Parenting teens under any circumstances will test your patience. But co-parenting teens who move between two households presents particular challenges. Here are a few practical issues to think about and actual language to use for your co-parenting plan. These suggestions are useful whether a separation or divorce occurs later in the life of the child or if your children are young and you're setting up a parenting plan that will last until they turn 18.
It is wise for co-parents to be on the same page regarding the following:
1. Allowing the minor child to obtain a driver's license and providing an automobile for the child to drive. We all know how important driving is to teens. A car should not be used as a tool to lure a teen into spending time at a parent's home. Cars are just like the child's other property; unless you're sharing your car with your teen, the child's car should travel with him or her and should not to be held for exclusive use in the home of the parent who purchased it.
2. Use of smart phones, laptops, iPods and clothing. Co-parents must cooperate in permitting toys and clothing to move freely between households, whenever it is reasonable to do so. Each parent must use his or her best efforts to ensure that items are available for each child's use where they will be needed or wanted. As each child gets older, he or she can be reasonably expected to remember to bring particular items they may want. If one of the adults has a special request regarding return or use of a particular item, that request shall be made directly to the other parent, outside of the children's presence.
The goal is to make sure that these items are fairly distributed and available for the children's use in a relaxed and natural way, so that the children do not become over-involved and so it does not become a cause of tension between households.
3. Permission for tattoos, piercings, and any and all other permanent and impermanent alterations of the child's body. I am of the mindset that it's perfectly reasonable co-parenting etiquette for co-parents to discuss a child's haircut before it happens. When children know you're talking about them in a productive way, even seemingly small matters such as this helps to make them feel more secure.
4. Employment prior to the age of 16, 17 or 18 years.
Whether it's a barista job or one in which your child is coming into contact with a deep fat fryer or something along the lines of babysitting, modeling or acting, it's important to be on the same page regarding employment opportunities.
5. Enrollment or termination of attendance in school or university, marriage before the age of 18 years, and/or joining a branch of the military service. This must be discussed and agreed upon by both parents.
6. Household routines. It's important to have a discussion about household routines and expectations around chores, bedtimes and television viewing or video game playing. Parents must think about this in advance and develop and narrative to explain similarities and differences in the two households.
7. Teenage sexuality, curfews and substance use. Unlike other household rules that may vary between houses, co-parents must agree to maintain a mutually consistent set of expectations and rules regarding teenage sexuality and substance use. Once this set of expectations and rules has been established, it will be enforced the same way in both households.
With regards to teenage sexuality, such rules may include but not be limited to an "open door policy" while entertaining children's friends and partners in each home, restrictions surrounding sleepovers and protocols involving communication with the parents of children's partners and friends, especially when the situation includes another minor child.
With regards to teenage substance use, such rules may include pre-planned consequences over breaking the rules (such as taking away the car), agreements about using a parental residence for a party and what degree of tolerance over tobacco and substance use, if any, that each parent is comfortable with.
The more clarity and definition you have in your co-parenting plan the better. For many of you, the co-parenting plan will be put in a drawer and rarely, if ever, looked at again. For all of you though, thinking these issues through and really taking them seriously will make a world of difference.