Why Teens Struggle When Their Parents Get a Divorce

When my ex-husband and I announced we’d be separating, our three kids had three different reactions. Of course they are three different people so that is not really surprising. But I also think that some of the difference in their reactions was due to their different ages. They were, of course, all heartbroken, yes, but it hit my teenager the hardest, I could tell.


Why teens can have a hard time when their parents get a divorce
Teens struggle when their parents get divorced.


After the initial shock of the situation wore off, he returned to his normal self a little bit too quickly. He didn’t want to talk about it. He said it really didn’t affect him and he was fine with the change, but as his mother, I knew better. I could see the signs he was hurting even if he wasn’t able to verbalize what was going on inside his head– I don’t even think he fully understood it.

My kids all reacted differently to news of our divorce

I was warned it might be harder on my teenager that it would be on my 10 and 11-year-old.  A friend told me teens were at a higher risk for anxiety and depression after hearing of their parent’s divorce than tweens or younger kids were.

My son was telling me he was fine, but what was really happening was he was stuffing his feelings. And so, he was trying to show everyone he was fine, but of course it was affecting him– it affects everyone involved. Just because teens are older, more mature, and have a social life that feels more important than their home life, doesn’t mean they aren’t hurting and deeply saddened by what their family is going through.

As hard as my ex-husband and I have worked to make things bearable for our children, they still aren’t okay all of the time. And while I do believe our current situation is better for our family than my ex and I living under the same roof–an unhappy marriage can have harmful effects on children, too, it doesn’t mean I am exempt from watching out for signs they are in distress just because they assure me they are “doing just fine.”

My 14-year-old is struggling the most

And for us, our oldest (who is 14), is struggling the most. It’s evident in his school work, and his overall attitude. My highest priority right now is on my kids, and while the change has not been detrimental to any of them, and they seem happy most of the time, I want to stay on top of it.

It doesn’t matter how old you are, we all wear a mask sometimes and it seems teens do more of that than younger kids in cases like this.

Divorce can have more of an impact on older kids

I spoke with Julia Colangelo, a Licensed Clinical Psychotherapist, about how divorce can affect older kids, and she confirmed what I had heard from a friend was true in some cases: that it can have more of an impact on older kids.

Some of the reasons: “One main effect is that teens or young adults have adjusted to the vision of their family as an ‘intact family’ and when this reality is suddenly or gradually shifted once they have identified as ‘a kid with one home and married parents’ to a ‘young adult with divorced parents’ it can bring up feelings of shame and doubt,” Colangelo says.

Look for signs of distress in your teens

Things to look out for in all your children, but especially older kids, is withdrawal from activities they used to love to do, or from the family. Colangelo says kids might start to avoid family time when they can and that ” with college students, this may manifest in not coming home for holidays or winter/spring breaks because they ‘don’t want to deal.’ Sometimes an over-dependence on the parents and becoming caregivers to one or both parents separately can exacerbate these symptoms of depression and hopelessness,” she says.

Colangelo says the best way for parents to help their children deal with divorce is to communicate with them, and let them know there is help available and offer to let them talk with a therapist or counselor.

She also emphasizes the fact that just because teens and our children in their 20s are older, they still need honesty and reassurance that this situation is not their fault.

Divorce has a big impact on your kids

It’s also important to acknowledge that divorce does have a huge impact on your kids’ lives and it wasn’t in the plan. But you don’t need to over explain, or getting into too many details about why your marriage is ending.

Divorce can lead to so many unknowns, but I was thankful that I had a little bit of insight into how my older child may deal with it–it has helped us tremendously.

The author of this post wishes to remain anonymous.

Read More:

This single working mom needs her children to know thisThis is What a Working Single Mom Needs Her Kids to Understand

Parenting after divorce is full of surprises What Surprised Me About Parenting After My Divorce






About Katie BinghamSmith

Katie Bingham-Smith lives in Maine with her three kids. She is a Staff Writer at Scary Mommy, shoe addict and pays her kids to rub her feet. You can see more of her on Facebook and Instagram .

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