Stress Of Teens On Divorce

The divorce of their parents is among the most stressful events a child will ever have to cope with.

According to The Americans for Divorce Reform “40 or possibly even 50 percent of marriages will end in divorce if current trends continue.” [divorcerate, 2008] This means that millions of children are currently coping with the after effects of the break up of their family and the resulting stressors caused by this disruption in their life.

What are the Risks for Children of Divorced Parents?

“Children of divorced parents are far more likely than children of stable, two-parent families to live in poverty, have health problems, and become victims of abuse and neglect. They also have higher dropout rates, initiate sexual activity at an earlier age, commit more crimes, and have higher rates of drug and alcohol addiction.” [The Heritage Foundation, 2000]. Though parental divorce is certainly no guarantee that a teen will face these or any other problems, it is one more significant factor that puts them at risk.

Why is a Divorce so Traumatic?

A divorce usually results in a child’s world being turned upside down. His family structure, from which he gains most of his security, is changed in a way he cannot predict or control. He may have to move, which may involve changing schools and leaving friends behind, adding to his sense of loss. The financial strain caused by parents maintaining two separate residences may have a dramatic impact on a teen’s life, as well.

What About Stepparents and Stepsiblings?

When parents begin to date, the teen is forced to develop relationships with other adults and possibly their children. These are people that are not related to him, nor has he chosen to have them in his life. Yet he must find a way to get a long with them, and possibly even build another family with them. This dynamic is further complicated when teens have not accepted the finality of their parents’ divorce and harbor fantasies that they will reunite, or when teens (accurately or inaccurately) blame their parent’s current romantic interest for the break up of their family.

Kids in the Middle

Couples whose divorce is less than harmonious also put incredible strain on their children when they put kids in the middle of their problems with each other. Talking behind the other parent’s back, making derogatory comments about the other parent, asking the child questions about what the other parent is doing, or using the teen’s visitation as a way to “get back” at the other parent are some examples. These kinds of behaviors only make the divorce situation more stressful for the child, and threaten the trust he has in his parents.

Kids as a “Best Friend”

Some parents also treat their teen as a confidant, unloading their feelings and talking about inappropriate topics,. Parents may be lonely and looking for a friend, but putting the burden of adult worries and information onto a child is unfair, and unhealthy. Kids shouldn’t be privy to information surrounding child support payments, their parent’s sex lives, or other adult subjects, no matter how angry or jealous parents may be about these issues.

Put Things in Perspective

Remind kids that may be blaming themselves that kids don’t cause their parents’ divorce, nor is there anything they can do that will magically make things okay again. They may need to hear this message over and over. Kids need to know that the divorce is an issue between their parents, and not something they need to take responsibility for.

Cut Them Some Slack

Help kids cope with the changes they are experiencing as a result of the divorce. Be understanding if they are not themselves, have trouble concentrating, or need a little extra support.

Don’t Take Sides

Even if kids seem to focus all of their blame and anger on one parent exclusively, make sure you don’t come across as putting their parent down. Instead, reflect their feelings by saying something like, “It sounds as if you have a lot of anger towards your dad right now.” This will help the teen feel heard and encourage more sharing.

Show Some Sensitivity

Watch out for activities and events that may throw an unnecessary spotlight on the teen’s family situation. Don’t make him any more uncomfortable than necessary.

Help Kids Speak Up

Some teens may want to talk to their parents about the divorce, but don’t know how. Help them figure out ways to bring the subject up, or help them put their questions and concerns into words.

Encourage Kids to Take Care of Themselves

Make sure they are eating right, getting enough sleep, and having fun with their friends. If you notice any sudden changes in these areas, it’s time to alert a parent.

Know When to Seek Help

If the teen seems to be having an unusually difficult time adjusting to the divorce, seems depressed, or you have other concerns, a referral to a mental health professional may be in order. Talk to his parents about your concerns.


(This Bio info for Susan and the other offers could go on the contributors page, too)

About the Author

Susan Carney has been working as a middle school counselor with 6th and 7th grade students for the past thirteen years. She received a BA in Psychology fromTempleUniversityand completed my M.Ed. in School Counseling atWest ChesterUniversity. Throughout her career, Carney has assumed many different roles; including supervising a partial hospitalization program and working as a residential counselor with emotionally disturbed children. Susan has also been a coach, workshop presenter, group leader, and hotline counselor. When not working with other people’s children, she is at home with husband, Drew, and their five-year old twins, Megan and Jacob. Susan also enjoys reading, quilting, and photography.



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