Divorce is challenging for all children regardless of their age however, it can be particularly challenging for teenagers. Teenagers are already going through an enormous period of change in their lives and having two parents who are at odds with one another can exacerbate this.
Equally, most parents will struggle at some point or another with their teenage child. These issues can be perpetuated when you and you and your co-parent who are separating or divorcing, are no longer on the same page about certain issues, especially if you don't live in the same house or are able to communicate as regularly. For tips about living under one roof whilst separating, read our blog here.
In this blog, we will give you some top co-parenting tips to help you parent your teenager when separating or divorcing.
5 tips to help you co-parent your teenager:
1. Don’t jump to conclusions
It’s important to adopt a positive attitude when co-parenting your teenager. If you always assume the worst, you may get the wrong end of the stick and react accordingly. Think about where the information is coming from, and whether this may distort the message being given. If you keep your co-parent in the loop you are more likely to avoid confusion and conflict, whereas if your only source of information is your teenager, there is a higher chance of mix-ups or misinterpretations. By keeping on the same page with your co-parent you represent a united front, despite being separated which should help with maintaining consistency with rules across the two households.
2. Think before you react
This follows on from our first tip, and is applicable for both your child and your ex. If you react straight away, you run the risk of saying something you don’t mean or making a situation worse. Remember, you are the adult and you are in charge, however, shouting at your teenager or sending a loaded text will likely fan the flames rather than solve anything. If on the other hand you take a step back and take the time you need to process the problem, you will be more likely to be able to communicate positively and effectively.
When communicating with your ex, it’s easy to get riled up and react straight away, however by taking that time you will avoid saying things you later regret. Try drafting an email or message in your notes and taking the time to reflect upon it before sending it. Use neutral language and think about whether the message you are sending is something you’d like to receive if it was reversed. Don’t be goaded by your child or co-parent into reacting negatively, this will only create distance.
3. Don’t discuss the details of your separation with your teenager
A common mistake is treating your teenager like your friend rather than your child. This can be tricky when your child gets older – and whilst teenagers are more mature and independent than younger children, they don’t need to know the ins and outs of your divorce or separation. Giving them too many details or over-sharing is putting unfair responsibility on them and may warp how they feel about their other parent. Use your friends or a therapist as an emotional crutch as they are a good external soundboard and more able to offer helpful insight than your teenager will.
4. Actively support your teenager’s relationship with their other parent
Don’t be neutral – be positive – it’s important that your children spend time and build a relationship with each of you. This can be difficult to manage with a teenager. A good way to channel this is through encouraging the time they spend with your ex. By helping your teenager to connect with their other parent, you will help them through the challenging nature of separation and divorce.
5. Know the warning signs
You know your child better than anyone else – so look out for drastic changes in behaviour. It’s natural for children to act out, or distance themselves for a while, especially when their parents are going through a separation or divorce, but it’s important to make sure that this doesn’t impact them long-term.
Some warning signs that your divorce/separation may be impacting your teen:
- Education: if their grades or behaviour in school is negatively impacted
- Mental health: if they seem overly stressed, reserved/ depressed or anxious etc
- Relationships with others: they don’t see their other parent, they are falling out with friends and or family, or entering unhealthy relationships etc
- Anti-social behaviour: you suspect they are using substances and or engaging in early sexual activity
Of course, all of the above can be attributed to the natural rhythm of teenage years, however, if you are ever worried about your teenager’s behaviour or you think your divorce/ separation is negatively affecting them – it’s important to seek external help such as therapy, counselling or medical advice. Their school can be a great source for this as they know your child and will know of good resources available to you.
- Advice to help teens adjust to your divorce
- How to help younger children deal with separation
- Adjusting to life as a co-parent