Teen years are already tough enough, but when you add the stress of a divorce in the mix, it can get even more complicated and overwhelming. Teens are rapidly growing, physically and emotionally and if you think about it,they are in the midst of a major transition. Teen still need their parents to catch them while they test their independence. This is a push and pull that most parents experience in full force by the teen years.
But what happens when you add a divorce to all of those changes? You thought that this was "just a phase" filled with hormone driven mood shifts and now you see your teen start to isolate or express anger. Your teenager may seem more like an adult after the divorce, but inside they could be having a very difficult time. When you have small children going through a divorce, they are not as capable of hiding their emotional responses to stress. But, teens are beginning to perfect how they cope with stress and often do not show their parents what is really going on for them.
So how can you help?
-Provide structure - Even though they are older and seem more mature, your teenager still needs routine and structure. It provides a sense of safety and security in a situation that can feel at times confusing and unstable.
-Lead by example - Your children learn how to cope with stress by watching you. If you pretend nothing is wrong, they will learn to pretend. If you ask for help when you are sad or angry, they are more likely to do the same.
-Talk to them - They may not want to listen or express how they are feeling, but don't give up. Be consistent and show you are interested in them and how they are doing.
-Check out some books. Maybe your teen would rather read on their own. In reading they might be able to make sense of what is happening to them. You might even want to read some books on how to help your teen cope.
-Get support - Whether it is a divorce support group or counseling, if you need help, now is the time to take action. The more you put off getting support with your parenting, the harder it will be for your teen to receive the help. Counseling is appropriate when there are significant changes in behavior (decrease or increase in appetite, sleep), an increase in self destructive behaviors (sexual acting out, self injury, suicidal thoughts) or a change in mood (withdrawn, sad, isolative).
Even though children say they are okay with a divorce, it doesn't mean that it isn't impacting them. Part of parenting is to help them through difficult times. Take time to get support for you and your family.