Talking With Your Teenager About Divorce

Reviewed Apr 28, 2016

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Summary

  • Maintain comforting rituals or gestures.
  • Foster a strong parent-teen relationship.
  • Be prepared for an intense reaction.
  • Do not use him as a sounding board or confidant.

Current research suggests that adolescents may experience the impact of divorce quite differently than younger children, according to Alice Hines, professor of the College of Social Work at San Jose State University, who reviewed more than 125 studies pertaining to adolescents and divorce. The studies indicate that the adolescent process of defining oneself as a separate individual from one’s family becomes more complex when a teen also must deal with the issue of parental divorce.

A strong parent/teen relationship helps

Adolescents whose parents divorce face profound psychological, social and economic changes and may be at an increased risk for emotional difficulties and disruptive behavior, according to Judith Wallerstein, whose research on the impact of divorce on children spans nearly 30 years. To counteract the abandonment many children feel when their families divorce, Wallerstein stresses the importance of maintaining and even increasing any comforting rituals or gestures.

Hines’ review of current research also indicates that a strong parent-teen relationship can lower the incidence of antisocial, high-risk behavior. In fact, with extra empathy and support, some teenagers acquire higher levels of responsibility and competence and are able to negotiate the inevitable trauma and disruption created by divorce with greater maturity.

Breaking the news

Conflict between parents can be difficult for adolescents before and after divorce. Teenagers may hear their parents quarreling prior to any separation. They also may experience many stressful changes as a result of divorce, such as residential moves, changes in a parent’s employment and the disruption of household routines. Knowing how to prepare your child for divorce can contribute to a more positive outcome for all.

When breaking the news of an impending divorce or separation to your teen, be prepared for an intense reaction. Whereas younger children may be tearful, bewildered or moody, teenagers  often are angry and unwilling to talk or be comforted. Your child may seem distant, but it is important to check in with him, ask how he is feeling, invite him to talk or simply remain available to him and do not judge him for his anger.

Divorce specialists also offer the following suggestions:

  • Tell your teenager together. This conveys the message that although the marriage is over, you will both continue to provide parental support.
  • Tell your child on a weekend, and give a few weeks’ notice. Try to be available as your teen struggles with the news and any lifestyle or residential changes.
  • Give your teenager as much information as possible about any changes on the horizon for the family, but not specifics about adult reasons for the divorce.

Smoothing the transition

Long-term studies conducted by Wallerstein have shown that positive post-divorce family relationships are the most significant determinant in helping your child adjust to divorce. Maintaining close ties with at least one parent, consistent parental monitoring and limit setting, open communication, joint decision-making and low conflict on the home front will provide the stability and security your teen needs to adapt and rebound. Be careful to:

  • Make an extra effort to be warm and affectionate with your teen to help lessen the loss she feels.
  • Be respectful of your ex-spouse’s role as a parent and its significance to your child. Bad-mouthing your ex puts a tremendous strain on your child.
  • Maintain as normal a routine as possible.
  • Talk to your teenager’s teachers and let them know what is going on at home so that they may be supportive. Ask that they contact you if they see signs of trouble or distress.
  • Encourage the continued involvement of the nonresidential parent. It is very important to the teen’s social adjustment and educational future for the nonresidential parent to stay connected by frequent telephone conversations and specific, regular activities.

Help your teen by helping yourself

The level of support your teen needs is difficult to provide in the best of circumstances, and an enormous challenge for a newly single parent who is likely to be struggling with her own depression and stress.

Your child may be an important source of comfort during the dissolution of a marriage, but relying on him for emotional support will only increase his vulnerability and stress. Even though your teenager may be able to understand why your marriage has failed, it is not appropriate or healthy to use him as a sounding board or confidant. It may make him feel he has to choose sides. Instead, call upon your family and friends to support you during this difficult transition, so that you can be there for your child.

You also might consider joining a support group for single parents, frequently offered through churches, synagogues or community centers. Individual or family counseling, even on a short-term basis, can help you through the transition, too. There also are many books that can help families deal with the challenges of divorce; see the listing of resources for teens below.

Being proactive can help you transform sorrow and guilt into positive efforts to support your child through the transitions inherent in divorce. Embracing the possibilities of a better future, while reassuring your child that your love for her will never change, will help your family through this difficult passage.

Source: U.S. Center for Vital Statistics, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. “Annual Divorce Rates.” Fact Sheet, 1997; Raddatz, Martha. "Seven Essential Ways to Help Your Child Through Your Divorce." www.parents.com, August 1998; Chances: Men, Women, and Children a Decade After Divorce by Judith S. Wallerstein and S. Blakeslee. Ticknor and Fields, 1989; Growing Up With a Single Parent by S.S. McLanahan and G. Sandefur. Harvard University Press, 1994; Marriage, Divorce and Children’s Adjustment by R.E. Emery. Sage: 1988; Painful Parting: Divorce and Its Aftermath by Lita Linzer Schwartz. Wiley and Sons, 1997; Surviving the Breakup: How Children and Parent Cope With Divorce by Judith S. Wallerstein. Basic Books, l996; Dreger, Nancy. (1996) “Divorce and the American Family.” Current Health, 23(3); Hines, Alice M. (May 1997) “Divorce-related Transitions, Adolescent Development, and the Role of the Parent-Child Relationship: A Review of the Literature.” Journal of Marriage and the Family, 59:375-388; Macoby, E.E., Buchanan, C.M., Mnookin, R.H. and Dornbusch, S.M. (1993) “Postdivorce Roles of Mothers and Fathers in the Lives of Their Children.” Journal of Family Psychology, 7:24-38; Pardeck, John T. (Spring 1996) “Recommended Books for Helping Children Deal with Separation and Divorce.” Adolescence, 31:322-238; Palosaari, Ulla and Hillevi, Aro.(Fall 1994) “Effect of Timing of Parental Divorce on the Vulnerability of Children to Depression in Young Adulthood.” Adolescence, 29(115): 6-691; Powers, Mike. (Winter 1997) The Hidden Costs of Divorce. “Probability That Children of Divorced Parents Will Attend College.” Human Ecology Forum, 25(1); Seltzer, Judith A. (1994) “Consequences of Marital Dissolution for Children.” Annual Review of Sociology, 20:235-267; Stolberg, A.H., Camplair.C., Currier, K. and Well, M.J. (1987) “Individual, Family and Environmental Determinants of Children’s Post-Divorce Adjustment and Maladjustment.” Journal of Divorce, 11: 51-70.

Summary

  • Maintain comforting rituals or gestures.
  • Foster a strong parent-teen relationship.
  • Be prepared for an intense reaction.
  • Do not use him as a sounding board or confidant.

Current research suggests that adolescents may experience the impact of divorce quite differently than younger children, according to Alice Hines, professor of the College of Social Work at San Jose State University, who reviewed more than 125 studies pertaining to adolescents and divorce. The studies indicate that the adolescent process of defining oneself as a separate individual from one’s family becomes more complex when a teen also must deal with the issue of parental divorce.

A strong parent/teen relationship helps

Adolescents whose parents divorce face profound psychological, social and economic changes and may be at an increased risk for emotional difficulties and disruptive behavior, according to Judith Wallerstein, whose research on the impact of divorce on children spans nearly 30 years. To counteract the abandonment many children feel when their families divorce, Wallerstein stresses the importance of maintaining and even increasing any comforting rituals or gestures.

Hines’ review of current research also indicates that a strong parent-teen relationship can lower the incidence of antisocial, high-risk behavior. In fact, with extra empathy and support, some teenagers acquire higher levels of responsibility and competence and are able to negotiate the inevitable trauma and disruption created by divorce with greater maturity.

Breaking the news

Conflict between parents can be difficult for adolescents before and after divorce. Teenagers may hear their parents quarreling prior to any separation. They also may experience many stressful changes as a result of divorce, such as residential moves, changes in a parent’s employment and the disruption of household routines. Knowing how to prepare your child for divorce can contribute to a more positive outcome for all.

When breaking the news of an impending divorce or separation to your teen, be prepared for an intense reaction. Whereas younger children may be tearful, bewildered or moody, teenagers  often are angry and unwilling to talk or be comforted. Your child may seem distant, but it is important to check in with him, ask how he is feeling, invite him to talk or simply remain available to him and do not judge him for his anger.

Divorce specialists also offer the following suggestions:

  • Tell your teenager together. This conveys the message that although the marriage is over, you will both continue to provide parental support.
  • Tell your child on a weekend, and give a few weeks’ notice. Try to be available as your teen struggles with the news and any lifestyle or residential changes.
  • Give your teenager as much information as possible about any changes on the horizon for the family, but not specifics about adult reasons for the divorce.

Smoothing the transition

Long-term studies conducted by Wallerstein have shown that positive post-divorce family relationships are the most significant determinant in helping your child adjust to divorce. Maintaining close ties with at least one parent, consistent parental monitoring and limit setting, open communication, joint decision-making and low conflict on the home front will provide the stability and security your teen needs to adapt and rebound. Be careful to:

  • Make an extra effort to be warm and affectionate with your teen to help lessen the loss she feels.
  • Be respectful of your ex-spouse’s role as a parent and its significance to your child. Bad-mouthing your ex puts a tremendous strain on your child.
  • Maintain as normal a routine as possible.
  • Talk to your teenager’s teachers and let them know what is going on at home so that they may be supportive. Ask that they contact you if they see signs of trouble or distress.
  • Encourage the continued involvement of the nonresidential parent. It is very important to the teen’s social adjustment and educational future for the nonresidential parent to stay connected by frequent telephone conversations and specific, regular activities.

Help your teen by helping yourself

The level of support your teen needs is difficult to provide in the best of circumstances, and an enormous challenge for a newly single parent who is likely to be struggling with her own depression and stress.

Your child may be an important source of comfort during the dissolution of a marriage, but relying on him for emotional support will only increase his vulnerability and stress. Even though your teenager may be able to understand why your marriage has failed, it is not appropriate or healthy to use him as a sounding board or confidant. It may make him feel he has to choose sides. Instead, call upon your family and friends to support you during this difficult transition, so that you can be there for your child.

You also might consider joining a support group for single parents, frequently offered through churches, synagogues or community centers. Individual or family counseling, even on a short-term basis, can help you through the transition, too. There also are many books that can help families deal with the challenges of divorce; see the listing of resources for teens below.

Being proactive can help you transform sorrow and guilt into positive efforts to support your child through the transitions inherent in divorce. Embracing the possibilities of a better future, while reassuring your child that your love for her will never change, will help your family through this difficult passage.

Source: U.S. Center for Vital Statistics, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. “Annual Divorce Rates.” Fact Sheet, 1997; Raddatz, Martha. "Seven Essential Ways to Help Your Child Through Your Divorce." www.parents.com, August 1998; Chances: Men, Women, and Children a Decade After Divorce by Judith S. Wallerstein and S. Blakeslee. Ticknor and Fields, 1989; Growing Up With a Single Parent by S.S. McLanahan and G. Sandefur. Harvard University Press, 1994; Marriage, Divorce and Children’s Adjustment by R.E. Emery. Sage: 1988; Painful Parting: Divorce and Its Aftermath by Lita Linzer Schwartz. Wiley and Sons, 1997; Surviving the Breakup: How Children and Parent Cope With Divorce by Judith S. Wallerstein. Basic Books, l996; Dreger, Nancy. (1996) “Divorce and the American Family.” Current Health, 23(3); Hines, Alice M. (May 1997) “Divorce-related Transitions, Adolescent Development, and the Role of the Parent-Child Relationship: A Review of the Literature.” Journal of Marriage and the Family, 59:375-388; Macoby, E.E., Buchanan, C.M., Mnookin, R.H. and Dornbusch, S.M. (1993) “Postdivorce Roles of Mothers and Fathers in the Lives of Their Children.” Journal of Family Psychology, 7:24-38; Pardeck, John T. (Spring 1996) “Recommended Books for Helping Children Deal with Separation and Divorce.” Adolescence, 31:322-238; Palosaari, Ulla and Hillevi, Aro.(Fall 1994) “Effect of Timing of Parental Divorce on the Vulnerability of Children to Depression in Young Adulthood.” Adolescence, 29(115): 6-691; Powers, Mike. (Winter 1997) The Hidden Costs of Divorce. “Probability That Children of Divorced Parents Will Attend College.” Human Ecology Forum, 25(1); Seltzer, Judith A. (1994) “Consequences of Marital Dissolution for Children.” Annual Review of Sociology, 20:235-267; Stolberg, A.H., Camplair.C., Currier, K. and Well, M.J. (1987) “Individual, Family and Environmental Determinants of Children’s Post-Divorce Adjustment and Maladjustment.” Journal of Divorce, 11: 51-70.

Summary

  • Maintain comforting rituals or gestures.
  • Foster a strong parent-teen relationship.
  • Be prepared for an intense reaction.
  • Do not use him as a sounding board or confidant.

Current research suggests that adolescents may experience the impact of divorce quite differently than younger children, according to Alice Hines, professor of the College of Social Work at San Jose State University, who reviewed more than 125 studies pertaining to adolescents and divorce. The studies indicate that the adolescent process of defining oneself as a separate individual from one’s family becomes more complex when a teen also must deal with the issue of parental divorce.

A strong parent/teen relationship helps

Adolescents whose parents divorce face profound psychological, social and economic changes and may be at an increased risk for emotional difficulties and disruptive behavior, according to Judith Wallerstein, whose research on the impact of divorce on children spans nearly 30 years. To counteract the abandonment many children feel when their families divorce, Wallerstein stresses the importance of maintaining and even increasing any comforting rituals or gestures.

Hines’ review of current research also indicates that a strong parent-teen relationship can lower the incidence of antisocial, high-risk behavior. In fact, with extra empathy and support, some teenagers acquire higher levels of responsibility and competence and are able to negotiate the inevitable trauma and disruption created by divorce with greater maturity.

Breaking the news

Conflict between parents can be difficult for adolescents before and after divorce. Teenagers may hear their parents quarreling prior to any separation. They also may experience many stressful changes as a result of divorce, such as residential moves, changes in a parent’s employment and the disruption of household routines. Knowing how to prepare your child for divorce can contribute to a more positive outcome for all.

When breaking the news of an impending divorce or separation to your teen, be prepared for an intense reaction. Whereas younger children may be tearful, bewildered or moody, teenagers  often are angry and unwilling to talk or be comforted. Your child may seem distant, but it is important to check in with him, ask how he is feeling, invite him to talk or simply remain available to him and do not judge him for his anger.

Divorce specialists also offer the following suggestions:

  • Tell your teenager together. This conveys the message that although the marriage is over, you will both continue to provide parental support.
  • Tell your child on a weekend, and give a few weeks’ notice. Try to be available as your teen struggles with the news and any lifestyle or residential changes.
  • Give your teenager as much information as possible about any changes on the horizon for the family, but not specifics about adult reasons for the divorce.

Smoothing the transition

Long-term studies conducted by Wallerstein have shown that positive post-divorce family relationships are the most significant determinant in helping your child adjust to divorce. Maintaining close ties with at least one parent, consistent parental monitoring and limit setting, open communication, joint decision-making and low conflict on the home front will provide the stability and security your teen needs to adapt and rebound. Be careful to:

  • Make an extra effort to be warm and affectionate with your teen to help lessen the loss she feels.
  • Be respectful of your ex-spouse’s role as a parent and its significance to your child. Bad-mouthing your ex puts a tremendous strain on your child.
  • Maintain as normal a routine as possible.
  • Talk to your teenager’s teachers and let them know what is going on at home so that they may be supportive. Ask that they contact you if they see signs of trouble or distress.
  • Encourage the continued involvement of the nonresidential parent. It is very important to the teen’s social adjustment and educational future for the nonresidential parent to stay connected by frequent telephone conversations and specific, regular activities.

Help your teen by helping yourself

The level of support your teen needs is difficult to provide in the best of circumstances, and an enormous challenge for a newly single parent who is likely to be struggling with her own depression and stress.

Your child may be an important source of comfort during the dissolution of a marriage, but relying on him for emotional support will only increase his vulnerability and stress. Even though your teenager may be able to understand why your marriage has failed, it is not appropriate or healthy to use him as a sounding board or confidant. It may make him feel he has to choose sides. Instead, call upon your family and friends to support you during this difficult transition, so that you can be there for your child.

You also might consider joining a support group for single parents, frequently offered through churches, synagogues or community centers. Individual or family counseling, even on a short-term basis, can help you through the transition, too. There also are many books that can help families deal with the challenges of divorce; see the listing of resources for teens below.

Being proactive can help you transform sorrow and guilt into positive efforts to support your child through the transitions inherent in divorce. Embracing the possibilities of a better future, while reassuring your child that your love for her will never change, will help your family through this difficult passage.

Source: U.S. Center for Vital Statistics, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. “Annual Divorce Rates.” Fact Sheet, 1997; Raddatz, Martha. "Seven Essential Ways to Help Your Child Through Your Divorce." www.parents.com, August 1998; Chances: Men, Women, and Children a Decade After Divorce by Judith S. Wallerstein and S. Blakeslee. Ticknor and Fields, 1989; Growing Up With a Single Parent by S.S. McLanahan and G. Sandefur. Harvard University Press, 1994; Marriage, Divorce and Children’s Adjustment by R.E. Emery. Sage: 1988; Painful Parting: Divorce and Its Aftermath by Lita Linzer Schwartz. Wiley and Sons, 1997; Surviving the Breakup: How Children and Parent Cope With Divorce by Judith S. Wallerstein. Basic Books, l996; Dreger, Nancy. (1996) “Divorce and the American Family.” Current Health, 23(3); Hines, Alice M. (May 1997) “Divorce-related Transitions, Adolescent Development, and the Role of the Parent-Child Relationship: A Review of the Literature.” Journal of Marriage and the Family, 59:375-388; Macoby, E.E., Buchanan, C.M., Mnookin, R.H. and Dornbusch, S.M. (1993) “Postdivorce Roles of Mothers and Fathers in the Lives of Their Children.” Journal of Family Psychology, 7:24-38; Pardeck, John T. (Spring 1996) “Recommended Books for Helping Children Deal with Separation and Divorce.” Adolescence, 31:322-238; Palosaari, Ulla and Hillevi, Aro.(Fall 1994) “Effect of Timing of Parental Divorce on the Vulnerability of Children to Depression in Young Adulthood.” Adolescence, 29(115): 6-691; Powers, Mike. (Winter 1997) The Hidden Costs of Divorce. “Probability That Children of Divorced Parents Will Attend College.” Human Ecology Forum, 25(1); Seltzer, Judith A. (1994) “Consequences of Marital Dissolution for Children.” Annual Review of Sociology, 20:235-267; Stolberg, A.H., Camplair.C., Currier, K. and Well, M.J. (1987) “Individual, Family and Environmental Determinants of Children’s Post-Divorce Adjustment and Maladjustment.” Journal of Divorce, 11: 51-70.

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