Teen in the middle

Divorce is never easy and now your teen is caught in the middle.

Source: Michelle Minnaar  www.parent24.com

Divorce is tough on the entire family, but it’s particularly difficult for teenagers. They understand the implications and also have so much else to deal with at the same time. Things such as peer pressure, typical adolescence issues and school performance.

Many teens from divorced families are forced to grow up really fast. They take care of younger siblings while mom is crying behind locked doors, they’re a confidant to their parents, and take it on themselves to make everything okay again.

As a parent, you need to try at all costs to not put these extra burdens on your child.  Remember: Kids, no matter how much they try to understand what you’re going through, are still just kids.

The struggles

Teens understand what divorce means but may be reluctant to accept the reality of all the changes it brings.  You may find that your child has explosive outbursts (or long sulks) when they need to go and visit your ex.

Like younger children, many teens blame themselves for the divorce.  This is especially true of ‘troubled teens’ who have already been in trouble at school.  They may believe that their rebellion caused the rift.

Teens often feel abandoned by the parent who moves out of the house.

They may become depressed and withdraw from friends and favourite activities.

Your teen may act out in uncharacteristic ways. Like they could start using bad language or perhaps become aggressive and rebellious.

They can also become insecure around relationships in general, and may question their beliefs around love, marriage and family.

Teens tend to show concern around adult matters such as: “Who is going to pay the rent?”, “Who gets full custody?” and “Who is going to fetch little Johnny from school today?”

They may also feel obligated to take on adult responsibilities such as taking care of younger siblings and household chores.

What can you do?

  • You should, at all costs, avoid using teenagers as confidants. You can plan special time for yourself with adult friends and a therapist instead.
  • If at all possible, both parents need to stay involved in your child’s life.  Know their friends, what they love to do, keep up with their progress at school and take an interest in their extra-mural activities.
  • Spend quality time with your teen and reassure them that you have everything under control.  They usually feel a need to help, so give them some age-appropriate chores such as helping with laundry or helping with the cooking.  Take all heavier burdens off their shoulders.
  • When deciding on how to handle holidays, birthdays, and vacations, stay focused on what’s best for the children. It’s important for parents to resolve these issues themselves and not ask the teenager to choose.
  • Special occasions are important to your teenager and they need to know which of their parents will be attending, and with whom.  Some parents still both attend sporting events, graduation ceremonies and other extramural activities, but at different times.  Just make sure your child knows who will be there when, especially if one of you is planning on bringing a new romantic partner along.
Given the right support, your child will be able express their feelings and emerge from this unsettling time a stronger more resilient person.

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