Adolescents process divorce differently than younger children due to their emotional, social, and hormonal changes and development. Parents of adolescent children would benefit from recognizing that adolescents are likely to be more attuned to problems between their parents and aware of any potential future changes. Therefore, parents should try to have open and honest dialogue with adolescents about their future, and how divorce will impact their lives. Improperly handling the situation can lead teens to act out and put blame on their parents or themselves.
Open and honest communication is important to the adolescent; however, that does not mean the parent has to provide details about their reason for the divorce or air their dirty laundry. Those details should remain in the domain of the adults. Parents should, however, make it clear to the adolescent that their decision to divorce has nothing to do with them. It is also important for the adolescent to know that his or her needs will be of paramount priority in any future decisions. Even though their lives may change, they will have the continued unconditional love and support of each parent.
Adolescents Asserting Individuality and Independence
Divorce can provide adolescents with the opportunity to assert their own individuality and independence by allowing them to have input in their daily routine. It is important for parents to recognize that, developmentally, the adolescent wants to spend time with their friends, not just family. Forcing the adolescent to adhere to a strict parenting time schedule will create conflict and disappointment. The adolescent needs a more flexible parenting time schedule that allows time with each parent and other family/non-family members.
Adolescents may exploit the situation at home to mirror their interactions in other relationships outside of the home such as with teachers, friends, and significant others. In some cases, adolescents may mirror the behavior of their parents by being angry, aloof, distant, manipulative, controlling, superficial (negative) or compassionate, and well adjusted (positive). It is important not to allow splitting between the parents, who need to be on the same page so that the adolescent can feel secure that the parents are still in control. Divorce can also teach the adolescent how to handle conflict and life changes. Parents need to consider how the adolescent is viewing their behaviors during this difficult time.
6 Things Divorcing Parents of Adolescents Should Consider
Here are a few things that parents of adolescent children should keep in mind when going through a divorce:
- Allow teens to ask questions and voice concerns relating to how there daily routine will change;
- Focus on positive outcomes and positively guide the adolescent (emotional maturity, problem solving, etc.);
- If the adolescent is feeling bitter, anxious, or angry about their parents’ divorce, better to seek professional help in order to minimize negative affects;
- Parents must remember not to let the adolescent feel guilt or burdened about their parents’ decision to divorce;
- Parents must work together to ensure that the adolescent is emotionally and psychologically balanced and is maintaining healthy relationships/communication with parents and other social circles; and
- Important to allow the adolescent to cultivate his/her own individuality while parents maintain boundaries and discipline.
Gale B. Weinberg is a partner in the law firm of Weinberg & Cooper, LLC. She has more than 25 years of experience in family law matters, including working as a Guardian ad Litem for children involved in high-conflict custody matters. She worked with children for several years after completing a masters’ degree at Teachers College, Columbia University. She has been a leader and instructor for many family law professional organizations. [email protected]