by Chris Taylor, MFT, Author “Back to Basics”
With the divorce rate in America passing 50 percent, and with the stress of children cited as one of the leading reasons for divorce, it is important to know the best way to support your teen through this painful and inherently sad process. Here are 3 ways to help your teens cope with divorce.
1. Deal with the changes appropriately
Explain the changes that will happen, and take them as slow as possible. Changing the home life of a teenager is changing their self image and identity, which is a hard pill to swallow when the cause is something out of their control. Be as honest as possible about what is happening and going to happen, without going into the details that don’t concern your teen (legalities).
This is another opportunity for communication. Unlike small children, teens are old enough to voice their opinion. Listen to their wants, they have a right to give input on custody and time spent with each parent. Lastly, you want to offer and encourage the teen the option to speak with a counselor. This can’t be forced, and shouldn’t be to make you and the spouse feel better about going through the divorce.
2. Don’t show hostility with the kids around
Giving your teen the easiest transition includes avoiding putting them in hostile or heated situations. Don’t fight with your spouse with the teen around. In addition, you don’t want to talk bad about the other party with your teen around. Teens are still very impressionable, and talking in bad light could give them a chip on their shoulder about your ex, relationships, or even you.
The relationship between parent and child should be encouraged and remain consistent. If a teen feels ill will toward one parent or the other and acts out, it is up to the parents to be understanding, and still show their support for their child. Fighting with your teen over their reaction will only harm their trust and relationship with you more than it already is.
Co Parenting will be one of the hardest parts of your divorce, because it will tie you to your ex despite divorcing them. However, good co parenting is achievable, and should be done from the beginning of the process and forward.
3. Still be the parent
As hard as it may be, you still have to remain in a parental role through all of the divorce process. One of the things you may struggle with is wanting to talk to your teen like a therapist or best friend. This is not their role, and you don’t want to put that pressure on them because they are still trying to process everything themselves.
Another issue is wanting to give in on normalities of everyday life to be “the good parent” or to make the situation not seem as bad as it is. This will work for a short period, but is not sustainable. Rules for your teen should remain in place, and acting out should not be acceptable. Don’t use your teen as a pawn to get in good light or to “win” parenting. Being constructive and remaining in the parental role will help your teen in the long run and they will thank you later.
If you feel like you need help working through the divorce process with your teen, contact me about counseling and helping your teen cope.