Teens can be a challenge. I’m sure this comes as no surprise to anyone. I remember, when my biological daughter hit teenhood, I used to gaze at pictures of her as a child and reassure myself, yes you love her deep down, and one day you will also like her again. Sure enough, she reached the other side and there is nothing I enjoy more than spending time with her.
Teens in care have so much more to deal with than the average teen. Not only are they having to deal with the usual ups and downs of adolescence, but they are also having to deal with the serious hurts they have experienced. Most of them are also experiencing the fear that one day all too soon they will be out on their own. Totally alone.
In Rhode Island, up to 37% of teens who aged out of foster care experience homelessness. Up to 50% experience “housing instability,” meaning things like couch surfing, being evicted, and so on. While this is horrifying, it is not surprising. These kids do not have healthy family connections, nor the most basic of life skills. Things that you and I consider “common sense” are often things we have been taught while growing up. Consider the average 18 year old who has grown up in a loving family; most are far from ready to fend for themselves. How much less these kids who have been through so much? This is a very vulnerable population, who can and do get victimized on the streets.
While most people may feel saddened by these terrible outcomes for teens in care, they may not feel bad enough to be willing to foster teens. Stereotypes of teens as surly, rebellious, or even hardened criminals-in-training, often stop foster families from opening their doors to teens. It is true that many teens have a hard outer shell that has formed over time and is hard to get through at first. However, all teens crave connection. If you take the time to build trust, and don’t take things personally, you will eventually get to know them. That is what is most fun about fostering teens - getting to know them!
The teens I have come to know are all characters that is for sure! One teen girl was very smart, a book lover, a non-stop talker and a non-stop performer. Give her a chance and she would serenade you. Endlessly. I had to laugh during a visit I had with her recently. Now 23, she is a young mother and doing very well. I gave her a ride home, with my grandson and her daughter in the back seat. He asked for a song (on the radio) and that was it. We were serenaded all the way home, and then some!
Another young man always had a gruff exterior, but was a very vulnerable softie on the inside. He was always struggling with trying to understand his biological family relationships, and always looking for love in all the wrong places. But he would do anything for anybody. I saw him not so long ago, now 24, and he offered to put in new front brakes on my van for free!
Teenagers can be trying, but boy can they make you laugh!! They can also be helpful, great company, and very appreciative of what you do for them. Ok, so maybe that last one needs a fermenting period, but eventually they are very grateful! I find teens very interesting. They are beginning to try and make sense out of their lives, and life in general. Each one has their unique interests and talents.
Teens build their walls over time, after repeated disappointments. You would too, under the same circumstances. Teens are still kids, and need love and caring every bit as much as the younger kids. Maybe more, since they are so close to being totally on their own. If you have always shuddered at the thought of fostering a teen, please allow yourself to think again. Yes, there may be things that are stressful. You might have to exercise vigilance, patience, and perseverance. You might get to know the policemen in your town on a first name basis. On the other hand, it might be the most rewarding thing you ever did.
Destiny's (Now 22 years old)
Being a little girl in foster care with no parents taught me how to grow up fast, I was always looking for love from a “mother” figure. When I turned 13 I met my foster and then adoptive family. At first I didn’t feel like I fit in. I felt like they didn’t really want me. I was a teenager who was very confused, lost, lonely, and had a lot of trust issues. I always had a fear that they was going to leave me behind like everybody else in my past did. I was so used to the pain and neglect that it was really really hard for me to believe that they were here to stay and that they were really going to be my family.
When I turned 16 I was going through a really bad emotional state because my biological mom had contacted and was telling me that she wanted to drive to Rhode Island and take me from my family. I was scared and I had took alcohol from the fridge and took pill bottle from my adopted mom cabinet, I had took 90 pills and drank vodka with it, I wanted to die because I was scared to talk to my adopted mom I didn’t know what she would think of me if I told her I was feeling suicidal. When my adopted sister found me she called my mom and she rushed home with an ambulance they saved my life but I was so mad because I didn’t understand why did they care so much? But I realize now its because they loved me even though I was a trouble teenager who had a lot of fear.
I guess what I’m trying to say is that foster families or families that are looking to adopt should take in teenagers too because all we are looking for is to be loved and to have somebody teach us that’s its okay to not be scared. It’s okay to move on from our past and it’s better to express our pain through words. We need somebody to show us that no matter how hard it gets or how lonely we feel, we will always have that one person who decided to take us in and show us what love is, show us that no matter what we went through that we can have a better life. All foster children especially teenagers just want to be saved we need that one hero who can make us feel safe and secure because we never had that before.
My mother Laurie Tapozada is my hero she saved me from all the pain she taught me that no matter how difficult I get she wasn’t going to throw me away she kept me and earned my trust. She taught me so much that made me grow up. She took me in taught me how to be a women and a better mother to my children. It wasn’t too late to show me the love I needed, she is my hero, my life saver and most importantly my MOTHER!