The teen years are difficult for anyone. They are full of change, both mentally and physically, and this is a lot to take on. Adding the stress and change of a divorce or separation makes this challenging time even harder to cope with. Teens will often feel like they have no foundation, even when they may be acting as though they are fine. If they are going to develop into healthy adults, they will need your support and love. Here are a few tips on how to help teens through this difficult time.
Take it slow
When your teen already feels like they are on unstable ground, it is best not to add many more changes to their life if you can help it. In a divorce, there is no way to avoid change, but mindfully making the changes can help give your teenager time to adjust. While it might be hard to avoid a few big changes like a new home or a new school, let your teen take their time to get used to it all. Talking to your child about the changes to come will also allow them to prepare mentally, which will help with getting used to the new way that things work.
Make sure that your teen will still have contact with their old friends. Making new friends is an added stress, and their old friends can offer emotional support as they try to work through this difficult process. Try to wait until the end of the school year before moving to a new school. Switching in the middle of the year is much harder and will cause extra stress as well as possibly failing grades. See if you can arrange for your teen to visit the school beforehand so that they don’t feel as lost on their first day.
If you are moving, allow them to decorate their own room. Try to make it a fun experience, and let them express themselves through the way they decorate it.
Your divorce will be very hard on your teenager, and they will likely feel anger, betrayal, and resentment toward one or both of their parents. Even if they aren’t actually angry at you, they will probably take their negative feelings out on you anyway. Whether they are being rude, rebellious, or withdrawn, you need to be sensitive to their emotions. Try not to get too angry, but take disciplinary measures if what they did was over the line of acceptability. If they take their acting out to an unhealthy level, that is when you may need to intervene with professional help.
Consider taking them to a therapist or counselor if they start acting in a manner that causes you to be concerned about their well being. Don’t force it one them, as they probably won’t like the idea at first. Don’t lecture them about why they should see a professional, but rather explain why you are concerned for their well being. Make sure that they understand that you don’t think that they need to be “fixed”. Being forceful will only gain greater pushback from your teenager, while being sensitive and caring can open up communication and ease their pain. They are looking for solid ground; be that for them.
Don’t bend the rules
While it can be difficult to see your teen acting out or in a negative way towards you, loosening up on the rules is not a good way to earn back their affection. Instead, this will teach them that they receive rewards for acting rebellious. They need discipline and foundation in order to become healthy adults, and removing the rules removes both of those.
Give them the freedoms that you feel they are mature enough for, and reward good behavior with more freedom. If they have good grades and are respectful, let them stay out a bit later or spend extra time on the computer. Be reasonable with your teen, and remember that they are growing into young adults. As they grow older, they will crave more and more freedom.
Remember that you are the parent
Having gone through a divorce or separation, you will have your very own confused feelings to work through. While talking to them about your feelings can help strengthen your bond and show them that you respect and trust them, you must be careful about how much you share. Remember that you are their parent and must be strong for your kids. Also, don’t say negative things about their other parent in front of them. Save the more painful and negative topics to be talked over with adult friends and trusted family members, or even a professional such as a therapist. Some things would do nothing more than hurt your teen, and you need to pay careful attention what you tell them.
Helping a teen through this process can be very difficult, especially if they don’t feel like working with you. However, consistent support and love from you and others they know can help them through this challenging experience and onward into adulthood.