It’s important for all children, including adolescents, to have structure. When the foundation of a family is threatened, the psychological and emotional well being of a teen can also be threatened. In this way, divorce can lead to intense emotions of loss, depression, sadness, anger, and resentment.
As you can imagine, divorce can have significant impacts on the children of the family. However, those influences depend on the age(s) of the children, and they are far more significant for children under the age of 5. However, the consequences for teens bring considerable concern that warrants attention, tenderness, and care.
Research shows that teens of divorce suffer in their self-esteem, academic performance, peer relationships, behavior, and physical health. It might be obvious that mental health issues also begin to surface such as teen anxiety and teen depression. Furthermore, the instability of the family structure might lead to drug experimentation and using substances as a way to cope with difficult feelings. These challenging emotions might include embarrassment, fear of abandonment, grief, worry about the parents’ well being, anxiety about divided loyalties, and an irrational optimism for reconciliation.
Research also shows that divorce can have a stronger negative impact on teenage girls, who tend to define themselves through relationships, connection to others, and bonds with friends and family. When the structure of their family, a structure they’ve known throughout their lives is disrupted, an internal structure is also at risk for breaking down. Teenage girls tend to be socialized by their mothers and tend to be more obedient and responsible than boys. Because of this teenage girls might keep their emotions to themselves. They might conceal how they are really feeling in order to tend to their mother’s adjustment to the change and make the appearance that everything is all right.
However, although they may conceal their feelings, teenage girls could also have a delayed reaction to their emotions, which might later come on quietly. For instance, some girls might feel shame, which can lead to low self-esteem, and self blame. This might also lead to choosing partners that do not treat them the way they should be treated and having unhealthy relationships.
In her book, For Better or For Worse, author E. Mavis Hetherington points out that the strong relationships a daughter has with each of her parents can provide a buffer to the intensity of a divorce. The relationship she has with her mother is significant. For some, the mother daughter relationship suffers after divorce. However, for those who have a strong bond from the beginning, that bond can serve as a protective factor during the split. This is also true for a female adolescent’s relationship with her father. Since most teenage girls will side with their mother during a divorce, a young girl might have significant issues of trust if she is not able to heal her relationship with her father before, during, or after a divorce.
Being a Supportive Parent
Certainly, supportive parents can help weather the stormy home life of a divorce. They can help maintain or at least re-build the stability that teens need. It’s important to remember that families that also experience domestic violence or other forms of family violence, such as child abuse or emotional abuse, will find it more challenging to create the steadiness that female teens need to move through adolescence and successfully enter adulthood. Whether these additional circumstances exist, find a mental health professional to work with, a divorce support group, or other means of professional assistance to facilitate the well being of all family members during the challenge of divorce.