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How can a parent help a teenager cope with divorce?

Parents who are going through divorce often worry about the effects the change will have on their children. Each child may have a unique reaction to the news, but there are also some trends within various age groups.

Babies, toddlers and preschoolers may show regressive behaviors, and grade-school children may lash out against the world. However, it can be difficult for parents to determine when a teenager’s behavior is a reaction to their parents' divorce and when it is typical teen moodiness.

Some problems that many teenagers experience during divorce, include:

  • Poor grades
  • Difficulty sleeping
  • Anger at one or both parents
  • Defiant acts
  • Substance abuse
  • Depression
  • Challenges getting along with family members and peers
  • Early sexual activity

Three ways to support teens during divorce

Although it can sometimes be unclear what motivates a teen’s behavior, there are ways parents can support their teenage child during these times of change. For example, you may consider how you can keep parental conflict private, show that you are available when your teen needs you and create a custody schedule that works for your teen.

Just as you would with younger children, try to keep parental conflict away from your teen. This means avoiding fighting in front of your teen or on the phone where your teen can overhear. It also means not badmouthing the other parent or venting your emotions to your teen.

Also, make sure your teen knows you are available to talk about his or her experiences. Teens may try to push parents away, but they often still want a connection with their parents. Encourage your teenager to ask questions and share his or her feelings. You can also show that you are available by making time to support your teen’s healthy activities, like sporting events.

It can be helpful to work with the other parent to create a custody schedule that will meet your teen's needs. Keep in mind that it is important for teenagers to have time to participate in extracurricular activities, work a part-time job and socialize with friends. It may even be appropriate to talk to your teen about his or her preferences, so you can incorporate those preferences into the plan.

You may expect your teen to experience grief, anger, frustration and other emotions in response to your divorce. However, if your teenager begins to show behavioral or mental health problems, it may be necessary to seek professional help.

Divorce can cause changes that affect everyone in a family. Although the effects of divorce on teens may not always be obvious, there are still actions parents can take to help their teenage children adjust to life after divorce.

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