Today, I’ll be discussing the matter of taking in teenagers in a foster situation. A lot of people are scared of them and I’m not really sure why. Okay, yeah, they’re moody and these particular teens come with issues. Bad issues. But they still need somewhere to call home.
I happen to teach teens for a living. And yes, there are a few who have unstable home lives. It’s not easy being a teen, hormones raging, conflicting thoughts about where their future is headed, stress from wondering why their boyfriend didn’t call, all the stuff that comes along with being an average teen, and then add to that the burden of not having adults available to truly guide and lead.
There’s a movie that came out a few years ago: The Blind Side. Most people have heard about it because Sandra Bullock won her first Oscar for the role she played. It’s one of those tear jerkers that somehow make an impression on our lives. I want to take a moment to dig into that story and how it would have looked in reality.
Michael Oher was alone. He was a teenager (and intimidatingly big, I might add) and had no one until one day a mother (not his own) took pity on him and opened up her home. That had to be scary. For one, she most likely had no foster training and no idea what to expect. Because of that, she also most likely didn’t have any counselors or therapists helping her and her family deal with taking in a troubled teen. He had no file, no medical history. I’m sure some part of her worried that he would steal things or terrorize her children. But she opened up her home anyway. Why? Because Oher was in desperate need.
We all know what happened from there. Michael Oher went on to become a major NFL star. I wonder where he’d be today if that mother hadn’t seen his desperation. She saw beyond his race, his size and his age. She saw a child in need.
Ironically, the actor who played Oher in The Blind Side, Quinton Aaron, has a similar story. I wonder where he’d be (another large teenage male) had someone also not opened their home. Certainly he wouldn’t have starred in a movie.
I decided to write about this because I’ve come up against the question, “are you sure you want to do that?” a lot when it comes to accepting a teen placement in my home. Yes I’m sure. These kids are in one of the most critical stages of their lives, quite possibly the most critical stage in their lives. Do I expect to turn out a major NFL star or some other great achiever by taking in teenagers? No. I don’t expect much, honestly. But I hope. I hope that my influence will make a difference in their lives. I hope that they will learn important skills for surviving the adult world while they are in my care. I hope that I can have a hand in changing their lives for the better.
Now, I do need to address one issue. Just because we’re willing to accept teenagers into our home does not mean we’re equipped to handle certain behaviors. That’s the nice thing about how the system works. Yes, I know, it’s not the best system in the world, and a lot of public placement agencies are incompetent. They are, however, very good at finding the right fit for every child. Where I live, there’s actually a home that specializes in helping and caring for extremely troubled adolescent males. The county doesn’t really know why this particular home is so good at helping these young men cope with their pasts and control their emotions but does that really matter if these young men are able to redirect their lives from one that would inevitably lead towards incarceration or even death to one that leads toward a successful future? Maybe even a college degree and a decent job?
All that being said, there are still plenty of teens (who people tend to ignore because they want babies and toddlers) who are good kids with difficult pasts that just need adults in their lives whom they can trust and be loved by. These are good kids. They just need people in their lives who can really help them succeed.
Check out your local Heart Gallery to learn more about the teens in the US who are waiting for their forever family. Will you answer their cries?