Helping your teenager to make a smooth transition to becoming a more capable and independent person can be complex in a divorced family.
Experts explain that adolescence is a time of transition from being a child to establishing an identity different from their parents. This normal process can become more complicated as teens experience the breakup of their parents’ marriage.
Although it may take your teen about two years to adjust to your divorce, feelings of sadness or anger may reappear during stressful times such as taking exams or if you or your ex-spouse remarry. In the 21st century, the teen years can be more problematic for many due to academic pressures, online bullying, and parents working long hours.
Some of the challenges teens face after their parents’ divorce include: living in two homes (with different rules in each house), loyalty conflicts with their parents, moving, and dealing with their parents dating as they’re exploring intimate relationships. They might also need to adjust to one or both parents’ remarriage, stepsiblings, and/or a new “mutual” sibling born to their biological parent and a stepparent.
Warning Signs of Psychological Issues
One of the main warning signs that your teenager is having difficulty coping with your divorce is displaying intense mood swings that range from extreme elation to intense hostility toward others that last more than a few days. Also, they might rage toward others and overreact to triggers in their environment. This could be anything from temper tantrums (especially in public) to becoming exceedingly angry or irritable over small things.
Other warning signs of depression or psychological problems include radical changes in behavior such as fighting at school, cheating, stealing, lying, or intense arguments with others (teachers, friends; or you or their other parent), declining school performance for over a period of a few weeks, developing physical ailments or chronic complaints (such as stomach or headaches), sleep problems, eating disorders (or gaining or losing more than ten pounds when not trying to), changes in peer relationships such as losing friends or isolating themselves from social activities, and sadness that lasts more than a few days.
Unfortunately, it doesn’t matter how many times you reassure your teenager that they aren’t to blame for your divorce, far too often they will internalize your breakup and carry the burden of guilt. Be aware that feelings of shame, resentment, frustration, or anger might surface during times of high stress such as moving, going off to college, or adjusting to a new stepparent or stepsibling. This is true even if your adolescent was coping fairly well prior to your divorce.
8 Tips to Help Your Teenager Cope With Post-Divorce Challenges
- Set a good example by managing your own stress and mood post-divorce. If you aren’t handling things well, your teen could be negatively impacted since you are their rock. Go to the gym or take a power walk and invite your teen to join you. Seek out supportive friendships and counseling (if needed), so you can stay optimistic about your future.
- Be available to listen and validate your teen’s concerns. When kids feel valued by their parents, they will value them in return. Teenagers are under a lot of stress at school and in peer relationships so need you to be available to listen. Turn off your cell phone when you’re with him or her. If you must take a call, keep it short and apologize if it interfered with your time together.
- Don’t bad mouth or argue with your ex in front of your teen. Model self-control and being polite with your former spouse. Negative comments about his/her other parent are likely to cause teens to experience loyalty conflicts – which can lead to emotional pain and turmoil.
- Set good boundaries. Be careful not to share too many details about your divorce with your teenager. Don’t grill them with questions about the other parent! This will create intense loyalty conflicts and put a lot of stress on your teenager.
- Promote a healthy bond between your teen and their other parent and/or stepparent. It’s crucial to have a positive mindset about your teen’s relationship with their other parent and perhaps their stepparent. This is especially true if your teen has a stepmother and is a daughter because those relationships can be challenging.
- Be flexible. Keep in mind that teens need some control over his or her schedule so be flexible about “Parenting time.” Don’t say or do things to make them feel guilty when they want to spend time with their other parent or friends and it’s a time they are scheduled to be at your home.
- Set limits with love. Many parents complain that their teens are rarely home once they begin to drive or work. Remember you are the parent and need to set a positive tone for your household, including having expectations for behavior, chores, curfew, etc.
- Be mindful of warning signs of teen depression and seek professional help if needed. Adolescence is often a time of turmoil which is exaggerated by the multitude of changes that go along with parental divorce. If your teen exhibits any of the warning signs detailed above for more than a few weeks, you are wise to seek professional help.
Experts agree that friends, school, extracurricular activities, and jobs are all crucial to a teenager’s well-being. Being flexible in your parenting schedule allows your teen to enjoy the things that are essential for his or her life. Operating from a mindset that they need balance in their life will serve as a protective factor during the whirlwind of adolescence. Your teen might end up feeling disappointed or resentful if you try to get them to adhere to your expectations or you’re rigid.
According to divorce and co-parenting expert Rosalind Sedacca, if you’ve built a healthy foundation with your teenager prior to your divorce, it’s likely that they’ll be resilient and adjust to your breakup. When you take time to truly listen to your adolescent, they’ll be more likely to ask your advice when they have a problem. Sedacca writes: “How you handle this now will affect your long-term relationship with her. So, don’t stand on your soap-box. Show her your empathy, compassion, and the ability to turn the other cheek.”
During and after divorce, it’s important that both parents promote a healthy bond with their teenagers in order to nurture high self-esteem and resiliency. Showing your teen compassion and understanding won’t guarantee success every day but they’ll feel less stressed as a result. Be sure to establish an open dialogue with your teen so they can discuss the stresses in their life and brainstorm solutions with you.
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