Teens and divorce

Teens and divorce – a topic that’s often overlooked in favour of worrying about our younger children. Last time on the blog we looked at the impact of divorce on children, and some approaches to help children feel safe and loved through the process. Teens whose parents are going through divorce often present a different set of challenges and so in this post we’ll be focusing on them.  

The impact on teens

The teenage years are often testing, for both teens and the adults around them, before you throw divorce into the mix. Teen brains are changing, and that means they often revert to more primal, ‘flight or fright’ responses, that look like sulky lockdowns or aggressive flare-ups. You’ll know exactly what I mean if you’re going through this right now. It may be that you can remember this period in your own life!  

The stress of divorce means your teen may have more of these responses. Know that it’s normal. It’s not fun for anyone – including them. But they are struggling to process some difficult emotions.   Don’t assume that because your children are older they need less support. In some ways, divorce can be more straightforward for younger children, they are less likely to brood over the whys and wherefores.   Everyone responds differently to divorce but many teens will feel a combination of:

  • Anger
  • Loss of control
  • Guilt
  • Sadness
  • Fear

Allowing these feelings is important, however hard it is as a parent. Listen to them without trying to put your side across. Reassure your teen that it is not them who is being divorced, by either parent.  

Recognise that sometimes it will be challenging for you to distinguish between ‘normal’ teen angst and boundary testing, and issues that are specific to the impact of your divorce. Avoid making assumptions that you know which it is. Whenever possible, ask! Keep your boundaries firm – your teens need these as much as younger children to feel safe and held emotionally. 

Be open and honest

As with younger children, keeping communication open is key. Your teen is likely to have lots of questions (some of which they may keep to themselves) about how this will affect them and their future. Share your plans where you can, without going into all the details of negotiations with your soon-to-be-ex-husband. If you don’t have all the answers, let them know that too. And however strongly you feel about their father, keep your tone neutral and civil – remember that your teen has a right to a healthy relationship with both parents.  

Allow them to be

Your teen will need to come to terms with this divorce in their own way, just as you will. As much as you want them to feel better, you need to let them process their emotions in their own way. Let them know that you love them no matter what, and that the divorce isn’t their fault.   But if they pull away from you for a while, accept that. Let them know there are other trusted adults they can speak to: maybe at school, a grandparent, or through family mediation.  

Get support

Teens can sometimes feel like adults. But they aren’t. Human brains aren’t fully emotionally developed until our twenties. So however grown up and independent your older child or teen appears, or wants to be, it’s important that you don’t rely on them for support.   They will take their cues from you. If you can be open and honest with them, sharing your sadness sometimes, but not getting out of control or depending on them to make you feel better, your teen is more likely to be able to manage their own emotional regulation.   So ensure you have a good support team around you.

Be aware that your teens (and sometimes younger children) may have the urge to ‘parent’ you. Sons make think of themselves as the ‘man of the house’ now. If this is happening ensure that both you and your teens get additional support so that you are able to maintain healthy parent/child boundaries.

Find people you can vent and rage with, find people you trust who can help you make decisions. For help building your support team, check out this recent blog.   If you want confidential help as you go through divorce, whether it’s dealing with the emotional impact, decision-making, or getting organised, I can help.   Message me to book in a free call.

The Divorce Alchemist

Emma Heptonstall, the Divorce Alchemist is author of the Amazon best selling book How to be a Lady Who Leaves, the Ultimate Guide to Getting Divorce Ready. A former lawyer, Emma is a practising family mediator and founder of Get Divorce Ready the online self study and group programmes. Emma is featured on BBC Radio, The Telegraph, the iPaper and in Marie Claire Magazine. To find out more visit www.emmaheptonstall.com