3rd December 2020
Being a parent to teenage children can often have many of its own challenges. As children grow older and battle their own personal issues whilst going through hormonal changes, parents may have some difficult times to face.
When the stability of the family home is shaken up by a divorce during these adolescent years, emotions can run high causing more stress for you as you navigate your separation.
In this article, our Family Law experts share some useful tips and words of advice when speaking to teenagers about divorce and supporting them through changes to their family unit.
Almost half of divorces involve children under the age of 16, but there are many more children who are involved in family separations where the parents were unmarried. Studies have shown that children between the ages of 7 and 14 are most emotionally affected by divorce. This is thought to be because the disruption to schooling and friendships is often greater at this time. They are also at a highly emotional state due to hormones and their developing understanding of the world without the life experience to manage their feelings yet. Older teenagers, between the age of 15 to 18 are less affected but can still find upheaval to their family home and routine emotionally difficult.
Your child is probably very aware of what a divorce means. They are likely to have friends whose parents are divorced and may also have seen divorce storylines in films and TV shows. But they won’t have an understanding of what it personally means to them. It is best to tell your children about your intentions to get a divorce, ideally with your spouse, once you are certain that this is the route you are going down. You don’t want to involve your children in arguments or problems that you are having in your marriage, but it is also important to be open as they may feel that their emotions were overlooked or that you have been hiding things from them.
Depending on your relationship, they may already have picked up on issues at home, but some teenagers are often caught up in their own life and a separation may come out of the blue leaving them shocked and unsure how to process the news.
#1 Tell them together
It is important to show unity as parents and delivering the news as a united front will help show your teens that even though you are ending your marriage, you are still unified as a family and both care deeply about their wellbeing.
#2 Choose your timing carefully
Teenagers have a lot going on in their life (a lot of which they may keep to themselves). If they are having issues with friends, relationships, exams looming etc. then you need to be mindful about putting more worries on their shoulders. Try to time your conversation well, but don’t keep putting it off. Choose a moment when you are not going to be rushed for time to allow them to talk to you or ask questions. Discuss your divorce somewhere private and quiet like at home.
#3 Be honest with them
Teenagers are far more likely to be understanding and forgiving of this upheaval if you are open about your marriage. It is not always suitable to go into the details of why you are parting ways but give them something otherwise they will speculate or think you are keeping things from them.
#4 Let them have their say
It is important to give your teen a voice. Let them offload and air how they feel and make suggestions of what they would like to happen but remember they are still children and they cannot dictate everything.
#5 Give them time
If this news has hit them hard or you expect it to affect them emotionally then make sure they have time to come to terms with the situation. It is not fair to break the news then have one parent move out of the family home or for other drastic changes to happen immediately. Tell them that you are there to answer any questions and support them. This may be step one in a series of conversations that you have with them.
#6 Reassure them
Ensure they know that they are very much loved by both parents and will still see both parents when the time comes to live separately. Some teenagers often have a ‘the world is against me’ attitude when anything negative happens in their life, so take time to reassure them and know that the divorce is not somehow their fault.
#7 Do not involve them in arguments
It is crucial not to let your teenager be caught up in any negativity surrounding your separation. They shouldn’t be asked to take sides or be told too much information about disagreements you are having. There are many subtle ways that parents can unintentionally cause their child to feel a certain way about one parent – from overhearing conversations or to you being upset when it comes to them visiting their other parent. Try to protect them and their relationship with their other parent as much as possible.
#8 Their reaction might not be what you expect
Until you have this conversation it can be difficult to predict how your teenager will handle the news of divorce. It is not unusual for children to have almost no reaction and appear to cope just fine with the changes. But equally, you may find that they struggle outwardly and need additional support. If they are struggling to come to terms with the situation, it may be worth making contact with their GP or support organisations such as Relateen or CAHMS.
#9 Notice changes in behaviour
Keep a close eye on your teenager after breaking the news and ensure they know where to turn if they are finding it all too difficult. Some may have trouble sleeping, be argumentative, struggle to concentrate at school, feel sadness, resentment or have anxiety over what their future holds.
#10 Work as a team
Despite difficulties you are having whilst on the journey towards divorce you will still need to co-parent your children. During this challenging time, your teenage may need more love and support than ever before from both parents. It is important that you are able to put your differences aside and have open communication about how your children are coping.
#11 Have quality time together
During the separation, and afterwards once you are living from two separate households, it is important to have quality bonding or one-on-one time with your teenage son or daughter. This gives them reassurance and support but also provides them with time to talk to you or for you to witness how they are getting on emotionally.
#12 Keep them updated
Once they know and understand that their parents are divorcing it is a good idea to keep them in the loop. There is no need to overshare; they don’t need to know every detail of the negotiations or meetings with lawyers, but it is important to keep them up to date on any major stages as the divorce progresses, e.g. if the family home is going to go on the market. Letting them know what the living arrangements will be, when the divorce process is finalised etc., will make them feel involved and not blindsided.
#13 Try to continue with a routine
Although your children are older and may be running their own schedule keeping busy seeing their friends it is important to try and minimise the disruption to their routine. Make sure both parents are on the same page when it comes to routine and discipline. If they play sports or have out-of-school activities then ensure that they are still supported and do not miss out because of living apart.
Getting divorced is not easy, especially with a splash of teenage angst thrown in for good measure. You can really feel like you are upsetting a number of people all at once, which is never easy to digest. Take reassurance that this will pass, and everyone will be OK in the end. Happier parents will inspire happier children. Take courage that you have made the right decision for your family, even though it may not always feel that way in the short-term.
If you are considering divorce or are in the early stages of separating from your partner, then you are likely to have lots of concerns or questions.
What are you entitled to? How will your assets be split? How long does a divorce take? How much will a divorce cost you? What happens if you cannot agree on children arrangements? Will I have to go to court?
All these concerns (and more) can be discussed at an initial fixed fee meeting with one of our Family Lawyers who specialise in advising on issues surrounding finances and children upon divorce. The concept of our initial meetings is to arm you with all the information that you need in order to make an informed choice about your relationship, to know where you stand and equip you with everything you need in order to take the next step when you are ready to do so.
For more information on divorce, separation or making arrangements for children, please contact our Family Law Team on 01256 844888, email firstname.lastname@example.org or speak to our online chat assistant who is online 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.
We hope that we can offer you some clear and careful guidance to make navigating your divorce less stressful.
10 Golden Rules For Protecting Your Children During Divorce
How to Tell Your Children About Divorce: An Age Appropriate Guide
Introducing a New Partner to Your Children
The contents of this article are for the purposes of general awareness only. They do not purport to constitute legal or professional advice. The law may have changed since this article was published. Readers should not act on the basis of the information included and should take appropriate professional advice upon their own particular circumstances.
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