The parents are not the only ones going through a divorce. For children, a divorce can be an extremely emotional time – and for teenagers, perhaps even more so. A divorce is the end of the life that a teen has always known. While this also means it’s an opportunity for new beginnings, a teenager might not see things this way. Below is some advice for teens who are going through a divorce.
First and foremost, know that you’re not alone. You can talk to your parents, friends and siblings about how the divorce is making you feel. If you don’t feel comfortable talking to people you know, ask your parents if they would be okay with you seeing a therapist or counselor during the divorce process. Your school might also have a guidance counselor that you can talk to for free.
Talking through your emotions with someone who is willing to listen can help you prevent them from overwhelming you during this difficult transition. If things feel really dire, you can call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255 24/7 to talk to someone or use a free online chat therapy service. Your mental health matters; never feel ashamed about asking for help.
Unfortunately, parents can sometimes get so caught up in their own drama during a divorce that they fail to realize how their actions and behaviors are affecting you. Don’t be afraid to stand up for yourself and speak out if one or both of your parents are doing things that make you feel sad, angry or overwhelmed. For example, if one of your parents is trying to force you to take sides, badmouthing your other parent in front of you or asking you to choose where to live, tell them that you don’t want to get involved. Suggest that they see a therapist or divorce coach rather than using you as the therapist.
Watching your parents go through the difficult process of getting divorced may result in feelings of guilt while you’re living your own life. You may feel obligated to stay home with your mom, for example, if she’s having a particularly rough night after a fight with your dad. It’s important to set boundaries, however, and not to let your parents’ divorce rule your life. Remember that you are a teenager – and the kid in all of this. You have every right to enjoy your life, regardless of what your parents are going through.
A significant role reversal can happen in a teen’s life during a divorce. Suddenly, your parents no longer have each other to turn to and lean on for support. This may make you feel like you need to step up and fill the role of caregiver, listener, therapist, companion, etc. for one parent that the other parent used to fill.
In this way, a divorce can reverse the roles between you and your parents; suddenly, you’ve become the parent and they’re the child. Remember, however, that this is not the case. You are not responsible for your parents’ happiness or well-being. No one can make your parents happy except for them. If a parent starts to lean on you too heavily, explain that this divorce is hard on you, too, and suggest therapy – perhaps family therapy together.
It can be difficult to think positively when your family is in the midst of a divorce. Know that this hurt, anger, confusion and stress are not forever. Eventually, the divorce process will be over, and everyone will have adapted to the new normal. In fact, your parents’ divorce may have some unexpected benefits – such as no longer having to listen to your parents fight and finally getting to see them both be happy. Try to stay positive and keep your sights on the brighter future that is just around the corner.