Are you unsure on how to best express to your teen that you and your spouse are getting a divorce? Is your teen aware of the divorce but is having a difficult time recovering? To help understand what your teen is experiencing and how you can help your teen deal with the divorce, I have interviewed therapist Marie-Christine Busque LCSW.
Tell me a little bit about yourself.
“I am a clinical social worker with over two decades of counseling experience. I am a member of a team of psychotherapists at the Entelechy Wellness Center. We have offices in San Francisco and in Palo Alto, California. I specialize in working with children and adolescents dealing with a wide range of struggles such as depressions, anxiety, and behavioral and learning problems. I also work extensively with families to help with parenting concerns, discipline, and communication. I use a supportive and collaborative approach to help families tap into existing strengths to encourage the development of trust, create healthy dynamics, and foster improved relationships.”
What’s the best way to tell a teen that a divorce will be taking place?
“It is always a difficult prospect to tell a child that a divorce will be taking place, no matter the age of the child. Parents often feel sad, guilty, and sometimes angry. Parents also have their own grieving process to go through. Still, teenagers, like younger children, will do best if parents can come together to tell a common narrative about what happened. Ideally, parents would tell the teen together, avoiding the details of what went wrong and reassuring the teen that every effort was made to fix problems, that the divorce is the last resort, and that the teen can count on the love and support of both parents.”
“Though some teenagers can handle more information than younger children, they still will need reassurance about what will and will not change in their lives. Teenagers are likely to have powerful opinions about the news, and may ask pointed questions about details concerning issues such as finances and just what went wrong. Parents should be prepared to answer these potential questions in a reassuring manner.”
What type of impact can divorce have on a teen’s overall life?
“The impact of divorce is never negligible, and can differ significantly depending on the circumstances. Many teens are initially angry and sometimes highly critical of their parents’ decisions. Some may resort to high risk behaviors to express their anger (substance use, delinquency, promiscuity). Other teens may feel rejected, become depressed and withdraw from their parents or friends, or try to punish one parent by taking sides with the other. Finally, some teens, particularly younger ones, may show regressive behaviors or try to behave particularly well in the hopes of repairing the parental relationship. Teens whose parents exhibit a lot of conflict have the most difficulties.”
What can the parents do to help their teen deal with divorce?
“Many adolescents can weather the storm and ultimately have good relationships with their parents, and appear much like teens from intact families. Most importantly, high levels of cooperation between the parents will lead to the best outcomes. Teens who live in a shared custody situation tend to do best, particularly if the two households are managed similarly with the same rules and expectations for the teen.”
“Teens need to be able to continue to enjoy the things that were important to them before the divorce, such as sports, school activities, dating, and work. It can work very well to include the teen in planning, giving them a sense of control over the situation while maintaining some basic requirements, such as incorporating family time with each parent as well as personal activities. Maintaining old routines as much as possible is also very helpful.”
“Most teens benefit from having someone to talk to even if they are not experiencing severe difficulties. Having a strong network of trusted people is one way of providing that support. Teens who have access to extended family, friends and community members who are encouraging and understanding tend to do better. Parents should provide a safe place to express feelings, and seek counseling for their teen if signs of trouble emerge. Teens who fall in a depression, have suicidal ideation, or start using substances need the help of a qualified therapist.”
“Finally, parents should make sure to have strong sources of personal support for themselves. It is important not to rely on the teen for emotional support. The teen should not be the parent’s confidante, and parents who are experiencing ongoing emotional struggles should seek professional support in order to ensure the best possible outcome for their teenage child.”
Thank you Marie for doing the interview on how a parent can help their teen deal with divorce. For more information on Marie-Christine Busque, including her contact information, check out her website: www.entelechywellness.com.
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