Teens typically react to divorce in two ways: by being stoic and keeping their feelings in so as not to upset their parents, or by being angry at the world. To help your teen navigate the difficulties of divorce and its impact on the family, keep these tips in mind:
Set a good example. When your teen was a toddler, if he or she took a fall, they probably looked to you to see how you would react. If you looked upset, they would wail; if you acted like all was well, they probably got on with their play. This doesn’t change with age. If you are handling your divorce well, chances are your teen will handle it well, too.
Listen. There will be times that your teen needs your undivided attention, which means you need to put aside your own trauma (as well as your cell phone) and give it to them. Provide them with opportunities to open up to you by doing activities like taking a walk or shopping together. Don’t pressure them to talk to you — the best talks usually happen when doing daily activities together.
Control yourself. Don’t argue with your ex or bad-mouth him or her in front of your teen, who may experience loyalty conflicts as a result. Be polite with your ex, which models the importance of self-control for your teen.
Don’t overshare. Make an effort not to share too many details of your divorce with your teen, and don’t ask them for information about your ex.
Encourage a good relationship with both parents. It is imperative for your teen to have a good relationship with both of his or her parents in order to develop into a well-functioning adult. One of the best things you can do for your children is to encourage them to have a good relationship with your ex.
Be flexible. Teens need to have some control over their schedules, so you and your ex may need to be flexible about parenting time. Don’t make them feel guilty if they want to spend time with friends rather than with you or your ex; it’s perfectly normal for teens to seek separation from their parents, divorce or no.
Set limits. Don’t use your divorce as an excuse to let your teen have extra freedoms that they may not be ready to handle, or to shirk responsibilities at home.
Watch for warning signs. If your teen’s behavior changes, you may wonder if it’s normal teen angst or if the divorce has triggered the behavior change. You need to deal with these behaviors right away so they don’t become a pattern or get worse.
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