Teens are my favorite people because they are rowdy and sarcastic. My friends have often asked me how I handle their behavior. My answer is always that I choose to look at them through the eyes of love, grace, and potential- and throw in some accountability too. I don’t believe that their occasional poor choices define who they truly are. I look for the gold in them. I understand that they’re trying to handle this life-altering situation the best they know how with the limited life skills they’ve acquired so far.
One of my most challenging placements was a girl that came to me from Juvenile Probation. At first, she was angry. She had very few coping skills or life skills. Sitting around the table at mealtime brought her anxiety and having a conversation was challenging. Still, each day I’d look for gold! I would tell her how much I respected her for going to school, how much I admired her for trying to change learned behaviors. I told her how kind she was, and how wonderful it was that she was so protective of her friends. I regularly reminded her of her dream to become a nurse and how good she would be at it; that she was a born leader. I made a point to tell her something positive about herself- even just the way she painted her nails. Some days I had to dig really deep to find the gold, but I would find it! Her response to my encouragement was usually, “yeah, ok” with an occasional thank you.
After she had been in our home for around a year, I became very ill and could no longer take care of her. It was not an easy decision. When I told her, she was devastated! My heart ached. I sat on my bed and sobbed. This was one of the hardest things I’ve ever had to do.
Before she left, I was trying to prepare her for the move. She interrupted me and began to tell me how much I impacted her life. She knew this was not an easy decision. She shared how I helped her get her first job, helped her through the hard times, and that I was always there for her. She felt safe with me because she knew I cared. She told me not feel guilty and that she had no hard feelings towards me.
Just when I was beginning to think that my acts of gold digging were fruitless, my heart was overwhelmed with joy. You may not always see big outward changes, but something may be changing on the inside. The fact that she was able to put into words the effect we had on her life was huge!
About a month after she left our home, there was a knock at my door. It was my girl with a bouquet of flowers! “Happy birthday! These are for you!”
I started fostering because I wanted to give teens a home. I still believe that every child deserves a family that offers them love, understanding, and grace. You may not be able to see the daily impact you’re making in the life of a teen, but when you continue to seek and celebrate the gold, there will be fruit in the long run. They may not remember everything you say, but they will never forget how you make them feel.
Consider fostering or adopting a teen. There are currently 150 older youth in South Carolina’s foster care system that are legally free for adoption. Contact Heartfelt Calling for more information.
Can’t foster a teen right now? Consider becoming a mentor, tutor, or Guardian Ad Litem or CASA. You will never regret building relationships with children and youth in foster care. It may make all the difference.
This post was written by Lesia Knudsen, a foster parent in California and author of Life in the Foster Lane: Practical Insights on Fostering Teens.