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Even though divorce can be traumatic for couples, teens often struggle, too, with the shift in family dynamics. “Divorce shakes up a child or teen’s world, leaving them feeling uprooted, anxious, depressed, guilty and angry,” says Dr. Carole Lieberman, Beverly Hills, Calif.-based author and psychiatrist. Recognize the common problems teenagers face during a divorce to help them cope and heal in a healthy environment.
Children of divorced parents may experience challenges within their future relationships if they're unable to work through feelings of anger and betrayal after. The divorce can cause problems with intimacy when children of divorce become old enough to date, says Lieberman. “They're afraid of being in a committed relationship because they have seen the price of love and the pain it has caused their parents,” she says.
Even though it's more common and accepted for children to be raised by divorced parents, teens may still face embarrassment socially, says Melody Brooke, family therapist in Richardson, Texas. “Because so many of their friends’ parents are divorced, kids whose parents are still together often have part of their identity associated with the idea that their parents did not divorce,” she says. “When suddenly, it happens, they feel betrayed and confused about who they are, something that is difficult in the teen years anyway.”
Torn Between Parents
Divorce in and of itself can be overwhelming for the entire family, but when bitterness and anger consume both parents, teenagers often feel torn between the two. “When one parent decides to keep the other parent from being a full-time parent, then the kids suffer,” says Brooke. “Vindictive or self-righteous parents often believe that if they've been wronged by their spouse, then they have a right to act in whatever angry way they want, no matter the cost.”
Your teens are experiencing a loss as a result of the divorce. To help them cope, Brooke recommends 50/50 custody and conservatorship because it's in the best interest of the child. “Anything less creates a loss that is traumatic for the child, at any age,” she says.
For most teens, life is dramatic and chaotic, even without the stress of a parent’s divorce. Balancing school, part-time jobs, sports activities and a social life can leave teens feeling as if they're riding an emotional roller coaster. When divorce is thrown into the mix, the stress of going back and forth between two houses and adjusting to different rules between two households can cause anxiety for your teen. “The changes are very anxiety-provoking for a teen,” says Dr. Fran Walfish, Beverly Hills, Calif.-based psychotherapist and author of “The Self-Aware Parent: Resolving Conflict and Building a Better Bond with Your Child.”
In addition, if parents have different academic or behavioral expectations, it can create problems for teens learning self-discipline, good study habits, responsibility and dependability, says Walfish. “This is one of the reasons why parents need to agree on a mutual parenting strategy and implementation,” she says.
Finally, if your teen begins to exhibit signs of anxiety or depression, it’s important to enlist the help of a professional to help him cope with these life changes.