Understanding the Effects of Divorce on Children
Understanding how your child may react and feel can help you better support them. Read on to find out what you can do to help your child.
13-18 years old (Secondary School and Above)
Teenagers may be better able to understand the reasons behind a divorce. At this age, they are beginning to establish their independence. They are more capable of managing their thoughts and emotions and are developing their ways of seeing the world and forming their own identity. Your teenager would need the space and freedom to sort their own emotions out and find answers regarding your divorce. They may have strong opinions on what you and the other parent should or should not do. At the same time, they may still be looking to both of you as role models. You and the other parent would need to continue showing a good balance of warmth and discipline to your teenager.
- Display challenging behaviours such as calling you names, skipping school, and even committing petty crimes.
- May try to solve the problems between you and the other parent by interfering in quarrels
- May share their opinions about the divorce.
- Displays increased moodiness, depression, anger and aggression, and challenging behaviours
- Distances themselves from the family and spends more time with their peers instead.
- Develops a confused view of relationships and becomes suspicious of authority figures and parents.
- Give your teenager time and space, and support them in working out their reactions to the divorce.
- Create opportunities for open and honest discussion with your teenager.
- Acknowledge their feelings and opinions but maintain boundaries. Do not give unbridled freedom or material rewards to get them on your side. Use consistent and firm discipline, where necessary.
- Be flexible with arrangements to allow your teenager time for their own activities.
- Your teenager needs space to grieve the divorce even though they may not appear sad. Every teenager copes with divorce differently. Be mindful not to make your teenager a “parent” by getting them to babysit their younger siblings.
- Passing messages to the other parent through your teenager. This involves your teenager unnecessarily in matters that may not concern them and can add stress to them. Your teenager may also feel used.
- Using your teenager as a “spy” to get information about the other parent. Your teenager may feel torn having to decide whether to divulge details about the other parent. Being in this position may cause strains in the relationship between your teenager and the other parent, or your teenager and you as well.
- Bad-mouthing the other parent. This will make your teenager feel like you are criticising part of who they are. It puts them in an awful position to feel a need to take sides between you and the other parent. Remind family members who are close to your teenager to avoid bad-mouthing the other parent as well.
Your teenager may experience mood swings and become rebellious during their puberty years. They may engage in at-risk behaviours such as truancy, substance use, smoking or early sexual activity. Hormonal changes during puberty will also affect the way they think and feel. However, increased moodiness in your teenager can be more serious than it seems and you should seek advice from a healthcare professional. For school-related behaviours such as skipping classes, you should work closely with the school teachers and counsellors to provide emotional support for your teenager.
You may wish to use these resources to help your teenager cope or seek counselling support for your teenager.