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Parent’s Divorce Has Lasting Impact Older Children

David Scott, P.A. Aug. 20, 2022

A divorce can be stressful and emotionally taxing for everyone involved—the separating couple, their friends and family members, and to children of any age.

But a recent study on the divorce process found that divorce can be especially damaging for older children and teenagers, who often experience more complicated emotional responses and find it more challenging to adapt to their family’s new situation.

Divorce can come as a shock to teenagers, who have identified their parents as husband and wife for their entire lives. Teenagers have never known anything beyond their existing family makeup, and seeing it disrupted can pull them roughly out of their comfort zone.

In addition, teens tend to have strong opinions about the world around them. Unlike younger children, who often blame themselves for a divorce, teenagers frequently blame one or both of their parents for a divorce. Oftentimes, teens feel hurt or angry with their parents, and demonstrate their feelings through rebellious behaviors such as delinquency or substance abuse.

However, as a parent, you can help your children cope, recover, and thrive after your divorce by being sensitive to their needs. Below, we’ve listed some tips for supporting your teenage son or daughter through your divorce process.

Involve your teens in the decision-making process. You should encourage your teen to express their thoughts and opinions during the divorce, and try to keep an open mind rather than correcting or scolding them. You shouldn’t allow your teen to do whatever he or she wants or bow to all of their wishes and demands, but it’s important to let him or her know you respect their desires and take them into account when making decisions.

Work together as parents. You may not be husband and wife for much longer, but you will always both be parents to your children. Talk to your teen together while being as honest as possible to ensure everyone on the family has a mutual understanding of the situation. This prevents teens from trying to manipulate either parent, while helping preserve stability in their lives even as the family transforms.

Maintain structure. Although teens may outwardly appear to resist structure, inwardly, they crave stability. It’s important to uphold family rules and expectations, even as you move to separate living situations.

Maintain balance. Teens need balance in their lives, and friends, school, jobs, and extra-curricular activities are essential to their well-being. Try your best to prevent your own agenda and the complications of divorce keep your teen from routine activities and responsibilities, or they may end up feeling resentful or disappointed.

Don’t bad-mouth each other. Though you should remain honest and open with your teen, be wary of over-sharing. Making hurtful or negative comments about your spouse behind his or her back can be upsetting to your teen and even more destructive to your family dynamic.

Set a good example. You can help restore your teen’s trust in you and others by setting an example of responsible behavior and reliability. Children mimic what they see, so if they are behaving poorly or rebelliously, there’s a good chance they are taking cues from their parents.

Beware the “sleeper effect.” While teenage boys frequently display adverse reactions to a divorce immediately, girls often internalize feelings of self-blame and have strong reactions later on in life—a phenomenon is referred to as the “sleeper effect.” It’s important to be aware of the sleeper effect when interacting with your teenage daughter, and encourage her to express all of her different feelings regarding the divorce.

Don’t take it personally. If your teen complains that he or she wants to spend time with friends or the other parent, don’t take it personally. It’s important to respect their wishes and feelings, even if they conflict with your own wants.

Encourage equal custody. Teens often feel torn between two parents after a divorce, unsure of where their loyalties should lie. To help your teen cope, try to share custody equally with your ex-spouse and encourage bonding time between both parents.

For help arranging a divorce and time sharing agreement that is most beneficial to your teen and the rest of your family, contact an experienced family lawyer. At our office, we believe that shared time with each parent is vital to a teen’s well-being, and we make every effort to ensure each parent can remain a frequent and positive presence in their children’s lives.