Dealing with Divorce: How Parents Can Help Teens

No one likes to think about it and yet 50% of us will end up going through a divorce It is hard enough to deal with the loss of a marriage, but for parents, the loss is made even greater because our actions are directly impacting our children.  As a parent, going through one of the hardest times of our lives, it is our job to make sure it isn’t any harder on our teenagers than it has to be, and that they have the love, support, and guidance to get through the experience undamaged.  This can feel like a tall order, especially if the divorce has left you devastated.

There is good news however, the proverbial light at the end of the tunnel.  It is possible to deal with divorce in a constructive way and create a wonderful new life for you and your family.  Divorce, for children, shows up like an unwanted, unwelcome house guest.  It unpacks its bags and settles in, spreading uncertainty and anger.  Divorce brings uncertainty and anger into our lives.  The key to helping adolescents and teens navigate through this time is to actively manage the baggage this unwelcome guest brought with them.

The first bit of baggage to deal with is uncertainty.  Divorce can upend everything in your family’s lives.  Schedules change, childhood homes get sold, responsibilities increase, and time together often decreases.  Everything your family relied on for stability and comfort may be gone and it may be hard to find anything that feels solid enough to stand on.  This is an unwelcome feeling for anyone, but for teens who are already going through a significant time in their own lives, this guest can throw them completely off balance and leave them wondering which way is up.

While we cannot eliminate every uncertainty during this tumultuous time, there are some things you can do to give your teen some stable ground to stand on.

  • Help them understand that the divorce was not their fault.
  • In an age-appropriate way, talk to them about the reasons for the divorce together.  It is important to remember that blaming and/or shaming each other in front of your children only hurts them more.
  • Do not lie to them or withhold information.
  • Encourage them to ask questions and provide an age appropriate answer.

The other bit of baggage you need to manage is anger.  It isn’t unusual for teens to be angry about the divorce.  They may be angry at one parent, both parents, or simply the world.  If you can put yourself in their shoes, you will see that they have every right to be angry.  Everything in their lives is changing, they feel like their family will never be the same, and there is nothing they can do about it.  There are two important things parents can do to help teens who are angry.  The first is to let them know its ok.  The second is to help them find healthy ways to handle that anger.  Simply sweeping it under the rug or pretending that it isn’t there can make it worse.   Help your teenager by modeling healthy behavior, giving them time and space to deal with the divorce and their feelings at their own pace, and reaffirming that the divorce doesn’t change how you or the other parent feels about them.  If you have questions about how to navigate this journey effectively with your teen, Doorways can help. Give us a call today!

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