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Adolescents and Divorce

This  page focuses on what adolescents (age 13-20) go through when their parents divorce. Teenagers are old enough to understand much more about the divorce between their parents than younger children. It is surprising, however, how little they know about the real reason for their parents' divorce. Adolescents feel the same range of emotions as younger children do, but there are some responses that seem peculiar to their age group.

Questioning Marriage

Adolescents are more likely to question marriage, and more likely to swear that they will never marry for fear their marriage will be a "fail" the way their parents' marriage has failed. To the extent this slows down a teenager from marrying too soon, it's probably healthy. I'm aware of no statistical evidence on this, but anecdotally, I'm willing to bet that few adults whose parents divorced when they were adolescents are permanently discouraged from marrying.

Money Worries

Adolescents are more likely to have financial worries than are younger children. This is due in part, of course, to the intense focus on self that comes to full flower during adolescence. Teenagers have things they want to buy, places they want to travel, and experiences they want to savor, and they are understandably focused on making sure their parents can afford them. In addition, however, adolescents are more aware than younger children about the limitations imposed by money. They suspect the divorce may have direct financial ramifications for them, and they're usually right.

"De-idealization"

Adolescents are more likely than younger children to find and discuss the faults of their parents. Adolescents do this in the healthiest of families, and it's normal and appropriate for them to do so; it's part of the normal disconnecting process. Divorce will exacerbate this tendency, however, to the point where an adolescent whose parents are divorcing may declare one or both of them to be "scum," or "evil."

Taking Sides

Adolescents are more likely than younger children to take sides in the divorce. They are more likely to seek an explanation (and if they don't get one to make one up) about which parent is the "bad" parent and which parent is the "good" parent. Teenagers seek clarity, and they're much more likely than younger children to condemn one of their parents. The most poignant cases of Parental Alienation Syndrome seem to involve teenagers.

Filling Adult Shoes

Perhaps the most troublesome response of some adolescents to the divorce of their parents is to attempt to fill the role they perceive to be filled in the past by one of their parents. Some parents make this worse by encouraging this kind of behavior as indicating "maturity" on the part of their child.

It's not mature, and it's not normal, for a 15-year-old boy to become the "man of the house." It's not mature, and it's not normal, for either parent to confide in a teenager about the issues of the divorce. It's particularly dangerous and inappropriate for a teenage girl to become the confidant of her father during divorce. In each of these cases, the child may welcome this and even encourage it, because it makes them feel important, valued, and loved. In each of these cases, you may welcome the support out of your loneliness and need. But it's never appropriate.

As the parent, it's up to you to enforce the boundaries. You must do so.

One of the healthy responses that teenagers have to the divorce of their parents is to spend less time at home and more time with their friends. There obviously must be limits to this, and you should feel free to enforce normal discipline with your adolescent children even as you move through divorce. However, know that it is normal and appropriate for teenagers to spend more time away from home than they did when they were younger. It's also normal and appropriate for teenagers whose parents are fighting to spend more time away from home than  they would otherwise. As the parent, you should allow this to happen. This doesn't mean you stop keeping up with your children, but it does mean it's okay to allow them to be away from your home.

Here are some other pages about children here on Divorceinfo.com:
 
Helping Your Children Through Divorce Preschoolers - What to Expect
Children and Divorce - What to Expect Elementary Age Children - What to Expect
Child Support Adolescents - What to Expect
Collecting Child Support Adult Children
Your Parenting Plan Depression in Children
Parenting Issues Custody Questions
Tough Words About Kids Parental Alienation Syndrome

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