Divorce is a stressful process for parents and children alike. Children in various age groups react differently to parental separation and will need to have support throughout this change. It’s important to take care of your emotional and mental health but to also monitor your teenager’s as well. As they are learning more about themselves and the world, establishing communication and stability in your teen’s life is one of the best ways to support them in this event.
Preteen & Younger Adolescent Reactions to Divorce
Children at this age are 11 to 13 years old. Preteens understand the meaning and reasons of divorce better than younger children. At this age, they can consider future plans, schedules, and can learn to accommodate to new changes in their home life. However, this age group can become depressed and blame themselves for the parents’ divorce.
Here are a few responses and behaviors preteens may have:
- Concealing their disappointment and stress
- Acting as if they don’t miss the other parent
- Feeling obligated to physically help their parents
- Helping out more at home
- Acting out in frustration and anger
- Becoming rebellious and using illicit substances
- Siding with one parent and refusing to interact with the other
Preteens are trying to identify who they are and where they fit in while relying on their parents for emotional support. A divorce can disrupt this period and cause fear resulting in preteens to sometimes become too reliant on their parents or self-isolate.
Older Adolescent Reactions & to Divorce
Older adolescents range from the ages of 14 to 18. This age group has improved judgment and may understand the divorce on a deeper level compared to preteens. Older adolescents may also act out more if they feel disrespected by their parents.
Here are a few responses and behaviors older teens may have:
- Blaming parents for the divorce
- Blaming themselves for the divorce
- Growing up faster than normal
- Worrying about finances
- Assuming parental roles for younger siblings
- Becoming hyper dependent on parents
- Feeling unsure about their beliefs and having low self-esteem
- Engaging in risky behaviors
- Sexual activity
- Substance abuse
Divorce can be highly stressful on teens depending on their individual situation. This can lead them to turn to peers to help them. Unfortunately, some of these peers may introduce risky behaviors, delinquent acts, and other unsafe behaviors to help your teen cope with their emotions.
Older & Younger Adolescent Responses & Behaviors
Teens may be more likely to experience mixed emotions throughout divorce. They can recognize the positive and negative impacts within the divorce. Examples can range from relief that their parents argue less to annoyance from having to do more chores. Overall, a divorce can lead to negative responses from children if left unaddressed. A few more responses and behaviors can include:
- Academic problems
- Increased stress
- Trouble getting along with family and peers
- Difficulty sleeping
- Loss of Appetite
- Suicidal ideation and attempts
If you begin to suspect your child is struggling with their emotional health, start by talking to their doctor who may be able to refer you to a therapist. Specific therapists are experienced with teens and children going through a parental separation. These professionals can help with your children’s emotional health as well as prescribe medication if needed.
Supporting Teenagers Throughout Divorce
It is important to recognize that while your teen or preteen is old enough to help around the house and make more independent decisions, they are still children. Leaning on your teenager to take care of younger siblings and helping around the house too heavily can negatively impact their emotions. Inappropriately venting to teenagers about their other parent can also be harmful. Teenagers ultimately need support from their parents throughout a divorce.
Being present for your teen, showing interest in their activities, and talking to them can be very beneficial. Divorce is difficult for all parties involved and support is needed throughout all stages. Here are some tips that can help your teen:
- Allow them to provide their input on decisions about their lives whenever safe and appropriate
- Attend their extra-curricular activities and performances
- Encourage their relationship with the other parent (if the separation was amicable)
- Have open communication about changes
- Keep rules and responsibilities between households consistent
- Offer consistent affection, support, and a safe space for them to express themselves
These are just a few of the ways to support your teen through your divorce. Making sure to have open communication and providing a safe and supportive environment is an essential for teens. Divorce can cause many strong emotions to arise, but there are a few actions to avoid:
- Bad-mouthing your ex-spouse in front of your teen
- Putting your teen in the middle of arguments
- Using your teen as a communicator or messenger between you and your spouse
Making sure you keep your children separate from marital issues provides a healthier environment for them.
Continually Providing Support to Teenagers After Divorce
When the divorce has been settled and things have become less turbulent, becoming a figure of stability in your teen’s changing life is in their best interest. Outside of the divorce your teen is still learning more about themselves, the world, and how they fit into their friendships and romantic relationships, as well as navigating many other new experiences.
Stay Open & Communicative
Remaining open to your teen can help encourage them to come to you with their worries and concerns. Many adolescents are not adamant on sharing their emotions but staying communicative and truthful can help teens feel safe enough to share their feelings. Helping your teenager talk about their feelings and putting them into words can help make sense of the emotions and thoughts they are having.
Find Outside Support for Your Teen
If your child is unwilling to talk to you or you are unsure about how to answer their questions, finding a professional experienced with adolescents can be a solution. Examples can be redirecting them to the school guidance counselor, a support group for teens with divorced families, and a therapist experienced in working with adolescents.
Your Teen Is Not an Adult
Parents can sometimes forget that their older teens are not actually adults. Going through a divorce can make you feel overwhelmed, lonely, and stressed. Your teen may try to grow-up faster and appear more mature to help you. However, they are still children in need of support. Household chores and responsibilities are normal but quickly becoming a parent or adult to avoid processing their emotions can be damaging.
When you allow them to be teenagers, you are showing that they can still rely on you. Providing your teenager with a consistent routine, responsibilities, and a supportive relationship can keep you as a stable pillar in their fast-changing world.
Divorce is already a difficult time for both parties. When factoring in children, the stress can become overwhelming. The Law Office of Alexandra White, P.C. is experienced with divorce including children and can be here to help you. Call today at (303) 647-4245 or schedule a free consultation with us online.