Being a teenager, or a parent of a teenager, comes with its own set of challenges. It is a transitional period in their life where they are increasingly independent, discovering their own identity and forging friendships all while coping with fluctuating hormones and the stress of exams. Their parents’ separation has the potential to be a particularly challenging time for teenagers but handled properly many cope very well. Some will even tell their parents they had long since picked up on the strain in the relationship and find it easier once a decision has been made and they can speak about it openly. The most important thing for teenagers is to make sure that they feel supported, loved and heard. We’ve outlined below some tips which you may find useful to help ensure that’s the case.
- Talk to them
One of the most important factors is communication. How you approach your discussions with your teen will depend on their age and understanding but try your best to keep them informed about what is happening as best you can. That said, although they may look like they are mature enough to cope with the reality of your separation, they are still your children and so there is a limit on what they need to know. Don’t involve them in any conflict or adult discussions about the reasons for your separation. Instead, keep your discussions forward-looking and focused on them. They will understand more about what is going on than smaller children, so it’s important not to say that everything will stay the same when they know that life will change. Although the set up at home will be different, reassure them repeatedly that they will continue to have two loving parents and that your separation is not their fault.
Think about whether you want to speak to them alone or with your former partner. If doing it separately, it’s a good idea to discuss beforehand how you are going to approach your conversations and what details to share, to avoid your teen getting two different ‘stories’ and feeling confused.
Top tip – if you (or they) find the conversation awkward it can be easier to raise the issue while driving with them in the car. That way it can feel more natural, you don’t have to make direct eye contact and there is an end point when you arrive at the destination.
- Listen to them
It’s important that your teen knows you are there to speak to when they feel ready. They will want to feel like their voice is being heard, but it’s also important that they can share their concerns with you so that you can reassure them. Some teenagers can ask a lot of questions. Let them, and try to answer as honestly as you can. If you don’t know quite know how something will work out then say that, rather than making promises that you can’t keep.
- Present as a united front
If you and your former partner can minimise any conflict and keep your conversations about each other positive, that will help reassure your teen that you are still working together as a team to do what is in their best interests. Teenagers will often ask for details or whose “fault” the separation is. Tempting though it is, the advice from child experts is to avoid engaging in those discussions. It won’t help them come to terms with, and adjust to, your separation. It may only result in a deterioration of your relationship with them and further fracture your relationship with your former partner with whom you are going to have to continue to co-parent, potentially for some time.
- Dealing with their reaction
Teenagers’ behaviour can be unpredictable and coping with their emotions can be challenging for any parent. That is heightened for a parent who is coping with an emotional period themselves. Every teen will be different and so there’s no standard answer for how to deal with their reaction to the news or over the subsequent months. They may feel sad, angry, or anxious about what the future looks like and it’s also not uncommon for there to be periods of silence. You may also see them oscillate between all of these. The best advice is to be patient and allow them to express how they feel when they feel ready, taking those feeling seriously whilst being mindful that how they are feeling may not always be because of your separation, but just life in general.
- Support them
It will take time for your teen to accept the change and to process what it means, just as it took you time. It’s important that you support them as you know how. If they’re finding it difficult talking to you, think about whether there are any other family members or close friends that they can speak to. There are also a number of counselling services which can be an excellent support for teens who find it easier to talk confidentially to an impartial third party, easing any fears about what they say getting back to either parent.
It’s also a good idea to let the school know what is happening at home so that they can be mindful of whether your teen needs a little more support, or patience, than normal. Importantly, it will also allow the school to spot any signs that they are not coping as well as they might and to let you know.
- Look after yourself
Whilst all of this is happening, it’s also important to take care of yourself and to make sure you have the right support network around you. If you are feeling more in control, then that will feed through and help your teen feel more at ease about the new road ahead.
If you would like to discuss any of the above points further, please do not hesitate to get in touch.