Why is divorce difficult on teens? How can we help our teen cope with our divorce?
When parents divorce, it can be difficult for the whole family. For teens, divorce can be particularly difficult. They are already struggling with hormonal changes, peer pressure (online and offline) and now they will have to handle the upheaval of their lives and get used to a new home life.
Teenagers are more likely to cope with the effects of divorce by engaging in risky behaviors. Drug use and early sexual activity are more common among teens of divorce than their peers. If you’re going through a divorce, it’s important to know what type of things you may see from your teen. Teenagers are particularly susceptible to anger and frustration despite being taught to focus on themselves rather than their parents’ problems.
Helping your teen deal with divorce
Depending on the relationship you have with your spouse and soon to be ex-spouse, will be the predictor of how well your teen will emotionally survive this difficult time according to one study. Researchers have found that conflict between divorced parents increases the risk of mental health problems in teens. Specifically, parental contention can lead to a child’s fear of abandonment, which can lead to future mental health problems.
Even when a divorce is amicable, it’s natural for teens to grieve the loss of their family life. Expect to see your teen experience a wide variety of emotions, ranging from anger to sadness. Let them know that it’s healthy to share those feelings, but make it clear that it’s important to express them in a healthy manner.
Be prepared for increased emotional and behavioral turmoil. Set firm limits and follow through with consequences when necessary. Make it clear to your teen that you’re still going to do what it takes to keep them safe and help them make healthy choices.
Signs your teen is struggling with your divorce
Most teens are resilient and don’t exhibit psychological problems. However, even if your teen is not exhibiting symptoms of serious mental illness, they may still be struggling. Teens whose parents are divorced experience a wide range of emotions, and sometimes those can manifest in some common disruptions in their life.
Common impacts of divorce on teens include:
- Underachieving in school, failing
- Skipping classes, not going to school
- Behavior problems at school
- Defiance, non-compliance, rebellious
- Difficulty forming intimate relationships
- Increased stress
- Sadness or anger at one parent or both
- Argumentative with siblings, parents and others
- Trouble sleeping
- Becoming withdrawn, especially from family functions
Helping your teen cope with this difficult time
Divorce is never easy, but it’s essential to do your best to be present for your teen. Communication is key always in parenting teenagers, especially when going through hard times. Even if you have your short talks, they can go a long way in helping your teen know they matter.
Encourage your teen to share their worries, fears and frustrations. If you are aren’t sure how things will unfold, admit the uncertainty to your teen. They will appreciate your honestly and it can help them understand how difficult this is for you too.
Make sure that your teen understands that they can come to you to talk about the things they are feeling.
Some tips for helping teens adjust include:
- Allow them to weigh in on decisions about their lives
- Attend their extra-curricular activities
- Be consistent with rules and discipline
- Encourage their relationship with their other parent
- Have honest communication about changes in the family
- Maintain a consistent, predictable schedule
- Make sure they feel comfortable asking questions
- Model appropriate behavior
- Offer consistent affection and support
- Offer safe space for them to express their emotions
If your teen exhibits behavior problems or is experiencing changes to their mood, seek professional help. They may benefit from talking to a mental health professional about the changes they are enduring. Sometimes, just a few therapy sessions can be instrumental in helping a teen sort out their feelings over a big issue like divorce.
Sources: VeryWellFamily, University of Missouri