When my daughter hit her teen years I was in for a massive surprise. She was the easiest child growing up and life was just incredibly blissful with her. Then she turned 12…13… and I started seeing changes, I mean massive changes. I knew that adolescence is a time of major transition from being a child to establishing an independent identity, and that this transition was a very difficult and complex one. I just didn’t expect it to happen to my daughter (we never do LOL) since she was such an incredibly good and easy going. Fortunately for me her teen years started years after my divorce, so I knew that most of this transitional behavior was due to adolescence (at least I hope so). However, many of my clients struggle with helping their teen cope with their divorce. They are not sure if the behavior is due to the transition into adulthood or as a result of their divorce. Truth be told we can’t be 100% certain either way and unfortunately there is no easy solution to helping your teens cope with your divorce. The good news is that if you had a healthy solid foundation with them prior to the divorce, the relationship will most likely improve with time.
In order to help your teens adjust psychologically and emotionally it would be helpful and beneficial for him/her to spend time with both parents. Unlike smaller children it is important to be flexible with their schedule since teens have so much going on in their lives and like to have their freedom. If you are going to be rigid and stick to your agenda, your teen will ultimately come to resent you or feel disappointed and frustrated.. Keep in mind that what is at stake here is your child’s happiness and adjustment, not your agenda.
Here are some things you really want to think about so that you can help your teens with the adjustment:
- Do not engage or involve your teen in your business: So many parents make the mistake to involve their children in the conflicts they have with their ex-spouses. Avoid having conversations in front of your teens (and children of all age for that matter). Be careful not to have text conversation that would hurt or devastate your teen if they have access to your phone. Be careful what you share with your teens, they don’t want to hear negativity about their other parent. It is their parent and they cannot and should NOT be put in the middle of your issues or conflict. It can cause tremendous conflict within your teen as they want to be loyal to both of you, and lead to unnecessary pain. Last but NOT least, DO NOT question them about the other parent. I have seen this so often where teens tell me, every time I come home from my dad’s week my mother has a million questions. Please don’t!
- Give them undivided attention: With smartphones being one of the biggest distractions, teens and children today are being terribly shortchanged. During your divorce (and after) your teen needs you more than you can possibly imagine. When you sit and talk with them make sure to remove all distractions including your phone. The time you give your teenager may be the most healing and therapeutic help you can offer him/her.
- Look for changes: Is your teenager acting differently? Are they avoiding you? Is their behavior erratic? Be on the lookout for changes like that since many teens who aren’t able to process the divorce trauma may start using alcohol or drugs to numb their emotional pain. Drastic changes in behavior could indicate abusing any of the above as well as prescription medication. Be on the lookout if you notice them wearing long sleeves all of the sudden all the time. It could indicate cutting or track marks, bruising or bullying. And last but not least, if they start acting out in school, have mood swings or start developing sleep problems or eating disorders, seek professional help.
- Inform adults in your teens life: Teenagers generally struggle with their self-esteem so having to explain to people that their parents are getting divorced can be extremely challenging and an additional self-esteem blow. It would be helpful if you could inform your teens teachers, principal, nurse or anyone else you think should be informed. It will help your teen as well as give these influential people in their life the opportunity to be there for them during this painful time. It is also important for them to be informed so they can advise you if they notice any worrisome behavioral changes.
- Have fun with them: I know you are struggling yourself and that you have days where you can barely get yourself together and out of bed. Yet you have to try and make an effort to maintain normalcy and a sense of fun and excitement in your life. If not for yourself then do it for your teen. Take them out on some fun trips, create memories, laugh, eat, and enjoy life. Life doesn’t stop just because you got divorced. For me it was quite the contrary, it was when it started 😊!
- Your child is not your friend: Be careful not to share too many details with your teen about the divorce. It is something that happens very often between mother and daughter, especially when you have a close relationship. It is normal for you to have the need to talk about your pain and what transpired, but your teen isn’t the right party for that. Teens that hear too much end up carrying this burden into their adult life and often struggle as adults.
- Keep your sex life private: Teens are very uncomfortable when being exposed to their parents personal lives. During my divorce years ago, I had an acquaintance who would often have guys sleep over at her house. It was very traumatic for her child and really destabilizing. You have a right to your own personal needs, but don’t bring it home and don’t expose your teen to it. They are barely coping with the reality of the divorce.
I know that your teen might be pulling away from you, that is what most teens do. Don’t take it as an indication that they don’t need you. They need you now more than ever, so come up with creative ways of how to connect with them and be there. If they have a new hobby, take an interest in it, read up on it and find common ground for conversations. Make them their favorite dish, give them alone quality time. It is the best investment you will ever make.