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Summer Co-parenting Challenges for Teens

Balancing your teen’s commitments with your visions & doing all that with a co-parent takes patience, flexibility, mutual understanding, and planning.
(4 min 14 sec read)

Hon. Sherrill Ellsworth (RET)
Judge Ellsworth was one of the court's most respected and admired bench officers. She retired from the bench to focus on having a greater impact on today’s families by making our courts more accessible, effective, and efficient.

Co-parenting teens can be a challenge. Co-parenting teens in the summertime is even more problematic as you try to balance adult schedules with your teenagers’. The life of a teenager is more than just hanging out with friends and trying to avoid contact with parents or siblings. Today, in order to compete for college and their future teens have many summer break demands, opportunities and choices including community service, advanced classes, band or church camps as well as working that all-important first job. If you and your co-parent can’t get along, compete for ‘your time’ with the kid(s) or if co-parents live a significant distance from one another this becomes more than a simple disruption for your teen and personal aggravation for you. It can mean your teenager misses out, is left out or singled out. 

Teens schedule life is different from your 12 and under crowd. With the younger crowd, parents may haggle over vacation days but, for the most part still, control the parental time schedule. Co-parents make decisions for which summer camp a child will attend based on an adult schedule. Summer school attendance is a joint decision based on which school district is more convenient .”Big Kid” summer doesn’t work that way. Parents have little or no control over summertime teens because those teens are subject to the whims, fancies and calendaring of outside third parties. Balancing your teen’s commitments with your vacation and visions of what your summer will look like with your teenager and doing all that with a co-parent takes patience, flexibility, mutual understanding, and planning.

Co-parents have little control over when the football coach will calendar “Hell Week” or “Two a Days. “ Attendance is mandatory and will be the measure of your Quarterback’s actual playtime or string designation. Your son’s very first job at the local fast food restaurant will not have benefits or paid vacation. His schedule will be week to week. And when your daughter makes All-State for Student Leadership with an invite to Washington DC for a three-week summer internship no one will ask you which weeks are the most convenient or coordinate with YOUR work schedule. Maybe your college-bound teen needs to add an AP class or even a core class in summer to free up their regular class schedule in Fall. That being the case, parents are at the mercy of the school district’s calendar. 

Consider a few tips to assure that your teenager is able to participate in important summertime commitments as well as committing to some family time. The key to managing a teen’s summer is truly adopting a business model of planning, flexibility, and communication with your co-parent. To be successful at co-parenting a busy teenager requires a level set or truly being on the same page even if you have to call a truce, literally!

Three simple agreements can assist co-parents as they manage together their teen’s summer successfully.

The first agreement that needs to be made between you, your teenager and your co-parent is that the summer schedule setting will be child-centered decision making. This means you conscientiously suspend any and all ‘tug-o-war’ of parental time. This is raising a successful teen business decision-making model focused on trying to collectively do what is best for your teenager while allowing your teen to have a say or voice.

At least 3 months in advance, or as soon as practicable, sit down with your teen and your co-parent and discuss a Family Pact or agreement as to what activities are a ‘must’ and which are ‘nice-to-have’. You may not have the exact dates for the activities, however, together as you sort through these activities, jobs, commitments you will create the foundation for your teen’s summer. This Family Business ‘committee’ should focus on child-centered decision making. That does NOT mean that your teen has all the power. They have a voice but they do not drive the bus, so to speak. 

Agree on a communication plan or a ‘stay in touch’ schedule. This should be a detailed plan as to the teen’s interface time with both parents. Expectations and commitments as to mealtimes, curfews, and sibling time need to be identified and agreed upon.      Technology and apps like Facetime, Slack, WhatsApp or Skype can keep that closeness and family participation intact. Your plan should be detailed with expectations for the teen to live up to a communication plan that may require midweek or weekend in-person time. This is the Quid pro Quo necessary if parents are willing to accommodate the teen’s participation in multiple activities and adventures in the summer.

In addition to these agreements, parents may consider carving out the teen’s summer schedule from the younger siblings’ summer vacation. In other words, while generally, it is easier, more consistent and good for kids to keep their schedules the same as their siblings, a teenager’s summertime may displace that long-held tradition or view of co-parenting with multi-children families.

A final note, all of this food for thought is geared toward helping an already successful teen, manage the good choices and opportunities that are available during their summer break. It goes without saying that this article does NOT encourage non-productive summers -with teenagers making the rules or running amuck. 

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