How to Navigate Co-parenting a Teenager

Social media, vaping, and other complications that our parents ever had to deal with.

Martin Novak/ Shutterstock
Martin Novak/ Shutterstock

Written by Laura Wasser, Attorney @ WCM & C.E.O. @ It’s Over Easy

Until recently, I had always mistakenly assumed that the phrase “Divide and Conquer” meant that two factions going in separate directions could get more accomplished. It actually means quite the opposite. The true definition for a divide and conquer strategy, also known as a divide and rule strategy is when one power breaks another power into smaller more manageable pieces and then takes control of theoe pieces one by one. It is often applied in the arenas of politics and sociology….and by teenagers whose parents are divided.

We are living in an age where our teens are afforded a whole new panoply of temptations about which most of us no little or nothing about. The basics of teenagedom have remained the same; brooding, hormonal, intensely private, knowledge of absolutely everything (particularly how lame their parents and younger siblings are) and a frightening sense of invincibility when it comes to experimentation and curiosity. Inevitably the specifics have changes with the times. Social media rules, kids have a vastly expanded means of transportation and there is a new a bubble gum, watermelon, cotton candy deliciousness called vaping which is highly addictive, easy to obtain and completely baffling to nearly all of us over 40 (why would you want to inhale something that smells and tastes like a public bathroom deodorizer or bad 1990’s incense?!

Anyway, far be it for me to tell readers how to remedy the situation. I have only just begun to slog through the world my teens of white lies, closed doors and vague afterschool plans or sleepovers. Here’s what I do know though – I am not going through it alone. My ex and I are a united front in this and many co-parenting matters and I truly thank my lucky stars each day. If it anticipated that us dividing would be a better way of raising our son based on a divide and conquer strategy I might not have been wrong at the core – we likely do better communicating and co-parenting in our current relationship than we ever would have had we stayed together but the true dividing and conquer strategy comes from the kids. With parentis in two separate home, two separate agendas and two separate lives, it is far easier to employ the smoke (excuse the pun) and mirrors of teenage dome.

Early on we did this together when it came to our son’s academics. How do we keep him on a study schedule as he goes back an forth between our homes? AS he got older we had to be on the same page with regard to screen time and when he got his first cell phone (spring of 7th grade when he was 12 – coincidentally the same age I was when I obtained my majestic freedom, a sleek black princess phone extension for my bedroom. Which my parents would unceremoniously unplug and remove at intervals when they were displeased with my teen antics.

I knew that we would likely fare as well if and when the time came for what I’ll call teen angst disciplinary measures. For whatever reason, I did not think it would strike so early at only 13 years but here we are and it does not seem like our sweet baby boy is the anomaly.

I will not get specific or name names to protect both the innocent and the not so innocent. Suffice to say that our 13 year old and some of his friends were recently busted by more than one set of parents for what may be minor infractions but which sent up some red flags for me, my ex. Whether it be vaping, experimenting with marijuana or alcohol, posting inappropriate content on social media, lying regarding whereabouts, taking unauthorized uber journeys or skateboarding without a helmet shit was going down and we found ourselves oddly unprepared. Speaking with several of my friends with children in 8th and 9th grade I found that these infractions are happening everywhere. Many reports of Instagram or Snapchat hookups to unknown older kids dealing drugs. Illicit experimentation with vape pens (with and without nicotine or TCH), pot, cigarettes and alcohol, even an unauthorized Lyft adventure to Chinatown where, vape pipes, bb guns, fireworks and Chinese throwing stars were purchased.

Again, I do not have the answers. This article is written for two purposes one to let other parents know they are not alone and two to encourage co-parents to work together to assure that we are not divided and conquered but united and successful in raising healthy, safe teens.

In my practice I have seen several parents who have not successfully navigated the teen discipline thing. Either they have different beliefs about how kids should be raised, enjoy being the cool fun parent as opposed to the strict mean one and curry favor with their kids while letting the other parent take the rap for the hard work of discipline. Sometimes even when parents are on the same page, they fail to disclose all of what occurs at his or her home or during custodial time as they feel that somehow it reflects a failure on his or her part to watch, supervise or perceive what is going on. This in and of itself is the failure. The divide and conquer mentality is being used by teens (albeit subconsciously) against parents who are together and particularly and with more ease by teens of parents who live in two different homes. We as parents have been broken into smaller, more manageable pieces and then losing control.

As we have seen often, parents who divorce want to make sure their kids are ok  – no matter what age the kids are. That being said, if parents cannot agree on how to effectuate that mental health and well adjustedness there will likely be problems. Let’s face it parents differ on many issues, Academic; do we send the kids to public, private or parochial school? Health; do we vaccinate? Provide therapy? Elective surgeries? And overall parenting and discipline. Many a parent has called me upset about how after a full week of successful potty training her child came home from a weekend at the other parent’s wearing a diaper. Different views on how sick a child has to be to keep him home from school or what is an appropriate extra curricular activity can cause dissention between even the most amicable co-parents. Somehow, teen angst (not theirs – ours) seems to magnify this problem.

Communication is key. Stay informed and share with your co-parent. Today we are provide with a host of technology which can assist with coparenting and for lack of a better word, tracking our kids. Coparenter, Curbi, Life360 are all apps that invite parents to work together and stay in tune with their kids and each other. Speak with your kids regularly and if possible, set times for family check ins where both parent and the kids and communicate. If not a meal then a short sit down just to compare notes and show the kid that parents are on the same page and that common ground exists. Stay in touch with your children’s teachers, coaches and afterschool activity instructors. Include your coparent on emails and in discussions if possible or make clear that the two of you are united front. When this is presented to others your child is clear that you all are a family unit notwithstanding two homes.

About Laura Wasser:

As a mom of two kids successfully co-parenting with their fathers, and an attorney who has been practicing Family Law for over 20 years, Laura Wasser has made it her life’s work to take the mystery and misery out of divorce for people of all backgrounds. She is the founder of It’s Over Easy, which picks up where she left off in her best-selling book It Doesn’t Have To Be That Way:  How to Divorce Without Destroying Your Family or Bankrupting Yourself – a digital platform that can reach more people and assist them through every stage of the divorce process.

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