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How to support teenagers through divorce

How to support teenagers through divorce

It’s common to worry about how divorce or separation will affect your children, particularly teenagers. Adolescents are already experiencing a natural stage of transformation, so how does divorce affect teenage children?

Reassuringly, when parents show unwavering love for their child and continue to work together to prioritise the wellbeing of their family, teenagers can adapt to their new family dynamic over time, and thrive.

In this article, we share advice to help you support your teenage children through your divorce or separation.

Navigating divorce or separation with teenage children

Divorce is an unsettling time for any family, but with teenagers’ growing maturity and burgeoning independence, their experience of divorce is different when compared to younger children.

Teenage independence

One of the most significant aspects of managing divorce with teenagers is that unlike younger children, their relative maturity means they can form complex views and assert their wishes.

This can make things challenging as divorcing parents. For example, it means you may see a wider range of emotions compared to younger children, your teenage child might draw conclusions that aren’t based on your family’s reality, and they’re likely to have friends whose parents have separated, which can influence what they expect will happen.

Telling your teenage child you’re divorcing

The way you approach conversations with teens about divorce can influence how they take the news and begin to process it.

Some teenagers may recognise that their parents’ relationship has been under strain, while others may be oblivious. Either way, the news that you’re planning to divorce can still come as a total surprise.

Here are some suggestions for discussing divorce with teens:

  • Share the news together as parents to show you’re still united as parents
  • Be honest and upfront
  • But spare them unnecessary detail about their parents’ relationship struggles
  • Choose a suitable time to discuss divorce, free of distraction
  • Don’t leave it until the last minute to tell them or wait until significant changes happen
  • Provide detailed information about how the divorce will affect their life
  • Explain things in full so they don’t have to fill in the gaps themselves
  • Pitch the conversation at the right level for them; don’t dumb down or over-complicate
  • Be open to answering teens’ questions
  • Prepare yourself for a more self-centered response than younger children
  • Give teens space to process their feelings
  • Avoid pushing them to talk before they’re ready
  • Expect possible boundary testing but maintain consistent rules
  • Maintain normalcy in your teens’ routine to provide stability
  • If changes are necessary, like moving to a new home, transition gradually
  • If a move requires changing schools, consider finishing the term or school year first
  • Map out a plan for holidays and special occasions so they can prepare for changes
  • Encourage your teen to express their emotions and offer them a safe space to do
  • Be present with them as much as you can, to reinforce your ongoing support.

Seeing separation from their perspective

Taking the time to see things from your teenager’s perspective is important.

Avoid second guessing how they feel and instead give them the space to tell you truthfully, even if it’s not what you expect to hear.

Emotions can range between anger and blame, to feelings of guilt and grief, or even relief. Acknowledge and validate all their feelings.

Reassure them it’s not their fault

Children and young people often blame themselves when things go wrong. They might believe the separation wouldn’t have happened if they were different or that they could have prevented it by acting differently.

Assure them it’s not their fault; children are never responsible for their parents’ divorce or separation.

Tackle issues that affect them directly

Divorce is likely to raise significant questions for your teenager like with whom, and where, they will live. Respond to these concerns in full to avoid doubt and unnecessary worry.

Even if the future outcome is still unknown, let them know when a final decision is likely to be reached and be clear about what the interim plans are.

Reassure your teenager that they will still see both parents regularly.

Considering their wishes

Depending on their age, you might want to discuss future living arrangements with your child, allowing them to choose who they live with. This can spare older teenagers from living between two homes, a common solution for younger families.

However, be clear that your child will maintain regular contact with both parents.

Make space for difficult conversations

Children often experience conflicting emotions during their parents’ separation, and this can be difficult for all involved.

They may take sides, feeling protective of one parent and angry with the other, or they may even hold themselves responsible.

Avoid pressuring them to make sense of it all quickly, instead allow them the space to process their feelings at their own pace, with your support.

Minimise confusion by addressing their concerns directly and fully, in an age-appropriate way.

Remember, you’re the adult 

With the best will in the world, you can’t anticipate exactly how your child will process the news of your divorce. Whichever way they react, try to stay non-judgemental and remember all feelings are valid – even if they’re different to yours.

It’s easy to feel hurt or frustrated when met with insults or silence from your teenager, but it’s essential for parents to remain the grownups in the situation.

This means refraining from expressing your own frustration or anger at their reaction, and instead maintaining open communication and offering reassurance and guidance.

Additionally, as the parent, you are responsible for making the effort to remain engaged and connected to your teenagers during and after divorce. Even if they are less enthusiastic while they adjust, keep trying.

How will divorce affect our teenage children? 

In some cases, divorce can affect other aspects of a teenager’s life including education, relationships, and wellbeing. As parents, it’s important to be attuned to potential changes as your family transitions to your new normal.

Divorce and separation are common. By cooperating with your coparent and continuing to put the needs of your children first, you can help your teen navigate all the challenges.

Kids are resilient, right?

We often hear how resilient and adaptable children are, and that can certainly be true.

But while teenagers appear to be coping, deflection or avoidance can be a valid reaction in itself.

They may not react to divorce in the same manner as young children and adult children of divorce, but teenagers’ emotional experience shouldn’t be overlooked.

How to support your teenager through your divorce

Despite the challenges, there are ways that parents can help their teenage children cope with divorce. Open communication, consistency, and maintaining a supportive and loving environment are key.

However, managing divorce with teenage children requires empathy and patience, not always easy when you’re dealing with your own feelings about the split.

With your support. parents can help their teenagers navigate the difficult transition and emerge strong on the other side.

Other useful articles:

How to support children through divorce

6 tips for adult children of divorce

Split decision: How to talk to your children about separation

My ex and I can’t agree on our child’s school

The rise in birdnesting after divorce

The blog team at Stowe is a group of writers based across our family law offices who share their advice on the wellbeing and emotional aspects of divorce or separation from personal experience. As well as pieces from our family law solicitors, guest contributors also regularly contribute to share their knowledge.

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As the UK's largest family law firm we understand that every case is personal.

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