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Effects of Divorce in Tweens and Teens

How Will My Divorce Affect My Tween or Teen?

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Mother and Daughter Talking
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Tweens and teens have a hard time with divorce, too. Here are some of the behaviors you may see as a result of the changes that are going on at home, as well as a list of practical things you can do to provide structure and reassurance.

Related: Effects of Divorce in Children | Infants/Toddlers | Preschoolers | K-6 Children

Effects of Divorce in Tweens and Teenagers:

  • Considers how the divorce will affect his or her social relationships
  • May share the news and related details on social media networks
  • May be critical of one or both parents
  • Is resistant to sudden changes
  • Is reluctant to accept parents’ new partner(s) or lifestyle changes
  • Relies on peers for support and encouragement
  • May be reluctant to discuss feelings
  • May retreat into his or her room frequently
  • Experiences strong emotions and may have sudden outbursts
  • May refuse to cooperate
  • May openly defy one or both parents
  • May act out by making poor choices, lying, or performing poorly in school
  • May self-medicate with alcohol, drugs, or sexual relationships
  • May become aggressive and angry
  • Feels abandoned by the non-resident parent
  • May feel like he or she is being put in the middle or is being forced to choose one parent over the other

Red Flags for Tweens/Teens:

Any of the following behaviors warrants immediate intervention. Start by calling your child’s doctor or therapist, who can assist you and/or refer you to the most effective sources of help right in your own community.

  • New or renewed difficultly sleeping
  • Getting into trouble in school
  • Poor school performance/failing grades
  • Becoming emotionally withdrawn
  • Cutting or self-harm
  • Alcohol, tobacco, or drug use
  • Violent outbursts
  • Acting out sexually
  • Running away
  • Suicidal thoughts or actions

Action Steps for Parents of Tweens and Teens:

  • Let your tweens/teens know that they did nothing to cause the divorce, nor could they have prevented it
  • Offer lots of love and reassurance (they’re never too big for a hug!)
  • Maintain high expectations of your child’s behavior and school performance
  • Intervene early when you notice changes
  • Stick to the house rules you’ve maintained thus far (don’t give in out of guilt or pity)
  • Provide lots of opportunities to talk
  • Allow your tweens/teens to share their feelings
  • Maintain a strong sense of family by doing fun things together
  • Ask for their input when possible
  • Surround them with the love and care of extended family members
  • Encourage your tweens/teens to maintain communication with the non-resident parent
  • Demonstrate to your tweens/teens that the parenting schedule you have shared with him or her will take place as planned
  • Be cordial to your ex in from of your tweens/teens
  • Agree not to put your tweens/teens in the middle
  • Seek the input of a trained counselor if you believe your tweens/teens are struggling with the divorce
  • Make an intentional effort to take care of yourself, too

References:
Block, Jocelyn, M.A., et al. "Children and Divorce: Helping Your Kids Cope With the Effects of Separation and Divorce." Helpguide.org., Apr. 2010. Web. 3 Dec. 2010. http://helpguide.org/mental/children_divorce.htm>.

Wilson, Elaine, Brenda Sheik, and Tammy Fowler. Co-Parenting. Stillwater, Oklahoma: Oklahoma State University. PDF file.

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