Talking to children about divorce is an overwhelming yet unavoidable task for any parent. The way in which parents convey this news to their teenage children can significantly impact how they handle the news and move forward within the new family arrangements.
What to Expect when Telling your Teen You are Filing for Divorce
Teenagers can experience a range of painful emotions when confronted with the reality of divorce. The following reactions are normal for your team:
- Initial shock
- Bargaining with parents to stay together and fix the problem
- Feeling lost, abandoned, and dejected
- Experiencing hatred and anger
- Blaming oneself, both parents or one parent
- Worrying about their life being turned upside down
- Having financial insecurities
- Giving the silent treatment: refusing to talk or engage with the parents
- Minimization – downplaying the severity of the situation
- Feeling guilt and a profound sense of loss
Research done by the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry shows the long-term effects of divorce on teenagers can include depression, deep sadness, susceptibility to developing mental and physical illnesses, low self-esteem, relationship problems as well as general behavioral problems.
How to Share the News of Divorce to Your Teen
“Divorce becomes much more complicated when children are involved,” note divorce attorneys at Fernandez & Karney, “It can be important for parents to put their own personal feelings aside and do what is really best for their young child”. Consider these tips when explaining to your teenage child that you are getting a divorce:
Share the News Early and Do it Together with your Partner
When telling teens about divorce, it is crucial not to conceal too much information. Deliver the news as a united front, as this makes your child feel that even if you get a divorce, you are still united as a family and remain as such in the future.
Plan a time that gives your child plenty of time to process their feelings and cool down. Do not drop the bomb before important events, such as their exams or competitions at school. Consider doing it on a Friday or during the summer holidays when they have time off from school.
Do Not Talk Negatively About Each Other
Even if you and your partner resent each other, there’s no reason you should express those emotions in front of your child. Teenagers are old enough to realize that divorce often comes with picking sides, making the prospect all the more difficult to digest.
Communicate empathically with your teen so they do not need to pick sides. Let them know they are free to be hurt or angry by one or both parents, but they should never feel like they have to choose between their parents.
Shed Light on the Things that Will Stay the Same
Divorce can turn a teenager’s life upside down. Children will naturally worry about how their parents’ split will affect them mentally, physically, and socially, which can be overwhelming. When you reassure your teen that both parents will still love them and nothing has changed in terms of support, this will allow them to feel more at ease.
Give time and space for your children to express their emotions and react to the divorce. If they have a hard time expressing their feelings, you may consider taking them to a therapist or teen coach. Your child might not be entirely comfortable voicing their thoughts with you; this is where a professional can help them tremendously.
Navigating Divorce With Your Family
Getting a divorce is never easy, and sharing the news with your family can be another difficult task. Telling your teenager that you and your partner are getting a divorce can be a difficult and emotional experience for both you and your child. However, it is a conversation that needs to be had in order to help your teenager understand and cope with the upcoming changes.