Separation or divorce is difficult for the whole family, but let’s focus on teenagers. It’s hard to talk to them at the best of times, but when their parents are divorcing, it can be even worse. Teens often view divorce as a betrayal and pull away from their parents.
Some warning signs your teen is having difficulty coping include:
It can be hard to know whether behaviors are due to just being a teen or are evidence of struggling with a divorce. They could be a combination of both. Don’t jump to conclusions. Instead, be ready to listen and help.
Here are 5 tips to help your teenager deal with divorce:
1. Be available.
Encourage an open dialogue—build bridges, not walls, to decrease the chance of emotional problems building up. Remind your child they are important and their opinions have value. Give them the freedom to express their whole range of feelings—including anger—without guilt. Allow your teenager to have an opinion about co-parenting and be prepared to make changes in the schedule as your child becomes more independent.
2. Promote a healthy bond between your teen and both parents.
If it is safe and feasible, put aside your personal feelings and encourage them to continue their relationship with the other parent. Teenagers may be angry towards you both but avoid blaming each other in front of your child. Model self-control and don’t bad mouth or argue with your ex in front of your teen. Negative comments about the other are likely to cause your teen to feel they have to take sides or become their parent’s therapist. Don’t use your children to send messages back and forth with your ex. This makes them pawns in an adult game and it’s not fair.
3. Be a positive role model on how to take care of yourself.
Work on your own mental and physical health and deal with your feelings. Go to the gym or take a walk and invite your teen to join you. You might feel exhausted and drained at times, but self-care can help you re-charge emotionally and mentally. Stay strong for your teen.
4. Continue to be a parent.
It is tempting to shower your kid with gifts and avoid situations where you have to discipline them. But your teen doesn’t need a pal—they need a parent to provide guidance. State your expectations clearly and set consistent boundaries with consequences.
5. Seek professional help or advice if you’re concerned about how your teen is coping.
Teenagers might need extra help dealing with their parent’s separation. You may want to talk to their teachers and counselors and schedule an appointment with a therapist.
Separation and divorce will always be hard, especially for teenagers. However, as a parent, you do have the ability to minimize the impact on your child. Your child needs the assurance of safety, structure, freedom of guilt or blame for their parents’ break up, and the ability to just be a teenager.