Co-parenting young children can be hard – helping them understand why their parents are no longer together, managing pickups and drop-offs, figuring out class snack day, and more. But as they transition from kids to teenagers and young adults, the problems don’t go away, they only evolve.
In some ways, co-parenting teens and college students may be more challenging than earlier chapters. There are the additional issues of teen angst, the entry into more sensitive, adult subject matters, financial aid, holidays off from school, and the responsibility of college tuition.
Here are ten tips to better co-parent your teenagers and young adults through their high school and college years:
1. Plan for Teen Angst
When you’re co-parenting a teenager, consider what you’re going up against. There will undoubtedly be moments of teen angst and frustration, so you should prepare for these circumstances as they transition into puberty.
If possible, meeting with your co-parent to discuss some basic ground rules and boundaries can help you both navigate these new territories as they come up rather than get blindsided.
2. Come to an Agreement About Employment
As kids become 15 or 16, many of them are excited about the possibility of employment to make money of their own. Many parents are on board with this, while others would prefer their children not to work for one reason or another, whether it’s so they can focus on school or so they can eliminate the additional task of driving them to and from work shifts.
Before they get to this age, agree on your children’s teenage employment. Are they allowed to work? Where? How many hours a week? What are the expectations in school and at home while they’re employed?
3. Confirm Permissions Before Granting Them
While it can be enticing and more convenient to make executive decisions about your teenager’s life, it’s smart to confirm your permission with your co-parent so that you can remain a united front.
If your daughter wants to dye her hair blue, for example, give your ex a call before you give the go-ahead. This thoughtfulness can go a long way in improving co-parenting relationships and establishes a precedent for your child that both of their parents are in agreement with big decisions.
4. Sync Up Routines
As teenagers become much more independent, establishing a secure routine in both households is a good way to maintain a sense of normalcy between two houses. Setting universal guidelines around things like chores, bedtimes, TV-watching, and more can be beneficial, but isn’t necessary.
Regardless, having a discussion about routines and explaining the reasoning for the differences can help your teen understand why things are the way they are.
5. Thoughtfully Approach Sensitive Subjects
While it can be uncomfortable or awkward, addressing adult subjects at home that high schoolers are introduced to, like sexuality and substance abuse is absolutely critical to helping your teenagers make smart decisions.
Establishing an “open-door policy” with both parents to talk about sex, drugs, alcohol, or any sensitive subject matter is a good strategy to keep lines of communication open and ensure they are safe and protected.
6. Application Process
When it comes time to apply for college, perhaps you can divide the tasks between both parents. For example, one parent may handle all of the college visits, while the other parent helps them through the application process and pays the application fees. Involve your child in the matter and see how you two can best support them through the application process.
7. Financial Aid
As far as financial aid goes, the custodial parent (or the one who has the majority of physical custody) should be the one who fills out the form. If both parents split time with the child 50/50, the parent who contributed the most financially over the previous year should complete the application.
8. Tuition and More
There’s more to college than just tuition – there are the additional costs of textbooks, room and board, laptops, food plans/groceries, healthcare, and transportation. There’s no right or wrong way to approach and divide these costs, but discussing the various costs before they are due will help you determine which parent will handle which costs.
9. College Financial Agreement
If necessary, creating a college financial agreement in addition to your parenting plan and child support documents can set forth clear guidelines and agreements as to what expenses each person will cover as well as any exemptions or future considerations.
Just as co-parents with younger children must divide up holiday time between the two households, co-parents of college students will need to work out a plan to share holiday time spent with each parent. Once the child is over eighteen, there will be no legally binding requirements, and they may prefer to spend some of their holiday and summertime traveling with friends rather than going home.
The best you can do as a co-parent is to remind yourself to be flexible and prepare for some disappointment, as you will inevitably begin spending less time with your children as they get older.
The Importance of Co-Parenting Communication and Collaboration for Teens and Young Adults
At the core of all these tips is one central theme: communication and collaboration. This is the most important element of any successful co-parenting relationship, whether a child is three or seventeen.
While teenagers and college-aged children present new challenges and life stages, as long as you keep an open channel of communication and the opportunity to collaborate with your co-parent on the table, you’ll be able to find a solution to any issue that comes up.
Together, you can give your child the support and independence they need to thrive and evolve into a mature, successful adult.
If you need professional help resolving a co-parenting dispute or your co-parenting relationship could benefit from mediation with a family law expert, reach out to Natalie Baird Mediations to schedule an appointment.