By Attorney Robert G. Tukey, Suisman Shapiro Attorneys-at-Law
Divorce is painful for children, no matter how old they are. How kids deal with divorce greatly depends on their age and level of maturity. While younger children may cling to parents, teenagers often pull away and become uncharacteristically rebellious. To make things even more complicated, social media has made the landscape much more dangerous. However, there are warning signs you can look out for, and the good news is that there are clear ways to make the separation and divorce process easier for teens.
How does divorce feel?
Always keep in mind that although your teenager may appear mature physically, he/she is still growing emotionally, and is not an adult on the inside. Teens have a lot going on, and divorce can pile on more drama than they are equipped to handle. They may feel angry and embarrassed. Or, they might feel responsible and blame themselves. Teens often feel torn between their loyalties to each parent. When children have been dealing with disharmony and parental fighting for a long period of time, divorce may even come as a relief. Remember, this is also the time that adolescents start thinking about their own future love life. Divorce may make them feel like they have less chance for success in love. This is all very scary and confusing for a teenager.
Struggling for independence
The teenage years are when adolescents begin to strive for more independence from family. Sometimes this desire accelerates with divorce. Kids may withdraw emotionally as a form of punishment. They may put their peers ahead of family time more than usual. This can make teenagers more susceptible to drug /alcohol abuse or sexual promiscuity. It's very important to set limits and enforce rules, while also being flexible and understanding. Your teen may not want to visit the non-resident parent. Neither parent should take this personally, and teens should be given some say in visitation schedules while still maintaining routines. Letting your child bring a friend during visitation is sometimes a nice compromise.
Social media issues
These days, almost all teenagers have cell phones and multiple social media accounts on Twitter, Instagram, Snapchat, and many other platforms. Make sure to enforce the same rules about cell phones and posting at both parents' homes, and monitor social media activity. Clearly explain that everyone MUST keep personal family information and situations out of posts. Aside from obvious privacy concerns, when personal information is broadcast in a public forum, it can impact your divorce case.
Keep an eye out for the following behaviors in your teenager:
- Change in eating or sleeping habits
- Appearing withdrawn or depressed
- Mood swings or emotional outbursts
- Aggressive behavior; lack of cooperation
- Problems at school; drop in grades
- Losing interest in activities that were once very important to them
Encourage your child to talk about his/her feelings. Be available and make sure they can always reach you. Teens need to be able to talk to either parent whenever they want, even if it's during the other parent's scheduled parenting time. If you are uncertain about your child's well-being, be sure to seek professional help.
Ways to make the process easier
- Don't criticize the other parent in front of your kids
- Don't use your teen as a confidant to talk about new relationships
- Don't make your teenager change schools if at all possible
- NEVER try to be a friend rather than a parent, and DO NOT allow underage drinking or illegal activities to occur in your home
- Do respect your teenager's feelings, and keep his/her confidences
- Do make time for your teen, and schedule some activities individually with each child
- Do keep regular routines without being stubborn or unyielding
- Do try to attend meetings at school, doctors' appointments, etc. with the other parent
- Do ask other adults about how your child is doing (teachers, friends' parents, and coaches)
- Do get the support you need, from friends, family or a trained counselor. Having a healthy outlet will help you to be a better parent during this difficult time
It is achievable to have an amicable divorce, and to start a healthy new life for both you and your children.
Attorney Robert G. Tukey is a Director at Suisman Shapiro whose practice concentrates in family law. Please contact him via email at email@example.com or via phone at 860-442-4416 with questions about divorce and custody matters.