9 Ways to Help Teens Dealing with Their Parents’ Divorce
For some couples, divorce becomes necessary and cannot be avoided, even though it can be hurtful, difficult, and complicated, particularly for their children.
When parents decide to divorce, teenagers are sometimes caught completely unaware, while others are surprised the split took as long as it did. However, no matter which camp teens are in when it comes to their parents’ divorce, both require them to cope with the many changes that will be coming their way.
While many teens don’t think their parents’ divorce will impact them all that much, they are usually surprised by the range of emotions they experience when their new normal involves two homes instead of one. Decisions regarding who they will be with on specific holidays, who they will spend their birthdays with, and who they will vacation with can prove to be difficult, and teens frequently feel like they have little or no control over them.
Much of the research and advice on how to cope with parents’ divorce is focused on children, but teens need help too. Here are nine tips to help teens dealing with their parents’ divorce:
- Remind teens that the divorce is not their fault. Parents do not get divorced because of their kids. In fact, they likely tried to avoid divorce to spare their children. However, kids, particularly teens, tend to feel guilty and blame themselves for their parents’ divorce. Some might try to improve their behavior, raise their grades, and focus more on their academics to make up for what they think is their fault. But it doesn’t matter if a teen gets straight As and keeps their room spotless or is even disrespectful and rebellious – parents almost always get divorced because of their own issues, not because of what their kids may or may not have done.
- Don’t make them pick sides. When teens are asked to deliver messages from one parent to the other, they become go-betweens and often feel trapped in the middle of a difficult situation. To avoid this scenario, parents should speak to each other directly or send messages back and forth through their attorneys, not their children. Parents should also avoid talking negatively about the other parent to their children. Doing so is immature, unnecessary, and hurtful, particularly to teens who generally have more awareness of these comments than younger children might.
- Encourage teens to confide in someone. Teenagers whose parents are divorcing are often overcome with feelings of sadness, anger, and guilt, and betrayal. Confiding in a trusted friend, family member, or school counselor who will listen to them and validate their feelings will frequently lighten the emotional load they are carrying. Some schools provide support groups for teens whose parents are divorcing, and teens can also take advantage of mental health counseling offered outside of school (often free of charge) without ever involving their parents.
- Watch what you say in front of them. Parents amid divorce say many things to each other that they don’t mean. However, once emotions calm down, they will often regret things that were said in anger, hurt, or fear. Encourage your teens not to take what they might have heard as the truth, and most of all, not to take it personally. Instead, suggest that they go and meet a friend, take a walk, or put on some headphones and listen to music to drown out the background noise around them.
- Don’t expect them to take care of you. When parents are married, they typically support one another when they are sick or need help. When they get divorced, it may seem logical for them to depend on their teens, which can result in tension and resentment. Parents going through a divorce need to have a plan for their future that doesn’t include relying on their children, and should speak to them upfront so that teens don’t feel like they are their parents’ only resource for support.
- Keep teens on a need-to-know basis. While it’s natural for teens to want to understand more about what happened to cause problems in the marriage and the family, the information they are given will likely come through the lens of one parent or the other and may cause confusion and hurt. Teens need to understand that no matter what their parents say, they might not know exactly what happened that led to the divorce and there is no value in gathering more information that they’ll never be able to completely understand.
- Make health a priority. Teens need to be told to resist the temptation to numb their pain with food, drugs, alcohol, and online activities. Instead, they should be encouraged to eat healthfully, continue to exercise, and allow themselves to feel the sadness and loss they are likely experiencing. The sooner they face their emotions, the sooner they will be able to find the footing to move on with their lives.
- Remind them that things will get better. A divorce is one of the most stressful experiences a family will go through, involving at least one new home, emotional turmoil, and financial stressors that could impact the family’s activities and lifestyle. But people get divorced because they want a happier future for their family, and it is generally better for young children and teens to grow up in two peaceful homes than one that might be filled with frequent conflict.
- Understand that acceptance will take time. Families need time to adjust to the dramatic change caused by a divorce, but it will happen. Teens need to seek out support, lean on caring friends, stay connected with both parents, and treat themselves well to weather the storm.
The family law attorneys at Epperson Law Group, PLLC, have over seven decades of combined experience with divorce and other family issues. We will treat you and your family with understanding and compassion as you navigate your way through this difficult time. Contact us by filling out our contact form or call 704-321-0031 to set up a consultation at one of our offices in Charlotte, Weddington, Boone, or Concord today. We are bilingual – contact us in English or French.
Steven B. Ockerman is a graduate of the U.S. Naval Academy and Washington University School of Law. He has practiced law for over 25 years, concentrating on family law matters for over 16 years, and is a Board Certified Specialist in Family Law since 2009.
Find out more about Steven B. Ockerman