It’s not uncommon for people to realize that their marriage is no longer working after a couple of decades. By then, they may have one or two teens in the house. Parents often believe that their teens will be able to weather a divorce without problems – especially if they seem largely uninterested in their parents unless they need the family car or want to renegotiate their curfew.
However, if you are divorcing, underestimating the effect of your divorce on your teen can be a serious mistake. Even if your teen acts like they don’t care about your divorce, it will affect them – both now and even much later. In fact, a nasty, combative parental divorce can affect the way they handle their own relationships in the future.
Signs of distress to watch for in your teen
While teens are often better at hiding their distress than younger children, this distress can manifest in a number of ways. Some of these can be self-destructive. It’s important to keep an eye out for:
- Changes in sleeping or eating habits
- Dropping grades
- Fights with siblings, friends and classmates
- Wanting to be alone more than usual
Some teens use alcohol, drugs and/or sex to ease the pain of parental divorce. These things can be successfully hidden from parents. However, some teens make their parents aware of their activities as a way of getting back at them or reclaiming attention they haven’t been getting during the divorce.
Communication and consistency are crucial
It’s as important to give as much thought to how you talk to your teen about your divorce as you would a younger child. While they’re more likely to understand divorce better, it’s important not to overshare. They’re not your friend, your sibling or your therapist. That’s especially true when it comes to your spouse’s flaws or bad behavior. Kids of all ages can take criticism of one parent by the other very personally.
Having consistent rules and expectations in place across your households is also important. Even if you only have your teen for a short time before they go off to college, it’s wise to put time and thought into your time-sharing agreement and parenting plan. Having experienced legal guidance will help you craft agreements that are focused on your teen’s best interests.