Divorce is a difficult time for everyone involved. When going through a divorce, the number one question on many parents’ minds is “how will this affect my child?”
With the sudden influx of hormones and stresses of everyday life, teenagers are already dealing with a lot. A major shift in family dynamic is bound to have a profound impact on these formative years.
The effects of divorce on a teenage psyche
Psychology classifies the conflict that results from divorce as an Adverse Childhood Experience (ACE). ACEs are traumatic instances that occur during childhood and adolescence, which have a negative impact on the psychological development of the child. Divorce is recognized as a strong ACE because it can:
- Cause feelings of instability and uncertainty in a child.
- Produce financial strain on one (or both) of the divorcing parents.
- Separate the child from extended family members who offer stability and support.
- Introduce chronic stress and fear from fighting between the parents.
Does that mean that it is better for couples to stay together for the sake of the children? The simple answer is: no. Living with two parents who are unhappy with each other can also be a toxic environment for your teenage child.
The bottom line is this: children of all ages benefit from having happy parents. In fact, more than 80% of children of divorce say they prefer their parents’ divorce over the alternative of them staying in an unhappy marriage.
Helping your teenage child through divorce
A 2019 study on parent and adolescent relationships post-divorce found that the most critical factor in maintaining a positive relationship was contact with the child. Supportive communication with your child, whether in person or electronically, has a positive impact on their overall mental health.
Here are some other things you can do to help your child through this time:
- Prepare them for the divorce. No one likes being blindsided by bad news. Communicate with your child about the divorce sooner rather than later. Be clear about what changes they can expect.
- Empathize with whatever they are feeling. Even if we know that a divorce is better for everyone involved, your child may not feel the same. That is a normal response to such ground-breaking news. Let your child express their emotions and make the effort to fully understand how they feel.
- Communicate with your ex for the sake of the children. Even if the situation is bitter and harsh, communicating with your ex in a civilized way is important. Children and adolescents are like sponges, so they absorb the way that you and your ex interact with each other. You can’t control what your ex does, but you can control how you respond.
- Offer extra encouragement. Children of divorce often feel vulnerable and self-conscious. They might question their parent’s love. These are normal fears. Try to counter them by supplying extra validation and encouragement.
Divorce may be difficult, but it can sometimes be the best thing for a child’s health in the long run. It all comes down to how you support your child through the situation.