Keep the peace. Dealing with divorce is easiest when parents get along. Teens find it especially hard when their parents fight and argue or act with bitterness toward each other. You can't do much to influence how your parents behave during a divorce, but you can ask them to do their best to call a truce to any bickering or unkind things they might be saying about each other. No matter what problems a couple may have faced, as parents they need to handle visiting arrangements peacefully to minimize the stress their kids may feel.
Be fair. Most teens say it's important that parents don't try to get them to "take sides." You need to feel free to relate to one parent without the other parent acting jealous, hurt, or mad. It's unfair for anyone to feel that relating to one parent is being disloyal to the other or that the burden of one parent's happiness is on your shoulders.
When parents find it hard to let go of bitterness or anger, or if they are depressed about the changes brought on by divorce, they can find help from a counselor or therapist who specializes in working with people who are dealing with divorce. This can help parents to get past the pain divorce may have created, to find personal happiness, and to lift any burdens from their kids.
Keep in touch. Going back and forth between two homes can be tough, especially if parents live far apart. It can be a good idea to keep in touch with a parent you see less often because of distance. Even a quick email just to say "I'm thinking of you" helps ease the feelings of missing each other. Making an effort to stay in touch when you're apart can keep both of you up to date on everyday activities and ideas.
Work it out. You may want both parents to come to special events, like games, meets, plays, or recitals. But one parent may find it difficult to attend if the other is present. It helps if parents can figure out a way to make this work, especially because a teen may need to feel the support and presence of both parents even more during divorce. You might be able to come up with an idea for a compromise or solution to this problem and suggest it to both parents.
Talk about the future. Lots of teens whose parents divorce worry that their own plans for the future could be affected. Some are concerned that the costs of divorce (like legal fees and expenses of two households) might mean there will be less money for college or other things.
Pick a good time to tell your parents about your concerns - when there's enough time to sit down with one or both parents to discuss how the divorce will affect you. Don't worry about putting added stress on your parents. It's better to bring your concerns into the open than to keep them to yourself and let worries or resentment build. There are solutions for most problems and counselors who can help teens and their parents find those solutions.
Live your life. Sometimes during a divorce, parents may be so caught up in their own changes it can feel like your own life is on hold. In addition to staying focused on your own plans and dreams, make sure you participate in as many of your normal activities as possible. When things are changing at home, it can really help to keep some things, such as school activities and friends, the same. Take care of yourself, too, by eating right and getting regular exercise - two great stress busters!
Let others support you. Talk about your feelings and reactions to the divorce with someone you trust. If you're feeling down or upset, let your friends and family members support you. These feelings usually pass. If they don't, and if you're feeling depressed or stressed out, or if it's hard to concentrate on your normal activities, let a counselor or therapist help you. There are therapists who specialize in working with teens who are dealing with divorce. Your parents, school counselor, or a doctor or other health professional can help you find one. Also, many communities and schools have support groups for kids and teens whose parents have divorced. It can really help to talk with other people your age who are going through similar experiences.
Bringing Out the Positive
There will be ups and downs in the process, but teens can cope successfully with their parents' divorce and the changes it brings. You may even discover some unexpected positives. Many teens find their parents are actually happier after the divorce or they may develop new and better ways of relating to both parents when they have separate time with each one.
Some teens become more compassionate and kind when a younger brother or sister needs their support and care. Siblings who are closer in age may form tighter bonds, learning to count on each other more because they're facing the challenges of their parents' divorce together. Coping well with divorce also can bring out strength and maturity in teens. They may become more responsible, independent, and thoughtful. Some become better problem solvers, better listeners, or better friends.
Most teens learn - sometimes to their surprise - that they can make it through this difficult situation successfully. Giving it time, letting others support you along the way, and keeping an eye on the good things in your life can make all the difference.Updated and reviewed by: Ken L. Cheyne, MD