Divorce is difficult for children of any age. However, due to the potential for risky behavior in response to their parent’s divorce, teenage children present a unique set of concerns. The following is a list of “Do’s” and “Don’t” to think about as you try to get your teen through a difficult time.
What Not to Do
- Don’t talk bad about your ex. In Florida, at least, this activity is prohibited and is standard language in Parenting Plans. Generally, it is better that your teen has a relationship with both parents. If you need someone to talk to about the divorce, speak with a friend or a counselor – not your child.
- Don’t use your child as a go-between. Don’t use your teen to relay messages back and forth between you and your ex. This puts the teen in the awkward position of delivering bad news or being part of an argument that they otherwise would not be involved in. Also, don’t use your child to ask for or deliver child support payments.
- Don’t force a teen to talk about the divorce until they are ready. Let them know that you are available to talk when they are ready.
- Don’t discourage or prohibit contact between the teen and your ex. As I’ve already mentioned, it is generally in the teen’s best interest to have a relationship with both parents. Do not threaten to withhold access to the teen as a bargaining child in an argument with your ex. For example, do not restrict access to the teen if your ex’s child support payment is late. Besides being potentially bad for your child, such conduct is prohibited by the statutes.
- Don’t expose your teen to your new love interest too soon. To much change to quickly can be a bad thing. The divorce has potentially pushed a teen to his/her limits. Adding your new love interest to the equation will probably not help.
What to Do
- Play the Long Game. The more you stay connected to your child, the more likely they will come to you when they really need help.
- Stay positive. As your teen’s #1 role model, it is important to stay positive. This is a time for your teen to see taking the high road, being resilient, and having a sense of humor even when faced with difficult times.
- Be a patient and compassionate parent, not their friend. Your teen will need your patience and compassion as they figure out “the new normal.” Part of that means holding them accountable and not allowing risky behaviors.
- Keep up their routine. This will help give your teen a sense of normalcy in an otherwise chaotic time.
- Get them help if they need it. It is unlikely that you can be everything to your teen. Find your teen other good adult role models. Such people could be extended to family members, teachers, clergy, etc.
- Take care of yourself. You can’t be as effective a parent as you could be if you are dealing with your own issues. Be sure to eat right, get enough sleep and talk to someone if you need to.