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Divorce and the teen years: The impact on your child

Divorces often lead to families separating when there are children involved. You may wait until your children have grown up to file for divorce, hoping they will handle it better as teens. Teens still have some struggles from divorces, though.

Although teens are older, they aren't adults and shouldn't be treated like adults during a divorce. It's not realistic to think your teen won't be upset or will be completely understanding.

Divorce has an effect on teens

The teen years are already hard, and a divorce can make them more complicated. Between 20 and 25 percent of teens have problems that are directly related to changes occurring within their families.

Teens may struggle in several ways once you decide to discuss your divorce. Teens sometimes have academic problems, trouble sleeping, experience sadness or anger toward their parents or develop substance abuse problems. Some begin to consider suicide or even attempt it out of a false sense of guilt or a sense of frustration. Some have trouble with compliance and defiant attitudes, while others begin to show behavior problems at school.

While none of theses are ideal behaviors, they're normal for children in a divorce situation. As a parent, you need to step forward and begin to address these problems as they arise.

How can you help your teen through divorce?

The first thing you can do is to talk to your teen about the divorce in a neutral way. You don't want to start placing blame or to make your child feel that he or she had anything to do with the current situation. It's best to stay neutral and to speak about the divorce in a matter-of-fact way. For example, "We're getting a divorce, but we both still want to spend time with you and support you. We want you to know this is not your fault and that we love you."

It's also very important for parents to avoid leaning on their teens for support. Although teens are older and better able to understand the situation, that doesn't mean they aren't mourning and dealing with grief in their own ways. If you need help getting through divorce, let your therapist know, but don't use your teen as one.

Your teen's reaction to a divorce will have much to do with how you and your spouse act toward one another. Try to remain kind and to stay civil. It will help your teen cope throughout the upcoming changes.

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