an image of a woman speaking to a teenager girl on a couch while the clearly upset girl is holding her hand up to stop her mother from speaking. this image is being used to convey the important of communicating effectively with your teen about the topic of divorce and how ogborne law, phoenix based family law firm, can help you with your collaborative divorce and protect your kids from the pain of divorce.
Written by Michelle N. Ogborne

Tips for Talking to Your Teen about Divorce

The teenaged years are a complex time for your child, as they continue their transition from childhood to becoming an adult.

During these years your teen is figuring out who they want to be in the world, what’s important to them, and how to become their own person.

Teen’s World View

While the teenaged years are a wide range (13 to 18), there are some commonalities across the ages that are crucial to address.

These are the years of your child’s life when they realize that you’re a flawed human being. It’s difficult to accept the truth that mom & dad aren’t perfect but it’s also very liberating because it gives them permission to be imperfect. This liberation is often demonstrated as rebellious behavior as they actively reject ideas and behaviors to find themselves.

Getting a divorce is reinforcement of your perceived lack of perfection and can create resentment in your teen (especially if you’re asking them to behave in a way that they think you’re not – teens have very low tolerance for hypocrisy).

Teens are aware of the difference between themselves and the actions of the people in the world around them. They’re less likely to think that a divorce is their fault but they’re more likely to be upset and frustrated by the impact of the divorce on their lives.

Teens feel that a divorce is unfair to them and that you’re making your problems their problems. With that said, a teen is likely to be very aware that the relationship at home isn’t good.

As your teen works to define who they are as an adult, they’re going to have trouble engaging with you and the family during the course of the divorce. They’re more likely to seek social circle support than family support because their social circle represents the identity they’re choosing.

Common Concerns

The Future

Your teen is preparing for adulthood. They’re thinking about college and what life is going to be like after they move out of the house. There is a big future ahead of them that is simultaneously exciting and terrifying.

They’re going to be worried about how your divorce will affect their ability to prepare for their future. Things, like changing schools or cutting lifestyle activities, are difficult for them to accept.

While you may have little control over what the long-term future holds, it’s critical to be mindful that your teen is going to focus on how the divorce will change their expected future and will be resentful of any change that looks like it’s going to be taking something away.

Parental Love

While your teen may be challenging and going through the process of building their identity as an adult, your love and support during the divorce is just as important for them as it is with a younger child.

For teens, the parents serve as a safe haven where they can hide from the world that they feel is judging them or from the pressures of working towards adulthood.

And while your teen may not be as cuddly as they were when they were little, they need you exactly the same, because you are safe. It’s the same reason your teen will be angry and disrespectful with you – they trust that no matter what, you’ll always be there with them as they work through these issues.

Self Expression

Going through the divorce requires a lot of your teen as they adapt to the changes in their life.

The ability to express themselves is going to be critical to your teen and any sense they have that it isn’t important to you can make it more difficult for them to handle your divorce.

They’re going to take whatever opportunity they have to let the world know how they feel. Some will do it through creating art, playing music, talking, or having emotional outbursts.

Remember that all of these things are ways for your teen to process what they feel.

What To Do

Most important, you and your spouse must give your teen all of your patience. This is always challenging because parents are often stretched to the limit. This is why Ogborne Law focuses on providing professional support to help the family members work through difficult times during the divorce process.

Let your teen’s teachers and coaches know about the divorce so they can watch for changes in behavior.

Even if they won’t talk to you, encourage them to express themselves in a healthy way. Encourage positive behaviors that you know will provide them an emotional outlet to deal with the feelings they have. And while your teen will actively seek the counsel of their social circle, point them in the direction of people that you trust to give them good guidance. Remember that at this juncture you’re dealing with the reality that your teen is going to be bombarded with many messages and you need to do your best to help them find their way through.

Last, know that your teen is not an adult, whatever they may think. It’s critical not to treat them as a peer and over share regarding the causes of the divorce. When they become an adult they’ll inevitably learn more and form their own opinions. Until then, you’ll be unfairly burdening your teen with feelings and ideas that they’re not equipped to handle.

As with all children, your teens need communication and honesty from you. They need to know you love them no matter what and that you and your spouse are always there for them.