Supporting Teenagers During Divorce: Tips for Parents from An Expert

One of the main concerns of divorcing parents is how they can best support their children during this period of change. With adolescents, parental concerns are often exacerbated by the developmental and physical changes their teens are already experiencing more or less smoothly. Parents tend to be acutely aware of the formative significance of teenage years and often have a deeper fear of causing long-term damage as adolescents move toward adulthood. 

Empirical studies highlight the ongoing significance of parental support and the value of strong sibling relationships for adolescents during this period. But what are some of the other ways in which divorcing parents can ensure their teenage children feel supported and heard? 

Ways to support teenage children during divorce

1. Let them be kids

One of the common mistakes divorcing parents make is to treat their teenagers as adults. Parentification can take many forms, from asking your teen to own new household responsibilities to caring for siblings or providing emotional support to their grieving parent.

Parents must be aware of the impact of parentification and any additional responsibilities they may give their teens during the divorce. These activities, which require them to grow up faster than they would have normally, can have a profound impact on their lives and often deprive them of a part of their youth. There is undeniably a reality that a single parent might need more support from their adolescent children than when they were married, but parents must always strive to let their children be children.

Teenagers are typically very reliant on interactions with their friends and can be heavily preoccupied with social dynamics at school. Understandably, they might not feel like the divorce is taking over their life in the same way as it does their parents’. It is actually healthy for them to continue to spend time with friends and romantic partners, and to pursue age-appropriate activities. The divorce might be overhauling their parents’ world, but it doesn’t need to do so for their adolescent children as well. 

Focus on stability

Additionally, it is the parents’ responsibility to try to maintain as much stability as possible for their children during their divorce, no matter their age. Keeping ongoing routines and activities will be essential to providing that sense of stability and reassurance for the adolescent. Introducing new family traditions can be a source of relief as well, but letting life carry on normally also brings value to the children and teens.

2. Let them choose who to get support from

Contrary to young children who will generally gravitate toward one or both of their parents for support, adolescents usually have access to more options outside of the household.

Young adults might be much more interested in spending time with their peers than their parents at this stage, or they may be naturally drawn toward other adult figures, be it aunts and uncles, teachers, coaches, or mental health professionals. The importance of sibling solidarity in these times of stress must also be acknowledged. 

As parents, it is, of course, paramount to offer unconditional support to our children throughout the divorce and afterward, but one must accept that teenagers will also seek other sources of comfort and distraction. This might sometimes be hurtful to parents who would like to be their children’s primary source of reassurance, but it is a reality they must accept, and even embrace.

If one is thinking objectively of what is in the adolescent’s best interest, it is clearly to get the support they need, no matter where they find it. Parents might find it difficult to accept this, but, sometimes, the best help you can provide is recognizing that you cannot help. Recommending potential other sources of support, be it professional or other, will therefore become the best way of caring for their teenager, rather than directly them themselves.

Final point: As mentioned before, it is quite common for parents to become so wrapped up in the upset of their divorce that they struggle to talk about anything else or to leave their emotions at the door. However, keep in mind that your adolescent child might not want to become defined or consumed by the changes in their family life, they might be more interested in distractions or relationships with people outside of the family context. As parents, we must accept that they are mature enough to understand their own needs and we should carefully help them identify the best coping mechanisms. 

Providing access to their preferred support system(s)

There are therefore two main elements that must remain priorities for the parents at this stage:

  • Making sure the adolescent knows that their parents are there for them if they wish to lean on them. 
  • Ensuring that the adolescent is getting the right support somewhere, even if it isn’t from their parent

3. Keep children in the center, not the middle

Most parents, in the context of their divorce, make the mistake of either over-involving their children in the family situation or not talking to them about it at all. Neither option is, of course, ideal, and it is sometimes a fine line to walk.

One phrase we often hear within the divorce professional community is that “children should be at the center of their parents’ divorce, not in the middle”. It is important to stress this message here, yet again. The negative psychological impact of parental conflict has been researched and documented since the 1970s and has consistently shown that it isn’t the breakdown of the marriage that affects children but the parental conflict they witness.

I have never met a single parent who claimed not to want to protect their children during their divorce, yet it is far too common to see parents involving the children in their divorce feuds. Just like their adolescent children, parents experiencing divorce must learn to find their own age-appropriate sources of support in order to limit their need to rely on their children for such assistance.

Children should never be made to take sides in their parents’ arguments and, as research studies suggest, need to be repeatedly reassured that the divorce is not their fault. While it is happening to them too, they are in no way responsible for their parents’ marital issues. Reinforcing that message as often as necessary will offer the adolescent the confidence to gain some detachment from their parents’ situation and to avoid repercussions on their own romantic relationships later on. 

Effective co-parenting

Beyond the reassurance that each parent can offer individually, it is essential to highlight the positive impact of effective co-parenting on teenagers. Divorce is often accompanied by strong negative feelings toward the former spouse, but the more responsible parents will know that they share a common goal when it comes to their children: ensuring their happiness and wellbeing.

Whether they like each other or not, they must continue to co-parent and present a united front to their children. Teenagers being more mature than their younger siblings, will more easily spot any cracks in parental collaboration and pick up on subtle comments that highlight discordance.

Involve teenagers in some decision-making

Another significant consideration which should be examined by divorcing parents of adolescents is the value of involving them in the decision-making that impacts them. Whether through child-centered mediation or direct conversations, taking the time to consider the adolescent’s perspective will help make the divorce more acceptable to them.

When it comes to children arrangements, the decisions being made by their parents have a direct repercussion on the adolescent. Consulting them about their own preferred approach might bring to light some perspectives that the parents hadn’t contemplated.

It is quite common for the conversation between the parents to be positioned as paternal time with the child versus maternal time with the child, but the person whose time we are talking about is actually the teenager’s. In their own adolescent mind, they might have very different priorities and concerns to their parents’: being able to walk home from school after football practice with their friends might be of particular significance to them and require them staying with the parent who lives closest to their school on practice days. These might seem like trivial considerations for the parents, but they could be subjects that cause the adolescent stress and concern.

It must of course be made crystal clear to the teenager that they are not the decision-makers, but that they are being consulted because their parents care about their opinion and want to make sure their point of view is considered. The psychological value of that acknowledgement is that it will provide the adolescent with a sense of control over the situation. By being involved in the decision-making, they are not only being respected and treated as a young adult, they are being given a voice. The divorce is no longer only happening to them, they now have a say on how it affects them.


Anyone who has experienced divorce will know that it is a time of great turmoil. Above and beyond the pre-existing professional and personal responsibilities each parent carries, they now have to deal with a complex legal process while processing intense emotions and caring for their children. This is more than most people can handle at any given time and one must acknowledge that, even with the best of intentions, it is not always possible to successfully keep all these balls in the air. But with most of us making our children our top priority, being aware of the different ways in which we can support our teenagers through a time that is also developmentally confusing for them, can prove to be particularly helpful.

Additional reading:


Brock, Rebecca L. and Grazyna Kochanska. "Interparental conflict, children's security with parents, and long-term risk of internalizing problems: A longitudinal study from ages 2 to 10." (March 2015). Cambridge University Press. 
Hooper, Lisa M. "Defining and Understanding Parentification:  Implications for All Counselors." (Spring 2008). The Alabama Counseling Association Journal.
Poortman, Anne-Rigt and Marieke Voorpostel. "Parental Divorce and Sibling Relationships." (August 4, 2008). Journal of Family Issues

Divorce Coach & ADR Professional
Conflict Management, Coparenting

Chloe Oudiz is an Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR) professional and CDC Certified Divorce Coach®. She is specifically trained in the intricacies of the divorce process, as well as conflict resolution and effective communication. Chloe’s objective is to help her clients divorce successfully: with less conflict, more child-centricity, and collaboration at the heart of their considerations. By avoiding the common emotional pitfalls, her clients achieve a better divorce, with a reduced psychological and financial cost for everyone.

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