In the United States, it is estimated that around 40% of marriages end in divorce. For parents, one of the most heartbreaking aspects of separating is telling their children. If you have teenagers, and you’re going through a divorce, here are some tips to help you talk to your teens…
Teens may have more difficulty processing news of a divorce than younger children. This is because teenagers are going through the developmental process of forming their identity apart from their family. Teens are often looking for ways to distinguish who they are through the clothes they wear, the music they listen to, the friends they spend time with, and the interests they share with family.
When teens’ parents are going through divorce, teens often feel they need to “figure out” their identity as a reaction to a serious shift in their home lives. This can make the growing up process feel immediate and overwhelming rather than a natural journey of self-discovery. Therefore, teens may have extreme reactions to their parents’ divorce as the new family dynamic changes the way they see themselves and their relationships.
Talk honestly and openly
One of the most important steps in talking with your teen about divorce is talking openly and honestly. Whether you’re at the stage where you’re telling your children that you’re separating, or you’re further down the line of finalizing your divorce, it’s essential to talk openly and honestly. The separation may come as a shock to your teen, and as a result your teen may feel blindsided.
In order to combat those feelings of shock, encourage your teen to ask questions about the divorce. Communicate clearly what adjustments will be made to their living arrangements, daily routines, schooling, and extracurricular activities. Even after this discussion, continue to set aside time to talk with your teen and discuss their concerns about the future. When teens have accurate expectations of the divorce process they’re less likely to feel surprised or left in the dark. It will also provide them with reassurance that they will be able to adapt to future changes.
If your teen is reluctant to talk at first, that doesn’t mean they never will. Give them time to process on their own, but keep checking so they know you are still available. It may be a while before they feel comfortable coming to you, or maybe they’ll be more comfortable opening up to friends and other family members in the long run.
Instead of seeking parental guidance, your teen may depend on other family members or friends for support. This behavior is normal for teens and should even be encouraged because it helps them form a wider support system. Through it all, the most important thing is for both parents to set aside time to talk to their teens openly and honestly so they can better adapt to changes.
Take the high road
It is important to avoid insulting your ex-spouse when talking with your teen. It is common for ex-spouses to make disparaging comments about each other when their children are around. Comments like these are harmful for teens who are trying to make sense of the divorce, and can often make them feel like they have to take sides. This makes the divorce harder on teens because it brings them directly into the conflict. As a result, they might disregard their parents entirely to avoid conflict.
It is very common for teenagers to blame themselves for their parents’ divorce. Your teen might think if they helped their parents get along, earned better grades, or cleaned up more around the house, they might have stopped the divorce. Make it clear from the very beginning that your teen is not to blame in any way. Explain to your teen that divorce is a decision between the parents only and it is not based on any action of the teen.
Seek practical support and advice
To relieve some of the challenges of going through a divorce, there are practical measures to consider. In order to best support your teen through this time, it is beneficial to take care of your own mental health, lean on those close to you, and seek expert assistance from top-rated family law attorneys. Taking care of your own mental health will allow you to have enough space emotionally to care for your teen. Having friends around you to support and encourage you in this time will help you not become overwhelmed. Expert attorneys are another great resource and their guidance will empower you when making tough decisions. Taking these practical steps will leave you feeling more equipped and greater in control of the divorce. As a result, you will be in a better position to care for your teens’ needs.
Encourage positive communication
Communication helps teens understand what to expect from a divorce, but sometimes teens find it difficult to open up to loved ones. One option to help teens positively process their emotions is through support groups and organizations. These support groups are helpful for teens because they can learn about overcoming the challenges of separated parents from each other. Another way to encourage productive dialogue about divorce is to find a professional marriage and family therapist who can work with your teen individually or with the family as a whole.
Keep routines steady
As much as possible, try and keep the day-to-day life of your teen consistent. There will be a lot of change occurring within the family system, so keeping to normal life of school, friends, and extracurricular activities will be comforting for your teen. If there are aspects of life that require immediate change, introduce these slowly. If the teen is required to change schools, wait until the semester or year is over. Include your teen when making these decisions as this will allow your teen to feel more autonomous about planning their future.
Teens who are prepared for a parents’ divorce will have better social support, less extreme emotional reactions, and more trusting relationships with their parents. Discussing the change is paramount and helps teens know that they can trust their parents. Although these conversations are not easy, they are necessary
- Talk openly and honestly with your teen and encourage them to ask questions in order to better prepare them for the future.
- Avoid making negative comments towards your ex-spouse while your teen is around.
- Make it clear to your teen that they are not responsible for the divorce.
- Seek support and expert advice to take care of your mental health and help you make better decisions regarding the divorce.
- Encourage your teen to further process their emotions in healthy ways through support groups and organizations.
- Keep routines steady in order to make the transition into a new family system easier.