The Impact of Divorce on Teenagers
Updated: Nov 22, 2021
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It is a common thing to hear that a couple has stayed in an unhappy marriage “for the children.” The ironic part is that of all age groups. When it comes to divorce, young children often have it easier than older children and even adult children.
Couples with teenagers or adult children have the attitude that adults and teens are more mature so they can handle complex life events better than a young child. The truth is that adult children of a divorcing couple are often devastated by the news and can affect them to the level of it impacting their own lives and causing trust issues that can eventually even lead to their divorce. For adults, the revelation of their parent’s divorce is a tough pill to swallow. As adults, a divorcing parent might even share more information regarding the decision to divorce. This can lead to a bombshell of a revelation such as, “your father and I have not gotten along for the last 20 years.”
They may even tell the adult child they stayed together for the sake of their younger self. This will cause the adult child to go back to life previously well remembered and think that their entire life was based on a lie. Since the adult was told, the parents stayed together “for the sake of the children,” the adult may even develop a deep sense of responsibility for contributing to their parent’s unhappy life.
When things are not good at home where there are young children, parents will try to shield their kids from the truth of their reality. Even if parents do divorce, the news is brought to the young child in a very careful manner filled with reassurances of love for them, and that things will be fine and it is most definitely not their fault. Unfortunately, this same protection is often not used for teenagers and rarely used for adults.
While we have discussed the ramifications of divorce on adult children in the past, we want to look at the impact of divorce on teenagers. Even in the best of circumstances, the teenage years are a challenging and awkward time. Teens are dealing with school, being forced to make decisions about college and courses, which may decide the path their lives will take. They are also dealing with the everyday issues of being a teen. Things like dating, trying to figure out who they are, dealing with puberty and raging hormones, and all the changes associated with growing up can put a level of stress and pressure on a teenager that is internally unbearable.
As a teenager, parents will look at their children as being more mature and discuss their issues, such as a pending divorce, in a more open way thinking their age and maturity will allow them to take this unpleasant news in stride.
In actuality, about 25% of teenagers will experience physical or emotional problems related to the changes caused by divorce.
As a parent, it is important to recognize the signs that your teenage children are not dealing with your divorce as well as you would have hoped.
Some of these signs may include:
A sudden drop in their grades in school
Acting out and getting in trouble at home, in school, or even with the law
Anger at one or both parents
Fighting with siblings or friends where there were no previous issues
Engaging in risky behavior, such as alcohol or drug abuse, or early and unprotected sexual activity
For some teenagers, the news of their parent’s divorce might be the proverbial bridge too far. The news can cause an emotional break and can even lead to suicidal ideations and even attempts to take their own lives.
The best way to deal with your teenager during a divorce is to remember what it was like to be a teenager yourself. You do not want to talk to your teen as if they are a toddler, but you also do not want to give them the raw, unfiltered details of your failed marriage. Children of any age still require reassurance and still require some level of protection from the full truth about their parents and their flaws.
Teenagers might act out, and it is important to maintain a level of discipline and not let them run rampant because you feel they deserve to let off steam from hearing bad news. Teenagers still need and even desire structure in their lives. This does not change because you have decided to get divorced. That structure is even more important.
Be present for your children. Talk with them and ask them about how they feel, and take a genuine interest in their answers and their interests. Don’t dismiss their feelings because even if they do not fully understand the situation, being dismissed in such a way can lead to additional stress and anxiety and lead them to think you are not interested in their feelings.
Encourage your teenager to speak to a counselor at school or enlist the professional help of a therapist. Teenagers are going to want to talk to their friends. This is an important part of their development, but if the only voices they are hearing are that of other teens who have potentially made their own poor decisions, it could lead to more serious issues down the road.