Teenagers are the easiest and the hardest to inform of your divorce. Reactions can vary from: “it’s about time” to “you can’t divorce,” and everything in between. If the marriage has been highly conflictual between you and your partner, it may be a relief for your teen. If on the other hand, home life has been relatively stable with little apparent conflict for your teen, they may be stunned and then concerned about what that means for him or her. Teens are more likely to take sides with one parent or the other, finding it hard to stay in the middle ground between parents.
Co-parenting Tips for Divorced Parents
The best you can do for your teen is to encourage a relationship with the other partner, unless there is a history of abuse with your partner. Children do best when they grow up knowing both parents. Not judging your teen’s other parent may be difficult while going through a divorce, but if you must vent, do not do it with your teen. Your teenager is not your friend, but your child. They need you to remain the parent through this difficult time.
- Tell your children together.
- Be honest about the divorce and share responsibility to divorce.
- Avoid placing the blame on the other.
- Answer the questions your teen has in succinct factual responses, not emotionally laden rhetoric.
- Be respectful of your partner and your teen, even if your partner is not.
Bad-mouthing your partner will often come back to haunt you, especially of you hinder the relationship and encourage the teen to take your side. Down the road, your teen may blame you for not allowing him or her to forge a relationship with the other parent.
External Support Systems for Teens
Teens are going through an important transition from primary focus on family to shifting allegiance to peers. Depending on the teen a divorce may slow or speed up this transition. If a teen feels responsible for a parent’s emotional well-being, he or she might make excuses to spend more time with that parent to take care of them. Therefore, it is important for both parents to have external support systems while they are divorcing, so that role does not fall upon the teen. Some teens may want to move away from the stress and stay away as much as possible from their parents.
Peers can be great support for teens going through divorce. However, teens are also more vulnerable to peer pressure at this time, and the wrong peers can influence poor coping behaviors, such as drinking or drugs. Teens have a difficult time transitioning these years already, and with the divorce complicating issues of anxiety or depression, that may be lurking under the surface already. Be aware that your teen may need to see a therapist or a counselor for support. Good friendships, stable schedules, and minimal changes to their school and living arrangements are important if that can possibly be managed.
Keeping your teen’s life as stable as possible is important. Encouraging continuing relationship with both parents along with minimal conflict between parents will lead to the best long-term mental health outcome for your teen. Be a parent and not a peer when going through a divorce and do not use your teen as a peer and share personal information about the divorce with them that would be more appropriately shared with a friend or therapist. Give your teen time to adjust to the divorce before inviting potential partners into his or her life.
Moving Forward after Divorce
Encourage your teen to continue moving forward with his or her life plans. Be a role model by continuing to move forward with yours and not languishing in the grief of your own life transitions. If possible, continue a civil relationship with your ex-partner. As your teen grows into a young adult and has a family of their own, it will be so much easier for him or her if both parents can attend graduations, showers, weddings, births, and birthdays without worrying about a civil war starting between the two of you. This will ensure a much better outcome for your teen.