do all kids!”
The couple appreciate having Diakon as their partner in this journey. “Diakon is great. They offer 100 percent support after placement,” Kara says, and have “been great about getting us anything we needed, such as services and referrals.” Kara says.
Fostering teens is “really about getting to know a person, not raising a child, and giving him or her a safe space to succeed,” the couple say of their experience so far.
“We think fostering teens is pretty awesome!”