How to Help Teenagers Cope with Divorce

Your divorce will affect the whole family, particularly your kids. If you’re going through a divorce with teens, it will have its own unique effect on them and present its own challenges.  

While divorce is fairly common today, it doesn’t mean it’s gotten any easier for children of divorce. The pre-teen and teen years may be the most difficult time for parents to divorce. How can you support your teen so they transition through this change successfully?

How will my divorce affect my teen?

Your teen is navigating a new identity in the world. As a divorced or divorcing parent, so are you. But the difference is that your teen is still legally and (often) emotionally a child. 

Teenagers, in general, have a heightened sense of everything. Their emotions are all over the place, and their hormones are running rampant. They can act like goofy children one moment and be moody and defiant the next. 

Kids begin to move away from their parents’ influence and become more reliant on their peers during adolescence. Consequently, when your teen faces difficult moments in life, they’re more likely to gravitate to their close friends to work it out. 

While confiding in their friends isn’t necessarily a bad thing, it doesn’t provide the adult perspective and support they need. As a parent, you may feel like an outsider in your teen’s life. They may be struggling with the effects of divorce, but you may not know about it until it manifests behaviorally. You may witness:

  • Increased anger at you or your ex
  • Behavioral problems at home or school
  • Depression or anxiety
  • Increased defiance and difficulty getting along with authority figures
  • Reliance on drugs, alcohol, or sex to cope
  • Self-harm or suicidal thoughts

How long will it take my teen to accept my divorce?

While you may find another partner after your divorce, your teen won’t ever find a new parent. They have lost their family as they knew it, and they must grieve that loss. 

They may be glad that the conflict is over. They may blame you or your ex. They may side with the other parent. They may dislike new partners or feel like they’ve been left alone to fend for themselves. They will most definitely miss their feelings of safety and continuity, and the vulnerability they feel can be overwhelming. 

How long it takes your teen to accept your divorce depends on whether they have strong emotional support, how they feel about the divorce, and how you and your ex-spouse move forward. It will be very individual and take its own time. 

Worksheet: Create Your Co-Parenting Plan

Tips for helping your teen cope with divorce

Teens crave a sense of normalcy and safety in their lives when it feels like everything has turned upside down. Research shows that teens with the most support fare better after their parents’ divorce. While this support may take the form of strong relationships with you and your ex, they might also have meaningful relationships with a grandparent, coach, or other adult.

Keep conflict out of communication

A teen may have a hard time figuring out how to be loyal to both of you after divorce. Your former spouse is your teen’s parent, too. Now that you’re divorced, try to keep conflict out of your communication as much as possible. Avoid speaking badly about your ex to your teen. Let your child know that despite what happened in your marriage, you want them to have a healthy relationship with their other parent.

Read: How to Deal If Your Ex Talks Negatively about You in Front of the Kids

Don’t treat them like a friend or confidante

Your teen is your child, not your buddy. Not only does treating your teen like a confidante throw the parent/child power balance off, but it can threaten their well-being. They have enough of their own feelings to deal with after your divorce without your burdens. 

Listen closely to what they’re saying – and not saying

Teens can be reluctant to talk about things troubling them with their parents, especially after divorce. Pay close attention to the things they say, what they don’t say, and the things they do. Avoid criticism until you can understand the emotional temperature of their words or situation. Be there for them without judgment as much as possible. 

Set limits

While you want to maintain some flexibility with your teen, you also want to set limits for their own physical and emotional benefit. This is a fine line to walk, but it’s an important one. You’re still the parent, and you need to be clear about your expectations regarding what they do and say. 

Set a good example

Words are one thing. Actions are another. If you expect your teen to be respectful and behave in healthy ways, you need to model the same thing. Avoid badmouthing your ex, and model the good behavior you want to see in your child.

How do I know if my teen needs professional help?

Is your teen struggling with your divorce, or is it just typical teen behavior? It can be hard to tell the difference. It’s important to pay close attention so you can determine if your child needs more help than you can provide.

Are they unusually angry and defiant toward you? Are they showing signs of diminished self-esteem, struggling in school, or getting in trouble with teachers and other kids? Do they have a whole new set of friends? Do they seem overly anxious or depressed? Are they using drugs and alcohol or getting into legal trouble? 

But heightened behavior doesn’t have to be present for you to consider therapy for your teen. It’s hard for teens to talk openly with parents in general. Having someone who isn’t emotionally involved can be the perfect conduit for them to get insight and guidance about what’s going on in their life. 

Divorce therapy for teens often uses a cognitive behavior therapy approach. This allows your teen to recognize how their current thinking might have been flawed or unhelpful, understand why they’re thinking the way they are, and how to consider things differently to help them to cope better. 

Read: Dealing with Your Child’s Anger during and after Divorce

Divorce is hard on everyone, but it’s particularly hard on kids. For you as a parent, it can be difficult to know how much they’re affected by it, especially if you’re dealing with adolescents. 

At Hello Divorce, we’re here to support you through the legal and emotional issues divorce presents. It takes a village. Let us help. Schedule a free call to learn more about the ways we can help you along your journey. 

Suggested: Understanding and Protecting Kids’ Mental Health in Divorce