Supporting Teenagers Through Divorce
Updated: May 12, 2021
It is said that teenagers are most receptive to the effects of divorce and will identify the nuances in the communication between their parents. They are at higher risk of anxiety and depression and it can cause them to suffer at school. It might be evident in their school work and behaviour. Your teen might be telling you they are fine but actually they may be bottling up their feelings to avoid the emotional burden on their parents. Just because they are older, more mature and have other things going on in their lives such as a social life - they will still hurt and be affected by the breakdown of their parent’s relationship.
Your teenagers will be used to the idea of your family being intact and functional. So it is a difficult adjustment for them to shift their perspective and identity away from coming from a household with two happy parents to being a child with divorced parents. They may no doubt get feelings of shame and guilt from this or will believe their parents are separating from them. They still need honesty and assurance that this is not their fault.
Common effects of a divorce on your children may include:
Being more aggressive
Feeling more anxious
Poor attainment and effort in school
Being more sexually active at an earlier age
Having higher rates of delinquency
Having higher rates of drug and alcohol addiction
Having dysfunctional relationships
Being highly critical and angry for their parents decision or behaviour
Withdrawal from one parent as a form of punishment (commonly as a result of infidelity or cruel behaviour towards the other parent)
Not all teens will have these issues but it’s best to be aware of them as the transition happens.
Here are our tips on doing your best to protect your teenagers in the midst of and following a divorce:
1. Prioritise your kids
Make sure you love and care for your children more than you hate your ex or are invested in the dispute. The decisions you make should always prioritise your kids.
2. Explain the situation
Without going into all the intimate details, it is worth explaining to your child why you and your partner are separating. It’s important for your child to know that it’s not their fault. Explain without being negative about your ex partner so that your child doesn’t feel they have to choose between you two.
3. Look out for withdrawal from activities they used to enjoy and family time
This is often a sign they are suffering and they need some extra support. See point 5.
4. Watch out for over dependence on you
Stunting emotional development. All young adults need to learn to be self sufficient as they progress through their school and university life and grow into happy, healthy adults. It’s a balance - protect your child’s feelings but encourage a level of independence to allow them to flourish and make certain decisions themselves.
5. Watch out for them becoming caregivers to one or both parents
It’s never a good idea to treat your teenager as a confidant or replacing your partner with them. This will encourage a relationship of dependency. As soon as an adult confides in their teen they rob them of their childhood. You are putting them in an adult conversation that they are not prepared for. This can exacerbate depression and hopelessness. They haven’t yet fully emotionally or psychologically developed. Your teen has enough to keep them busy with school work, a social life and activities. Instead, solicit the advice of a trusted friend or therapist.
6. Communicate with them and check in regularly (without being overly protective - sometimes called helicoptering)
Let them know that help is available to them and that they can see a counsellor. Listen to them and show empathy to make sure they feel understood and heard. This will help to boost their self esteem.
7. Acknowledge that this will have a huge impact on their life
Divorce doesn’t just affect the couple, it affects the whole family and others. Don’t diminish their feelings or ignore that this will be a life altering event for them.
8. Don’t prevent contact with the other parent
Your children have a right to have a relationship with both parents so don’t prevent contact with the other parent. Unless they are abusive or threatening towards your child in which case you should seek the appropriate legal support. Spending time with both parents will maintain the stability they’ll need during the transition. See the time where your kids are with the other parent as a positive - you can take some much needed time for yourself since being a single parent can be stressful at times.
Are you looking for some extra support as you transition into single parenting? Contact firstname.lastname@example.org if you have any questions or to book a consultation.