How to Treat Teens of Divorce

Teens are in an already fragile state during adolescence. Although their changes have been historically seen as tumultuous and chaotic, they don’t have to be. In his 2014 book Brainstorm: The Power and Purpose of the Teenage Brain, Daniel Siegel illuminates how brain development during adolescence influences teenage behavior and relationships.

Siegel suggests that parents get to know the unique and positive qualities of their teen’s brain to help balance the downsides that will still be a part of adolescence. According to Siegel, these positive qualities of the teen brain are the tendency to search for what is new and novel, cravings for social connection, emotional responses, and an explosion of creativity.

Indeed, there are creative explosions happening throughout the brain. If you were to take a look at the brain of a teenager, there are mini electrical connections going on between billions of neurons. It’s like an ocean of fire with glowing bursts igniting all over the place. There are spurts of growth, maturity, and exploration happening in the brain, and in life too.

What’s fascinating about this is that the brain, during adolescence, is malleable. It’s flexible. New connections are being made and old ones can be broken. However, when teens face a crisis, such as suicide of a close friend or divorce, it’s time to use the creativity of a teen’s brain to facilitate an easy and gentle move through that challenging experience.

And there are specific challenges that teens of divorce will experience. Research shows that teens whose parents go through 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.

The following is a list of what a teen might experience when parents divorce:

  • Academic problems
  • Trouble sleeping
  • Stress and worry
  • Sadness or anger towards one or both parents
  • Acting out behaviors
  • Substance abuse
  • Depression
  • Suicidal Ideation and perhaps attempts
  • Having trouble with authority at school or with the police
  • Trouble getting along with siblings, peers, and parents
  • Getting involved with sexual activity
  • Difficulty with forming intimate relationships

Furthermore, challenging emotions for a teen might include embarrassment, fear of abandonment, grief, worry about the parents’ well being, anxiety about divided loyalties, and an irrational optimism for reconciliation.

Yet, not all teens will experience the same symptoms. An adolescent’s personality, emotional maturity, and how their parents are handling the divorce all have a role to play in the severity of symptoms a teen might experience.

Also, it’s important to know that divorce can be a more challenging event for teens than moving, a new sibling in the family, the death of a family member, or illness. Although initially, divorce might create a tumultuous home environment, parents can remember to put the emotional and psychological needs of the children first. Although it’s challenging to put the enormous tension between divorcing parents aside, doing so can help reduce the negative emotional and psychological impact on teens of divorce.

Supportive parents can help weather a stormy home life of a splitting family and slowly re-build the stability that children 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 children 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 support to facilitate the well being of all family members during the challenge of divorce. In her book, Divorce, Causes and Consequences, published in 2006, Alison Clarke-Stewart highlights the issues that stem from divorce, particularly for families with children.

The rate of divorce has been declining over the last 2 decades with the current rate of divorce at 3.8% per 1000 people. 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 if children are under the age of 5. Nonetheless, the consequences for teens of divorce bring considerable concern that warrants attention, tenderness, and care.


Witmer, D. (n.d.) Effects of Divorce on Teens. Retrieved on May 12, 2014 from:

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