Parenting a teenager is often compared to parenting a 3-year-old. The teenager is revisiting a stage of development where they are naturally seeking greater independence, but instead of heading towards a hot stove, they may be heading towards a hot date, drugs, alcohol or other things that cause parents to worry. Thus, while parents seek to facilitate independence, they still need to have enough of a relationship to have some sense as to their kids’ whereabouts and activities.
Divorce, however is distracting and as such, the parents may lose sight of their teens as they manage their own concerns. This leaves teens with less supervision, and depending on family life leading to the separation, their view of the separation, and their unique coping strategies coupled with their personalities, some teens may turn to inappropriate strategies to cope.
Warning signs that your teen may be affected by the parental situation include: the teen commenting upon it; withdrawal; agitation and confrontational behaviour; violent behaviour; decline in grades; change in friends; drug or alcohol use; staying away from home; no longer bringing friends to the home; increased use of screen time; increased sexual activity.
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While parents may think their teen may benefit from counselling, rarely do teens see counselling for themselves as an option. In fairness to the teen, they may hold the view that they do not have a problem, but rather, the parents have a problem. To a great extent, this may be true.
Rather than forcing a teen to counselling, parents should consider going themselves. It is likely the parental conflict that is creating the teen’s distress. The teen going to counselling, if they did, would still do nothing to address their source of distress (their parents). Assuming the parents go to counselling, they can learn how to resolve or manage their separation more civilly.
Counselling for the parents need not be directed towards their reconciliation, but peaceful separation. In counselling, the parents can also learn strategies to better support their teen.
To further support the teen, it is reasonable to give them a voice in the outcomes that affect them, considering their age. It should be noted though that having a voice doesn’t necessarily mean they have a choice, and the outcome is still subject to parental approval. To the degree to which the parents manage their conflict, are appreciative of the impact the separation will have on the teen, and allow for the teen to be heard, the parents can facilitate a better adjustment for the teen.