With nearly half of marriages ending in divorce, many kids and teens deal with the reality of their parents dissolving their marriages. The commonality of the experience doesn’t necessarily make it any easier on the teens who are going through it, however. If you have younger children and a teenager, you might be surprised at how your teen reacts in comparison to his or her siblings. Here are five ways that your teen might react if you and your spouse decide to divorce during the adolescent years.
1. Anger at Parents
Your teen might be angry when he or she finds out that you’re getting a divorce. Part of this is because anger is one stage of the grieving process, which occurs during a divorce. Anger is often a cover for hurt, and teens, particularly boys, tend to want to mask feelings that they might perceive as weak. Where a younger child might cry and express sadness, a teen might be more likely to express anger.
Talk to your teen about his or her feelings. Accept that they might be angry at you, at themselves, and at the world. Realize that it’s not necessarily personal; it’s normal to be upset with the person or people who have caused such upheaval, and while teens have adult bodies, they do not have adult brains. They do not understand all of the issues that surround the dissolution of a marriage and might be angry that you are not able to work out your differences.
2. Loss of Trust and Respect
If you and your spouse have hidden your unhappiness or if your marriage has not spiraled into a cycle of yelling and fighting within earshot of your teen, he or she might be shocked at your announcement that you’re getting divorced. Even if you do argue regularly, they still might never have expected that the marriage would end. This shock can cause them to lose trust in not only you and your spouse but also in what they perceive as reality.
In some cases, one spouse has done something that looks more wrong than what the other spouse has done. For example, if one parent has committed adultery, your teen might lose respect for that parent and take the other parent’s side. Teens generally have a strong personal sense of what is right and wrong. It is important to nip disrespectful behavior in the bud, no matter what the circumstances.
3. Fear of What Will Happen
When parents split up, there’s often a battle over custody, someone has to move out of the marital home, and there might be financial issues. This can cause a lot of anxiety and fear in teens who understand that seeing one parent less, moving, and not having enough money are real concerns.
Your teen might talk about wanting to get a job to help with family finances. He or she also might have strong feelings about staying with whichever parent gets the house, if someone is staying. They will want to (and should) have input on which parent they live with. It’s important to talk to your teen about their preferences and desires. Even though you can’t make everything happen the way they want it to, taking their concerns seriously and being honest will help ease their fears and anxiety.
4. More Independence
When a teen’s parents are dealing with something as traumatic as a divorce, they might be more likely to let their teenagers have more independence. This can be positive or negative: On one hand, teens with more independence might become more responsible. They might need to take care of themselves more, watch siblings, or get a job to help out. On the other, however, they can get into more trouble and they might self-medicate their anxiety, sadness, or anger over their parents’ divorce with alcohol, drugs, or unsafe sex.
If you are going through a divorce, it is important to be aware of what your teenager is doing. You should still have boundaries and be prepared to enforce consequences if your adolescent acts out. Work with your ex to ensure that you’re both on the same page when it comes to supervising your teenager.
5. Trouble With Romantic Relationships
As your teen gets older, he or she might be less likely to have trusting and successful romantic relationships. This can be particularly true if one or both parents begin to date casually shortly after the divorce. There is also some evidence that adult children of divorce are more likely to get divorced themselves if they get married in the first place; kids of divorced parents tend not to get married as often as those with married parents. This is something that you can encourage your older teen to talk to a counselor about.
How Teens of Divorce Move On
Of course, there are many, many adults who are successful in life whose parents divorced when they were teenagers. Although there are ramifications that do extend into adulthood, most teens get through the experience.
Counseling, either for the whole family, one parent and the children, one parent and one child, or the child on his or her own, can be instrumental in helping teens manage their strong feelings and minimize disruption during this time. If you suspect that your teen is suffering from depression or anxiety, it’s important to get help for them. You can start with his or her primary care physician and then ask for a referral to a mental health professional if warranted.
Divorce is not pleasant for anyone in the family. It’s best if you can remain amicable with your ex once the divorce is final; this will lessen the negative effect on your teenager. Also, allow your teen to express his or her feelings and wishes. Try not to take it personally if they would rather live with their other parent, and help your teen make a plan that is acceptable to all parties, if possible. Finally, don’t hesitate to get counseling for any or all family members to help them get through this difficult situation. In time, everyone will emerge from the divorce ready to get on with the rest of their lives.