We have been discussing how divorce effects children differently, depending on their ages. It’s important to be aware of the differences when a family is experiencing divorce, in order to help your child cope in ways that are most beneficial to them in their age group. Today we will discuss how divorce impacts teens, ages 13-18 years of age.
As teens grow so does their desire to be independent. They still need you however. Though it may seem they are rebelling against you and what you stand for, they are attempting to identify what is important to them. Teens of this age range are working on solidifying their identity and establishing their sense of “self” in relation to rules and regulations of society. They may push the limits on rules to determine whether you will continue to enforce your values. For parents, it may be a difficult time as we realize our child doesn’t seem to need us as they once did. Compared to younger kids, our teens seem to want less of our time, less of our advice and opinions and less of our togetherness. They want to be with their peers and perhaps have found someone they are interested in as more than just a friend. It is partly through these relationships that your teen discovers who he is, what he wants in relationships and what he will seek out in community.
When divorce happens, teens of this age range may feel embarrassed by the family break-up and may react by idealizing one or both parents. Younger kids typically continue to love both sets of parents and views divorce as the enemy; teens tend to hold their parents accountable for the divorce. They may become critical expressing that “if dad had not done that” or “if mom would have done this”, our family could still be together. Teens often feel their parents did not try hard enough in their marriage and now everyone is suffering. They do not feel that the divorce just happened, in their own need for control, they may blame one or both of their parents.
The teen years are a time when kids begin to think about their future love life. When parents divorce, it may hamper the teens indulgence to dream and hope about love for themselves. If mom and dad got divorced, they believe their own chances for success are diminished.
This age group is more likely to place peer needs ahead of family and may not want to visit the non-resident parent. As the resident parent, encourage time with your ex for your child. The parents are getting divorced, not the kids and your teen still needs both of you. Though emotionally they are breaking away from the family, they still need to know you are both available should he need you. Never speak poorly of your ex to your teen and never ask them to take your side, it may come back to haunt you. They absolutely should be allowed the privilege of maintaining relationship with both parents even if they express anger towards one.
Do not allow yourself to become the victim in the divorce, you are responsible for your emotional needs. Do not expect or allow your teen to feel they need to take care of you emotionally. That is not their job. As parents, we should be serious about helping our kids emotionally through the divorce, not the other way around. However, I have seen this very thing way too often. KJ wanted to become friends with his son rather than be his dad after the divorce. He shared all of his grief and pain with Reg and looked to him to make him feel better. This was very unfair to his son. Reg has only one dad and now he wants to be friends? KJ should have watched out for his son and protected him emotionally, not expect the boy to carry his own load and now his dad’s too.
How can we help our teens to move forward in spite of the divorce?
- Never criticize your ex in front of your teen. Your child knows you and can tell if you mean what you say. For her sake, control your nonverbal cues so that they do not contradict what you are trying to portray. Rolled eyes, smirks, slamming doors, in response to an ex are interpreted correctly by your teen. More than younger kids, teens grow very tired of fighting and see parents who engage in bickering and name calling as immature or even worse. Take the high road.
- Maintain a calm, positive attitude in front of your child. Not to say they can’t ever see you upset but the usual atmosphere of your home should be a positive environment. As the adult, you have the power to set the tone for your home.
- Establish and stick to a realistic and normal daily routine. Teens deal better with stress if they can maintain a degree of predictability. In their minds, it’s quite different when they bend the rules and they probably will, but they need to know what the usual routine is and what is expected of them.
- Anticipate signs of stress. Watch for signs of depression and take seriously any talk of suicide. Notice changes in eating habits or sleeping patterns or if they have a diminished interest in people or the activities they used to love. Remain lovingly firm about behaviors that are not acceptable but give generous amounts of support, reassurance and understanding. If need be, seek professional assistance.
- Encourage your teen to talk about her feelings but be prepared for questioning, criticism and maybe for the first time, your teen’s disappointment in you.
- Talk to the other adult’s in your child’s life to ask how they interpret how your teen is responding to the divorce. You may be surprised to learn that your teen behaves differently around others than she does at home.
- Your teen may become very possessive of you and may be threatened by new relationships you form particularly of the opposite sex. So remind them that they are and always will be very important to you.
- Make time for your teen. Take them out, just the two of you, and enjoy something they enjoy. A meal, a movie, a walk, whatever. Let them know you are interested in how they are doing.
- Set consistent limits that are balanced with more freedom and choices.
- Allow them to have input about visitation, but not so much that the teen is burdened by having to decide custody and access schedules.
If you notice your teen withdrawing from the family, having difficulty concentrating or engaging in high risk behaviors, I would recommend you get them professional immediately. Don’t wait until they make a choice that could effect them for the rest of their lives.
Acts 20:32 Says, and parents you can pray this over your kids;
“Now I commit you to God and to the word of His grace, which can build you up and give you an inheritance among all those who are sanctified”.
Pray the word over your kids and receive God’s promises by faith for your kids.
I hope this series has been helpful as we’ve looked at the different developmental stages and the effects divorce has on our kids in those stages. I pray you and your family will thrive and if you are in Christ, you are blessed even in the midst of something as tragic as divorce.
In everything and through it all, keep looking to the Author and Perfecter of your faith.