We write a lot about what divorced dads can do to help their children through divorce.
That’s certainly critical, but it seems many of the resources on the Internet are geared for parents with young children. Parents with teenage children often face even trickier challenges.
A child’s teenage years are developmentally crucial. This is typically a time when children move toward independence and rapidly start becoming less and less dependent on parents. Research shows that normal adolescent development is disrupted by divorce. Many children feel their parents are separated from them.
Teenagers are also extremely judgmental. Younger kids tend to want to love both parents equally. Teenagers are quicker to assign blame. It is common to hear things like, “Well, if Dad had done this our family would still be together.”
Parents often make the mistake of assuming their teenagers are more mature than they actually are. Teens can certainly be very intelligent and might seem like adults at times, but they’re not. Science shows our brains continue to develop until age 25 or 26.
Here are 7 tips for helping your teenager through the divorce process:
Don’t use your teenager as a confidant.
This mistake often stems from a parent misjudging their teen’s maturity. Divorce is hard on you as well as your children and it is natural to want to lean on those you love most.
When your teenager is always around, it’s easy to confide in them. While this might ease some of your pain, it throws an enormous amount of pressure onto your child and they might start to feel responsible for looking out for your emotional well-being.
That’s a task they’re likely not ready to tackle.
If you need someone to talk to, reach out to friends, extended family or counselors.
Don’t insult your ex in front of your teenager.
This is one of the worst mistakes a divorced father can make regardless of their child’s age.
Teenagers are especially prone to experiencing loyalty conflicts after their parents separate and the effect of that can be traumatic.
Even if it’s difficult, swallow your pride and try to promote a healthy bond between your child and your ex. Even if it leads to less parenting time with your child, it will be worth it in the long run as your child will come to respect your sacrifice as they age and mature.
Minimize change and establish a routine.
This is another tip that can apply regardless of a child’s age.
One of the most difficult aspects of divorce for teenagers is how it dramatically alters their living arrangement.
They’re now shuffling back and forth between parents. They might be living in a smaller house. Maybe they even had to switch schools. It probably feels like their life is scrambled.
Do whatever you can to establish a daily routine that you and your teen can stick to. Set times for after-school activities, homework and dinner and let them have a say in what their schedule looks like.
The more stable of an environment you can create, the easier their adjustment will be.
Don’t give your teenager too much responsibility.
If you have younger children as well, you might have to ask your teen to take on some additional responsibilities around the house since you’re the only adult around.
Try to limit this as much as possible. Your teen is dealing with enough change and if you give them too much, they’re going to feel like they’re being forced to grow up too fast.
As stated earlier, your teen might seem mature, but they’re still a long way from being an adult.
Let your teenager vent.
Make sure your teen doesn’t become withdrawn and bottle up their feelings. Talk to them about the changes in their life and give them a chance to tell you what they’re going through.
Be prepared for some criticism. Your teen might harbor some resentment toward you for the divorce, but that’s OK. Let them know it’s OK to feel anger and give them the emotional support they need.
Get help from the other adults in your teenager’s life.
Ask your extended family, friends and teen’s teachers to be on the lookout for behavioral changes. Your teen might act differently when they’re not around you and that could lead to some missed warning signs about larger issues.
This might also be a chance to find another mentor for your child who they can turn to for guidance away from home.
Take care of yourself.
Again, this is a tough time for you too. Children often follow their parents’ lead, so if they see you constantly depressed, it’s going to have an impact on them.
In trying to put your teen’s needs first, it’s easy to neglect taking care of yourself. Be aware of your emotions and stress level. If you start to feel depressed or like you’re breaking down, seek help.