Helping Teens Cope with Divorce

Being a teenager isn't easy. One's teenage years are a time of intense change both mentally and physically, and for many teens, this can be challenging to deal with. Teens and pre-teens facing the added change of their parents' separation or divorce might feel like their entire world has been shaken to its core. Even though your teen might seem independent and not in need of much attention, they need as much love and support through this tough time as any person does. Helping teens cope with divorce is important in order to help them move forward into a happy and healthy adulthood. As a parent, here are some things to think about as you confront challenges with your teenager during this time:

Approach changes slowly. When so many things are already changing in the life of the average teenager, adding more for them to cope with will just create more stress in their life. While it won't be possible to avoid the change of the separation or divorce happening now, there are other forthcoming changes that could stand to be delayed. If possible, try not to pile too many changes on your teen all at once. Prepare your teen by talking to them about what is to come so that none of it is a complete surprise. If you or your teenager must move to a new home, assure your them that they will be able to stay in touch with their friends from their old neighborhood. Let them decorate their new bedroom and participate in the styling of other rooms in the house as well. If they must also change schools, try and wait until the school year is over before changing. Pulling your teen from their school part way through the year could be devastating for teen emotionally as well as on their grades. Plan a visit to the school before they begin classes so that they can get a feel for the place and not feel so lost on the first day. You could even talk to the school's office to see if you could arrange a student to show your teen around campus.

Expect some pushback. The relationship between one's parents acts as a foundation for many families, and when this foundation breaks after a number of years, the rest of the family is often left in dismay. For teens, anger and resentment are not uncommon feelings to experience during their parents' divorce, and they might express it in a number of ways. They could push back at you by making angry comments, taking rebellious actions, or just simply trying to ignore you. All of this is not uncommon for teenagers in this situation. As a parent, do you best to reassure your teen that you love them and that the divorce was not their fault. If your teen begins pushing back at you in a way that is concerning or could threaten their health or safety, talk to a professional about it. Your teen is also likely to benefit from talking to someone about their feelings. This could be their school counselor or another mental health professional. Your teen might resist this offer at first, so try not to be too forceful about it. Instead of lecturing your teen about why they need therapy, explain your concerns and express your love and care for them. Rather than using force, being supportive and sensitive to your teenager's emotions will help give them the nudge they need in the right direction. 

Rules are rules. As a parent, seeing your teen rebel or harbor negative feelings towards you will certainly be difficult. Your first thought might be to relax the rules a bit in order to win your teen's affection once again. Bending the rules by giving them some extra computer time or letting them stay out an hour later seems rather trivial, but when it goes further than that is when there may be a problem. By not maintaining rules and setting limits for your teens, they could easily find opportunities to take things to far. Set rules appropriate to your teen's age and maturity. Remember to be reasonable with your teens, as they are on their way to becoming young adults who crave more freedom. For example, if they are doing well in school and maintain a good attitude, you might demonstrate your appreciation and trust in them by letting them stay out just a bit later. Use your best judgment to maintain a set of reasonable rules that encourage your teen to grow into a happy, healthy young adult. 

Don't forget to be a parent. As the parent who is experiencing the separation or divorce, you are also experiencing a whirlwind of emotions that aren't easy to handle on your own. You might see your teen as a mature individual who can help take care of you. What you need to remember is that your teen is still your child. They need your love, support and strength through this difficult time as much as any child does. Therefore, don't use your teen as your therapist. They might ask you questions about the situation which you can answer truthfully, but remember to spare them of negative details that risk being too painful for them to know. Your close friends or therapist can act as your sounding board to vent your negative feelings, not your teen. 

Helping teens cope with divorce is a process, just as is helping any other person cope with it. Through the love and support of family and friends, they will make it through and move forward with a happy and healthy life into adulthood.