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Gary Direnfeld

Parenting Teenagers During A Separation

While we speak of teens as if they are one big group, in fact, there are remarkable differences across their age group.

The younger teen is often just looking to fit in with their peers. Teens in their middle teen years are beginning to think towards graduation and what may come next. This causes them to be more aware of grades, good or poor. The older teen may be thinking about how they will manage or be supported with one foot out the door.

Seeing their parents separate can add additional stress and uncertainty to a teen’s life. If the separation is fresh, and even if anticipated, it is still typically met with shock and doom.

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Teens will have a greater awareness of the upheaval separation can bring, and the implications for themselves will likely be foremost on their minds. Thus, they may appear angry, frightened, depressed or anxious. Depending on the personality of the teen, how they manage those feelings can differ.

Teens whose parents separated when they were young usually aren’t thrown into that kind of disarray come their adolescence. However, these teens may be quite used to managing on their own and may find their growing interests don’t coincide with their parents, or the schedule between them. By ages 12 to 14, these teens begin asserting their needs and wants which can bring conflict to the parents and the residential schedule.

Parenting and navigating through all this can be tough on parents, too. This all takes place on the preexisting array of relationships. The challenge is finding ways to accommodate, particularly if change means the teen is now less available to one parent.

The challenge is in facilitating the teen’s sense of growing up while remaining connected. It is understandable why this is when many co-parenting relationships break down.

Managing takes considerable patience, communication, understanding and flexibility, more so on the part of the parents.

While many of these changes can feel personal, parents need to look at these changes as perhaps developmentally appropriate. It helps to ask oneself, if we were an intact, two-parent family, would our teen’s issues and wants be any different? How would we have managed then? It is likely that issues arising would have been seen as part of the teen’s development.

The real difference is that the family situation makes it more difficult to move forward. Teens can’t be held back from developing. It is the parents that may have to accommodate.

If stuck, seek help. These matters are rarely solved by the courts. Your lawyer can provide or point you to mediation or counselling to help.

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