• Helping your Child through Divorce: Part 4 – Focusing on Teens

    by Dr. Wolfe

     

    This is the fourth and final (at least for now) post on this series on helping your child through divorce. The previous posts were applicable for all ages, including teens, but I decided to devote one post specifically to teens because the process can be more difficult with them.

    Keep in mind that the same general “rules” of divorce apply. Please read the first three posts and continue to utilize those ideas in how you deal with the divorce. Here are some additional tips for how to handle your divorce with teens.

    Telling your teen about the divorce:

    1. Be prepared to deal with emotionally charged reactions. Teens are going through a lot of biological changes in their brains and their hormones that make them more prone to dramatic, emotional responses. They may react very strongly to news of the divorce, fights about visitation, or other aspects of the process. Just remember that these outbursts are often due to their age and try not to make a huge deal out of it. Look for the underlying feelings in your teens’ words and behavior and sympathize with those.

    2. Teens will be observing your words and behavior closely. They can read your tone of voice, and will sense underlying sarcasm, blame, or anger toward the other parent.  When you’re talking to your teen about the divorce, it’s really important that you are in touch with your feelings and are able to convey genuine respect for your ex-partner rather than blame or anger.

    3. Teens are often more aware of the reasons behind the divorce than younger children. If they are, don’t try to pretend that nothing happened and ignore the elephant in the room. Instead, acknowledge the facts openly, but continue to keep the details minimal and don’t tell them more than they need to know. Then continue to have conversations with them, asking about their thoughts and feelings. For example, if one parent had an affair that led to the end of the marriage and the teen knows this, it’s okay to acknowledge that this happened. Ask for their thoughts and feelings, and be sure to listen carefully.

    Helping your teen adjust to a new normal:

    1. Teens are at an age where they are working toward independence. They may experience stress when they are not able to have input into major decisions that affect their lives. Try to let them have more input about decisions than you would with a younger kid. For example, ask them if they have any requests for their visitation schedule, or give them a few options and allow them to choose from these. This being said, you should make it clear that you as a parent have the final say. To understand why that’s necessary, read the next tip:

    2. Make sure your teen understands and feels that the parents are still in charge. They may fight against it, but they will feel safer and more secure knowing that you are still their parents and you are going to maintain the same rules and consistency as before the divorce.

    3. Your teen may feel embarrassed about the divorce and may be uncomfortable telling their friends, teachers, or coaches. Help them figure out how they want to share the news, and offer to help them do so if it’s appropriate.

    4. Teens usually have more established friendships, school relationships, and involvement in extra-curricular activities than younger kids do. As much as possible, try to ensure these are not disrupted by the changes from the divorce.

    5. Don’t let your teen get away with more because of the divorce. Teens are more likely than younger children to try to manipulate their parents to get what they want. For example, they may tell you they are at their other parent’s home, but instead go to a friend’s house. Or they may tell you that the other parent allows something when it’s not true in order to get you to allow it as well. Try to ensure that you have enough contact with the other parent to know they aren’t getting away with breaking the rules because of the divorce.

    6. Teens tend to notice more than younger kids if one parent continuously cancels visits or forgets to call. If your teen is disappointed by the other parent, be available for them to share these concerns with you. Try to listen without sharing your own stories about the other parent, or adding any fuel to the fire, but instead just listen and empathize with their feelings.

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