The teenage years can be difficult – for the parents. This is the time children strive for independence while still being dependent. It becomes especially difficult when their normal routine is shaken by the parents’ divorce. Teens need consistency, and a parental divorce can throw their world off-kilter. The following are some suggestions on how to talk to your teen about what is happening and how he or she fits into the picture.
- Speak to your teen as a unit. Sit down together as a family (which you are) and reassure your son or daughter that you are still the parents and still love him or her. They must understand that nothing will change that. It might be best to have this conversation on a Friday night when the teen does not have to go to school in the morning. It is an excellent idea for both parents to get together before the talk and agree on what they will be saying.
- Give him or her time to adjust to this monumental change. If at all possible, tell him long before one of the parents moves out to a second home. Both of you should be available for any questions; in fact, questions should be encouraged.
- There is no need to get into specifics. “Your dad has been spending time with the floozy from the office,” is not appropriate. A simple and benign statement, such as, “We love each other but have grown apart,” will suffice and is best. Answer any question as honestly as possible without disparaging each other.
During the Talk
Every situation is different, but certain things should be kept in mind while speaking with your teen:
- Make sure that he or she understands that the divorce is not their fault in any way.
- Listen to your teen’s concerns about the future and reassure them by stressing that his or her future is one of your major concerns and that you, as the parent, have it under control.
- Allow them to react negatively and with anger. You may be undergoing the divorce, but they, too, are being traumatized.
- If, as the parent, you become emotional and cry, permit yourself the freedom to express your own grief. This will serve as a guide for your teen.
- Be honest. If money will be tighter following the separation, make that clear. Teens are old enough to understand.
- Never bad-mouth the other parent. Repeat “We will always care for each other,” as often as necessary. If certain negative behavior is a known fact, discuss the behavior, not the person misbehaving. “Mom is a caring person, but the drinking has become troublesome.” Blame the misdeed, not the doer.
- Ensure that your teen does not take sides. You may be split as a couple, but you remain a unit as parents. It is important to act that way.
- Do not try to appease your child by keeping his or her hopes up and pretending things may work out. If the divorce is definite, then help the teen accept the finality instead of providing false expectations.
- It is not fair to make your teen responsible for helping you with your marital issues. Don’t say, “This is difficult for us, so we expect you to be on your best behavior.” Let your teen be a teenager. You are responsible for working out your own feelings and problems.
After the Initial Talk
Parents need to be prepared for an intense reaction, especially if the teen is blindsided (sometimes, they are not). Teens, who are by nature self-involved, may respond with anger at what is happening to them and how this will affect them. It would be normal for them to withdraw into themselves and become distant.
Allow the teen to process this information. They shouldn’t be pushed, but parents should keep an eye on their behavior. This is a time when they may act up in sheer anger. As parents, be available when they finally want to talk, allow them their feelings, but make clear that basic proper behavior is still expected.
Keep the teen as close to his or her usual routine as possible – which may include sports, hobbies, extracurricular activities, hanging out with friends, etc. This may need to change if and when the teen moves to a new home. It would be best not to move before the end of the school year if that is possible. Talk to your child about any anticipated changes and be as encouraging as possible as a new school, new friends, and new extracurriculars. Make sure they understand that while their life is changing, your love for them has not changed. It is permanent.
Preparing for the Future
Nothing will change what is happening. The divorce will happen. Instead of focusing on the past (“We sure had some wonderful vacations.”), look forward to the future. This is the time for a new beginning for everyone. Make the teens see new possibilities. In other words, focus on positive changes.
When discussing your separation and divorce with your teen, never forget that you are the parent and responsible for the teen’s feelings. Not the other way around.
The legal process can get difficult, which is why we always recommend that you seek the assistance of counsel; or at least have a consultation. Schedule a consultation with one of our attorneys today to review the issues of your case, the legal options you may have, and certain rights that pertain to your unique situation.
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