The Emotional Impact of Divorce on Teenagers

Divorce is one of the most significant challenges a child can face, second only to the death of a parent. Unfortunately, as any Kingwood divorce attorney can tell you, divorce is a common occurrence in the United States, with approximately 40 to 50 percent of marriages ending this way, according to the American Psychological Association. Below, we’re examining the impact of divorce on teenagers and how you can help them through this difficult time.

What Is the Actual Impact of Divorce on Teenagers?

A notable study involving over a hundred children and adolescents from divorced families in Northern California found that even ten years after the divorce, many young adults continued to experience feelings of sadness, vivid memories of the marital rupture, and resentment towards their parents.

These individuals often delay marriage, and those who do marry tend to experience marital instability.

Do Children React Differently Compared to Adolescents?

Younger children, up to around age six, tend to fare better long-term than older children. However, in the short term, younger children may exhibit more symptoms of depression and emotional scarring, immediately after the divorce compared to their older siblings. Ten years later, these younger children often appear more well-adjusted and less burdened by memories of their parents’ conflict.

Dr. Carl Pickhardt, author of “Who Stole My Child? Parenting through the Four Stages of Adolescence,” notes that the nature of emotional scarring differs between children and adolescents: “Younger children tend to cling to their parents in response to feelings of abandonment, while teenagers often detach and push back against boundaries.” He explains that divorce can encourage dependence in young children and accelerate independence in adolescents.

How Will Your Teen React to Divorce?

The way a teenager responds to their parents’ divorce largely hinges on the level of conflict between the parents throughout the process. Teens whose parents engage in frequent conflicts may face a higher risk of mental health issues, such as abandonment fears, which can lead to future emotional problems.

The encouraging news is that parents can choose more constructive methods, like collaborative divorce, to manage conflict and prioritize a healthy future for the family.

Does the Type of Divorce Matter?

Even in relatively amicable divorces, teenagers will grieve the loss of their family structure and experience a range of emotions. Parents should help their teens understand that these feelings are natural and encourage them to express their emotions in a healthy way.

Collaborative divorce involves mental health professionals alongside attorneys, addressing the emotional, financial, and legal aspects of divorce. Ensuring that lawyers minimize conflict can prevent the negative impact of divorce on teenagers.

Despite the approach taken, an increase in emotional and behavioral issues is likely, making it crucial to establish firm boundaries and enforce consequences when necessary. Clearly communicating to teens that they will still be held accountable for their actions can guide them toward better choices.

for teens, the parents' divorce is a source of anxiety

How to Help Your Teen

Finding ways to stay close to your teen during these family changes provides opportunities to talk and encourage them to share their feelings. Acknowledge their emotions and admit when things are uncertain. Open communication is vital during this time.

Dos for Helping Your Teen Adjust

  • Allow them to weigh in on significant decisions.
  • Attend their extracurricular activities to show support.
  • Maintain consistent expectations, rules, and discipline.
  • Encourage a positive relationship with their other parent.
  • Keep a consistent schedule.
  • Make them feel comfortable asking questions.
  • Model good behavior and effective problem-solving.
  • Maintain open and honest communication.
  • Provide consistent support and affection.
  • Offer a safe space for expressing emotions.

Don’ts of Helping Your Teen Adjust

  • Avoid arguing in front of your teen.
  • Don’t place them in the middle of parental conflicts.
  • Refrain from bad-mouthing your co-parent in their presence.
  • Don’t use them as a messenger between households.

What to Look Out For

Monitor your teenager for behavioral changes or mood swings. In some cases, seeking professional help can be beneficial. Consulting a mental health professional can help teens navigate their feelings about the divorce. Be vigilant for common reactions to upheaval, such as depression or substance abuse.

Signs of Depression

  • Decline in academic performance
  • Anger, aggression, sadness, and mood swings
  • Loss of appetite
  • Excessive sleeping
  • Isolation
  • Expressions of hopelessness
  • Loss of interest in favorite activities
  • Low self-esteem

Signs of Substance Abuse

  • Apathy
  • Bloodshot eyes
  • Changes in behavior and mannerisms
  • Excessive fatigue
  • Wearing long sleeves to hide marks
  • Neglecting personal hygiene
  • Possession of paraphernalia such as baggies, lighters, pipes, scales, or tinfoil
  • Violating curfew
  • Withdrawing from family activities

Consult With an Experienced Kingwood Divorce Attorney

Teens may feel as if everything is out of control due to their parents’ divorce, leading to feelings of hopelessness and overwhelm. However, most teenagers navigate through divorce relatively unscathed, especially if their parents work to minimize conflict and keep the divorce child-centered. Maintaining open communication, utilizing available professional resources, and providing support can help soften the impact of divorce on teenagers.

If you are looking for help with your divorce, know that our dedicated divorce attorneys in Kingwood can help with every aspect of the process, including more complex matters involving your teens. Do not let anything to chance in this complex matter – contact us today to schedule an initial appointment at 281-519-2287!

Bolton Law
Take the First Step,
You'll be Glad You Did

Bolton Law, led by board-certified lawyer Ruby Bolton, handles all types of divorce and family law matters.

With decades of combined experience, our team will work tirelessly to get you the outcome you deserve.