Divorcing parents of teens too often underestimate the effect of their break-up on them. While teens aren’t as dependent on their parents as younger children are, divorce still affects how and where they live – and much more.
Teens are more likely than children to have some strong feelings about whether one parent or the other is to blame. Further, a parental break-up can cause them to question their own feelings about love and relationships. All of this means that parents need to be conscious of their teen’s feelings and work to help them understand that the divorce is for the best. While teens typically aren’t as open about their feelings as children, that doesn’t mean they aren’t struggling with them.
It’s crucial to watch for signs of emotional distress in your teen, like changes in sleeping or eating habits, falling grades and less interest in their friends and extracurricular activities. Some teens – particularly boys – start getting into fights or acting out in other ways. It’s particularly important to make sure your teen isn’t turning to alcohol or drugs to numb their feelings or doing things just to get your attention.
Continuing to be a parenting team can help
All parents should reassure their kids that the divorce isn’t their fault or the fault of either parent (even if it is). It’s vital to ensure your teen that you’re still a team when it comes to caring for them.
It helps to have consistent expectations in both homes – at least when it comes to important things like grades, responsibilities and behavior. Too often, parents compete to be their child’s favorite. Most teens are smart enough to take advantage of parental guilt and insecurity to get what they want – which helps no one.
Your teen is not your friend
Even if you’re fortunate enough to have a close relationship with your teen, you need to set some boundaries when talking to them about the divorce. That means not disparaging their other parent. One parenting expert says that by talking to your teen about your divorce, “you are putting them in an adult conversation that they are not prepared for emotionally or psychologically.”
Even if your teen only has a couple of years before they leave for college, it’s important to take the time to negotiate a custody agreement and parenting plan that focus on their best interests.