Teenagers can be challenging during divorce as they are more likely to be stoic and keep their feelings hidden inside. Younger siblings cry, are clingy, and often more talkative. There may be an obvious sign with a young child that they are stressed, such as bedwetting. Teens may not show many obvious signs that they are struggling with parental divorce, so you may need to do some sleuthing – including talking with their school’s guidance counselor – to find out how they are really doing.
Adolescents are undergoing physical changes with fluctuating hormones taking a toll on their emotional state, even under the best of conditions. Throw a divorce into the mix and it can be difficult to decipher what is “normal” teenage angst and what is problematic. One day they may feel child-like and the next, quite grown up. Teens may not want to share their feelings with parents for various reasons – including not wanting to be a burden when their folks are in turmoil, or to avoid hurting a depressed parent. Teens may be angry at the two individuals causing such a drastic upset to their world. An adolescent may become depressed and turn inwards. When this happens, they shut others out and become quieter, withdrawing from their friends, extracurricular activities, and social events they enjoyed pre-divorce.
7 Tips on How to Help Your Teenagers During Divorce
1. Inform the adults in their lives that you are getting a divorce
It is less traumatic if teens do not have to keep explaining the situation to teachers, coaches, and so forth. As a school nurse, it was embarrassing for a kid to ask if their testing result was for their mother or father. I quickly made an extra copy so they each had one. This did not have to happen.
2. Deal with behavioral changes right away
Your teenager may start exhibiting marked behavioral changes. It is better to deal with those behaviors right away rather than have that escalate or become a pattern. When my son became sassy with a teacher who was similar to his father, I was called into the school immediately. My son and that teacher talked about his disrespectful behavior. Although divorce is not an excuse, the teacher listened to what was a trigger for my son. Now when they bump into each other, it is as old friends.
3. Ensure that your son or daughter has access to a neutral third party
A neutral third party can help them discuss their fear, disappointment and what is going on in their life. It could be a family friend, godparent, neighbor or a relative who is non-judgmental. My sons had a therapist assigned to them during proceedings by both lawyers. This support was invaluable for them. They could let out steam and gently be given a reality check. If your offspring is going off the rails, a session with a counselor or divorce coach can be beneficial.
4. Look for changes
Is your teenager’s behavior erratic? This could indicate alcohol or drug use: they may be self-medicating while trying to numb their emotional pain. Do they wear long sleeves all of the time? That could indicate cutting or track marks – or bruising from bullying – and the long sleeves are hiding scars and contusions from you.
5. Give teens your undivided attention
This includes without your smartphone in sight. It can be easier to open up when doing side-by-side activities, such as taking a walk. These older kids may not want eye contact when expressing difficult thoughts. It is easy to get caught up in the trauma of one’s divorce and be significantly less available to offspring. Make sure you get breaks and support, in order to be there for your kids. If you are burned out, you will be a less effective parent.
6. Plan enjoyable activities
My sons and I had fun rituals that we did weekly. For example, we continued going to restaurants where the owners had known them as babies and were supportive during divorce. Splurge on a day out at an amusement park. Go to see a funny movie at the theater, as laughing is a good way to reduce stress. Music or comedy festivals can help you and your teenagers get into an upbeat mood and forget their problems for a while.
7. Keep your sex life private
Teens I spoke with felt uncomfortable when their parents’ dates turned into sleep overs. This is especially true when the divorce has not yet been finalized. Several adolescents became angry when their father presented his new girlfriend and said they were already a couple. When one of the lads pointed out that he was still married, the encounter turned nasty.
Teenagers can learn valuable life lessons with their parents’ divorce, such as adapting to new situations. My sons learned how to live within a budget, self-reliance, and that experiences are more important than more material goods. Looking for positives – instead of back at what was – got my sons and I through divorce and beyond.