There is no doubt that with the divorce rates in the UK climbing ever higher, and that is not to mention the break up of relationships of unmarried partners, a lot of teens are going to have to face a family break-up in their lives. And this on top of the already tortured existence that are the teen years! It is so unfair! This age group are the ones that can vote with their feet and their way of coping might be to keep out of it and spend long periods out of the house at friends or in your worst nightmare, getting into trouble. Just because they make themselves scarce and don’t say much it does not mean that you can assume they are alright. It can be very difficult to deal with teens, even when you are not divorcing, but here are ten tips compiled from the experiences of teens who have been through their parents divorce and come out the other side.
- Be available to listen. And don’t try to be both parents- it won’t work! The best way to help your teenager is just to be there and give the advice you feel is best, just as we are sure you did before the divorce. If they are talking to both parents they will choose with whom, how and when to communicate. Be patient and create opportunities for discussion by making time to be around your teen. It is important to give them space and strength to speak. Emotions such as sadness and anger are common after parents divorce. Tell them that it is normal for them to feel emotional and that it is OK for them to talk about these difficult emotions.
- Reassure your teenager that the divorce is not their fault. Remind them of this fact often as teens may think that some of the more challenging behaviour of their puberty might be to blame for your split.
- Don’t use your teenager as an indirect form of communication with your ex. Even though it might be easier to have them tell your ex that they can’t make it on Easter weekend, for example. Never do this. It places undue stress on your teenager. Communicate directly with your ex, always.
- Minimize the changes that your teenager will have to go through after a divorce. Try not to change schools or take away activities that they are used to doing. At this difficult time they will need the familiar and their friends more than ever.
- Use consistent discipline in your home. Try your best to come up with a plan between you and your ex to make this discipline consistent in both homes. Teenagers have finely honed radar that can detect any opportunity to gain ground and they will find the cracks. Also try to tackle any major problems together, in the same room, so that your teen can see you are a united front on this.
- If they need, it or especially if they ask for it find, your teen help in dealing with the things they are feeling. Every teenager whose family is going through a divorce has feelings of anger and anxiety, and a ton of other emotions. They may not show it, and may hide these feelings well. They may hide them so as not to add to the conflict surrounding them, but it is very rare for a child of divorcing parents not to have these feelings. But tread carefully, as forcing them kicking and screaming into family therapy, for instance, might be counter -productive! Ask them if they would like to talk to someone and who that person might be. Or you can also try a subtler approach e.g. inviting a friend or relative round who you know your teenager likes and can talk to.
- Do not cut your teen off from their relationships with grandparents, aunts, uncles, and friends on your ex’s side. Teens want and need to continue the relationships they have in their life. Sometimes it is hard to think of our children as more than an extension of ourselves. But always remember that they are individuals, with different relationships with the people connected to your family. Don’t force them to pick sides in what is essentially your problem with your ex. Instead send them a clear message that even though their family structure has changed, ‘family’ on both sides, is still very important.
- Keep an eye on how things are going for them at school. This is a time when schoolwork can suffer and even although you and your partner going your separate ways will genuinely affect them, they may not be slow to take advantage of the situation to explain away a few less than magnificent test results. Be kind and understanding but try to keep them focused and get them extra tutoring help if they need it.
- Do not encourage them to drift apart from their other parent without good reason. If they don’t want to visit the partner who has left, rather than let them become estranged, bite the bullet and go with them, even if only to break the ice in their new home. Never encourage any bad mouthing of an ex’s new partner and don’t let your children be disrespectful either. There will always be people in life we would prefer not to be with or mix with but they have to learn that although they do not have to be gushing, they must show respect. And who knows in the future they might become good friends! Remember, if you allow your children to show disrespect to your ex’s new partner then when you meet someone, why would your children behave any differently to them
- Become an informed parent. Many times teenagers of divorce will bottle up most of their feelings about the divorce. This pent up emotion then comes out in ‘acting up’ types of behaviour. This wouldn’t be so bad if things such as drugs weren’t so readily available to them. Know what your teenager faces in their daily lives so you can anticipate and be on top of any pitfalls there may be. It might be difficult with all you are going through but this is the time that you really will have to be up to speed for you teen.
Teens may sometimes appear a strange breed but at heart they are the same kids that you used to bounce on your knee, even though the packaging looks a little different now. Love and patience will win the day. Even when it doesn’t seem like it and you have just had another blazing row with your teen over what time they got in last night, they love you and you love them. It is going to be different dealing with them on your own with less input from your partner, but be open and frank about how you feel, involve them and show them how important they are to you, and your patience should eventually pay off.