You were divorced from each other several years ago, when your kids were still in elementary school. Co-parenting was challenging, but you communicated with each other, and the kids were flexible and resilient. Now they’re in high school, and everything has changed. The issues are more complicated and surviving their adolescence is easier when both parents are on the same page.
STEP 1: I suggest that each of you make your own list of concerns you have about your teens. Common topics include technology, tattoos, sex, alcohol and drugs, driving, college, etc.
STEP 2: Meet with your ex at a neutral location such as a coffee shop, or a nearby park, and exchange lists. Don’t forget to bring along some paper and a pen. When you look at the other list, you might be surprised at what is worrying your ex, just as you might be comforted to see how many issues appear on both of your lists. Start tackling the common issues, one at a time, and talk about your course of action. Make agreements with each other as to who is going to take your teen to the DMV for his/her license, what the rules for driving will be (my parents didn’t allow me to drive on the freeway), who is going to have “the sex talk” and what will it be about, etc.
It is important to have these conversations away from the kids, and to be on the same page with each other as to the rules. It’s natural for a teenager to try to manipulate one parent, so it might be a really good idea for each parent to commit to the other that they will stay on the same page regardless of how conniving the teen may be.
I am suggesting the following seven questions to talk about with your ex in an effort to reach an agreement in advance, and before the issues become complicated.
1. Who’s going to talk to your teen(s) about sex? This is a loaded topic, and can include agreements about dating rules, as well as birth control, abstinence, promiscuity, and sexually transmitted diseases.
2. Who’s going to talk to your teen(s) about personal appearance? This topic can include anything from appropriate dress, to hygiene, to tattoos and piercings.
3. Who’s going to talk to your teen(s) about part-time jobs? How to interview, how to be a valued employee, how to manage money, balance a checkbook, pay bills, and manage a credit or debit cards?
4. Who’s going to talk to your teen(s) about driving and all of the responsibilities, both financial and personal, that accompany the driver’s license?
5. Who’s going to talk to your teen(s) about tobacco, vaping, drugs, and alcohol? Hopefully, they get a good deal of information in school, but what about peer group pressure? What are the consequences?
6. Who’s going to talk to your teen(s) about school? High school can be an extremely challenging experience for some teens, and being on the same page with your ex can be important in recognizing what’s going on with your teen’s education – both academic and social.
7. Who’s going to talk to your teen(s) about technology? What are the rules going to be about cell phones, computers, internet access, social media, etc.?
STEP 3: Once you’ve made these decisions with your ex, GET IT IN WRITING! A fully executed written agreement, whether prepared by you, your attorney, or a qualified Mediator, becomes a binding legal contract, and a referral source when and if the issues arise.
There’s no doubt that the teen years are like a bumpy highway. You’ll all drive down it, but if your alignment is well-adjusted, the road will seem smoother.