It is a common misconception that, following divorce, teenagers become more self-sufficient and independent. The real truth is that teens often times appear that way, and their parents see this as license to back off and give them too much space, freedom, and not enough supervision and family time. The real danger is that teens can and will deal with divorce in potentially much more self destructive ways than younger children.
Has your teen...
• isolated herself?
• stopped talking to you altogether?
• developed a "whatever" attitude?
• started skipping school and/or grades are plummeting?
• begun hiding evidence of doing drugs or alcohol?
• does he keep saying "Get the &%$# off my back, Mom?"
• has he pushed or hit someone in the house?
• is he showing signs of stress like: angry outbursts, talking back and swearing?
• is he so angry and so out of control that you are scared of him?
And do you sometimes wonder to yourself that he will turn into an ax murderer?
If this sounds like your son or daughter, you'll want to keep on reading...
What may look like independence on the outside (spending more time alone, needing you less, pushing you away or exhibiting assertive behavior) is often repressed anger waiting to explode. While being exhausted and depleted yourself during and after divorce it may be easier for you to buy into the "myth" that your teen is handling divorce okay and that this somehow will make him or her stronger person.
However, your teen is crying out for your help, supervision, and limits, and needs you now more than ever. If you aren't already, here are a few tips to prevent your teen from going down the path of self-destruction while getting closer as a family and maintaining a healthy positive connection:
1. Take care of yourself by modeling appropriate ways of processing your own feelings. (If you are out of control it is license for your teen to do the same.)
2. Keep meal times, bed times, and family time as routine as before the divorce. The more things are the same, the less frightening this is for teens.
3. Tell your teen that you love him/her and that the divorce is not their fault. Keep checking in with, talking to, and comforting your teen. (You cannot say and do this enough).
4. Bring fun and laughter back into your home. Adopt a kitten or a puppy, so that your teenager can love and nurture something outside of him/her.
5. Encourage your son or daughter to bring friends over to your home so that you can provide supervision and remain involved. (You might even consider putting up a basketball hoop in your driveway!)
Divorce is a huge change for all family members. Just because teens may reassure you that they are okay does not mean that they really are. Take the time to teach your teen responsibility and accountability a little bit at a time. This way you can monitor your teen's progress and know for sure how much s/he is capable of handling.