What’s the best way to co-parent an anxious teen after divorce? How do divorced parents ensure that they’re co-parenting in ways that aren’t inducing more anxiety in their child?
Oh, teenagers. Often associated with moodiness, attitude, and experimentation, this phase of development is not often seen in the most positive light. However, from a psychological perspective, teenagehood is one of the most important phases in life.
Indeed, some theories of development have suggested that the main task of 12- to 18-year-olds is to develop a personal sense of self through exploring personal goals, beliefs, and values.
However, being a teenager today is hard work. Unlike the Baby Boomers who came before them, they have to deal with managing an online presence, dealing with the stress of two working parents, and possibly being plagued with a relentless form of online bullying that can occur 24 hours a day.
It’s no surprise, then, that more than one in three students say they feel psychologically distressed according to a survey of more than 10,000 Ontario teens by the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health. Throw in divorce-related stress and you may well find yourself co-parenting an anxious teen.
But what’s the best way to co-parent an anxious teen? How do divorced parents ensure that they’re parenting in ways that aren’t inducing more anxiety? Read on to find answers to these questions.
3 Tips for Co-Parenting an Anxious Teen
1. Instill appropriate boundaries.
Teenagers (and kids) are sponges who soak up what you say much more than you think. They’re also highly impressionable. As such, it’s crucial that appropriate boundaries are in place between you and them. When it comes to divorced parents, this means refusing to discuss matters about the other parent with your teenager. It is not your child’s job to help calm you down, give you advice, or hear the intimate details about why your ex-partner is a jerk; that’s what friends and therapists are for.
2. Set a good example for your anxious teen.
Recently, a group of researchers reviewed 181 papers published on the potential links between how parents behave and rates of depression and anxiety disorders in youth. Parents who were not warm, fought more, were over-involved, or generally more harsh, sarcastic, hostile, and shaming had kids who experienced both depression and anxiety more often than kids whose parents lacked these attributes.
The researchers encouraged parents to be warm, supportive, and open with their kids – while also striking a balance between having clear boundaries and guidelines that give them the chance to learn from their mistakes. This research provides some insight into just how much parents’ actions can affect a teen’s mental health.
As mentioned previously, the time between 12 and 18 years of age is when adolescents start asking themselves important questions, such as:
- Who am I?
- What do I value?
- What do I want to be when I grow up?
Whether they like to admit it or not, teens often look to their parents for answers to some of these questions. As such, it’s crucial that you model appropriate behavior when co-parenting an anxious teen. If you don’t want your child to grow up to be someone who values gossiping or putting others down, for example, you must not model this behavior yourself – especially in relation to your ex-partner.
3. Encourage connection with your teen’s other parent.
When you feel wronged by an ex-partner, it becomes all too easy to discourage your child from maintaining a relationship with them. However, it is imperative that you separate your own emotions about your ex from your child’s opinion of them. I’m well aware that this is easier said than done; after all, when you’ve been betrayed, cheated on, hurt, neglected or worse, it can feel almost impossible to have a single good thought about an ex-partner.
However, the act of turning a child against another parent is known as “parental alienation syndrome,” which involves painting a negative picture of the parent via blame, nasty comments, and false accusations. Additionally, parental alienation can be achieved through actively preventing children from seeing an ex-partner or passively obliging when a child says they aren’t in the mood to see their other parent.
The effects that this has on a child are significant. Firstly, it prevents them from having the experience of being cared for by two parents without their consent. Secondly, it teaches impressionable teenagers about hatred and resentment – and when these emotions are directed towards someone they genuinely love and admire, it can be very confusing and create internal conflict for an anxious teen.
Finally, it can cause the teen to feel as though they are unloved by one parent when this is likely not the case. Work with a therapist on how to keep your own emotions from tarnishing your teenager’s feelings for their other parent.
You Anxious Teen Craves Your Love, Attention, and Approval
Above all, never forget that teens long to feel loved and seen by the people who are most important to them. I’ve experienced firsthand the most “resistant” of teens ask for more therapy sessions just so they can spend more quality time with their family. They might put up a good front, but they want to spend time with you. They want to know they matter. They want to make their loved ones proud.
Be sure to set a good example for your anxious teen by setting clear boundaries, resisting the temptation to bad-mouth your ex-partner, and helping your child maintain a relationship with their other parent.
A psychotherapist and holistic nutritionist, Kristina Virro prioritizes transparency and non-judgmental support for clients. She is trained in Cognitive Behavioural Therapy, Solution Focused Therapy, Narrative Therapy, Emotionally Focused Therapy, and Trauma-Informed Care. The Anxious Teen is her first book and is available via Amazon or from her website www.fresh-insight.ca