About 50% of marriages in the United States end in a divorce. Divorce can take a devastating toll on children, and the trauma and uncertainty can have profound effects on their behavior in the process. Babies, toddlers, and preschoolers may show regressive behaviors, and grade-school children may lash out against the world. Teenagers are a more complicated case since they often act out regardless of whatever else is happening in their lives. Understanding your teen’s emotions during a divorce can help you identify ways to support them along the way.
What Does Divorce Do To A Teenager?
Some problems that many teenagers experience during divorce include:
- Poor grades
- Difficulty sleeping
- Anger at both parents or one parent
- Defiant acts
- Substance abuse
- Challenges getting along with family members and peers
- Early sexual activity
Many children of divorce think that their parents’ divorce may have been partly their fault, including adolescents and teens. They might think that they could have done more things like having better behavior and preventing arguments. This can lead to feelings such as stress, anger, or sadness. They can get angry if they blame one parent or feel protective over another parent about the situation. Adolescents can also feel abandoned or worried about the changes to come.
Emotional Effects Of Divorce
The emotions your teen experiences from divorce can be complex. Your teenage child might act like they do not care about the other parent to avoid upsetting you even though they actually miss their parent. They might refuse to visit another parent if they don’t like one parent’s disciplinary practices.
While teens can sometimes feel relieved about the changes, especially if there was a lot of emotional conflict and problems at home, most of the time your kids can feel overwhelmed about the changes. Many kids have to change schools or move house as a result of the divorce process. It can feel like the world as they know it and their lives are crumbling. They might have to travel between parents which might disrupt their school routine or time with their friends. Sometimes, teens feel worried about one parent who now has to be financially independent after not working for a long time. Your child may be concerned that there is now less money for college, their previous lifestyle, or other things.
Your teenage child may feel obliged to care for their younger brothers and sisters. They may take on more responsibilities, or even work a part-time job to help the family out. As a result, adolescents may not focus on school or social activities.
If your teenage child does not feel that their needs are respected by their parents, they are more likely to act defiantly and engage in risky behaviors such as the use of substances and sexual activity. Their perception of a romantic relationship and a healthy family unit might also be affected by the divorce which can affect their own romantic relationship and family years later in the future.
Ways To Support Teens During Divorce
Although it can sometimes be unclear what motivates a teen’s behavior, there are ways parents can support their teen during these times of change. For example, you may consider how you can keep parental conflict private, show that you are available when your teen needs you, and create a custody schedule that works for your teen. If both parents have their child’s best interests at heart, parents can work together to ease the transition for their teen.
Explain The Situation
Don’t keep your child in the dark about the situation and its causes. Use age-appropriate terms that they understand. Helping them to understand why you are getting divorced can help them see that the end of the marriage is not their fault and that the outcome may be for the best. They may also see that they don’t have to make a choice between their parents. They can still maintain family relationships with the both of you.
How Do You Explain Divorce To A 14-Year-Old?
Let them know that you and your partner have decided to get a divorce and the basic reasons in simple terms. Avoid using terms that place any blame on your partner. Explain that you and your partner will always be their parents, and that you and your children are always family even if you and your partner are not married to each other.
Be specific about the custody and visitation arrangements and welcome your child’s input. They are old enough to express their needs.
Keep talking to your child even if they act like they don’t want to talk to you. Kids still want a connection with you and they might be checking if you really still care about them. Don’t force them to talk to you and they will come to you when they are ready.
Just as you would with younger children, try to avoid fighting in front of your teen or on the phone where your teen can overhear. You should also abstain from badmouthing the other parent or venting your feelings to your teen. If you must express your feelings about the emotional conflict you’re having with the other parent, turn to your friends or a mental health professional instead.
Don’t force your children to take sides. Your children need to feel comfortable spending time with both parents. It’s not good for their well-being to be exposed to regular fights. Don’t stop them from maintaining a relationship with either parent.
Provide Emotional Support
Make sure your teen knows you are available and open to talk about his or her experiences. Teens may try to push their parents away, but they still want a connection with their parents. Encourage your teen to ask questions and share his or her feelings about what they are going through. You can also show that you are available by making time to support your teen’s healthy activities, such as sporting events or dance recitals.
Admit the uncertainty you are facing to your teen to encourage them to talk to you and share their concerns. You might not have all the answers about where you’re going to move to or how life will be like after the divorce. If your teen expresses their worries, let them know you are also uncertain about many things. However, reassure them that both of you will get through it together.
Sometimes you may need to be firm and follow through with helping your teen realize the consequences of their actions. Don’t let them get away with irresponsible or disrespectful actions just because they are experiencing grief from their parents’ divorce.
Work Out A Favorable Custody Schedule
It can be helpful to work with the other parent to create a custody schedule that will work for everyone and develop a co-parenting strategy. Keep in mind that it is important for teenagers to have time to participate in extracurricular activities, work a part-time job, and socialize with friends. It may even be appropriate to talk to your teen about his or her preferences, so you can incorporate those preferences into the plan. Let your child decide how they would like to celebrate special occasions such as their birthday. Put their best interests at heart.
Ideally, you can work with the other parent to make sure both of you use consistent discipline practices. Give them responsibilities they can handle given their custody schedule. Help your child to maintain a predictable schedule as they process the emotional impact of a divorce and the end of their parents’ marriage.
Seek Professional Help
You may expect your teen to experience grief, anger, frustration and other emotions in response to your divorce. However, if your teenager begins to show behavioral or mental health problems, it may be necessary to seek professional help. Sometimes your child may benefit from talking to other people their age who are going through a similar experience about separation and divorce.
Divorce and separation can cause changes that affect everyone in a family. Although the effects of divorce on teens and their emotions may not always be obvious, there are still actions parents can take to help their teenage children adjust to life after divorce. Sometimes children need help figuring out how to cope.
Inform Other Adults
Let the other trusted adults in your child’s life know about the separation and divorce. This can include your child’s teachers, counselors and doctors. They can detect if your teen is struggling with the feelings they might experience and provide the support your child may need as they adjust to the new family life.
Cooperate With The Other Parent
Don’t rely on your child to communicate with your ex-partner. Don’t use your child as a pawn against one another. Exchange all the information you need about your children and make decisions about your children together. Keep the focus of your conversations on co-parenting your kids. It’s still possible to have a good family life even though you and your ex-partner are divorced.
Introduce New Partners Only When The Relationship Is Serious
It’s important to be honest with your teenage child if you are dating. They often already understand what dating is and may be dating others themselves. Talking to your child about how they feel about you dating can help to reassure them that new partners will not replace the love that you have for your child. Introduce new partners only when your relationship is serious and you are ready for them to become a bigger part of the family.
Divorce can have a devastating impact on teens and their emotions. Teens and adolescents can also handle divorce very differently from preteens or younger children.
An experienced attorney can provide you advice on the best way to safeguard the interests of your teen, whether both parents want to be involved in co-parenting or not. The experts at Sean Lynch have decades of experience in family law. Contact us today for a no-cost case review.