Teens & Divorce: The Rules of Engagement

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The text exchange went like this:

Teenage daughter: “Dad, I’m going to stay home tonight. K?”

Dad: “I’d rather you not. I won’t see you until next weekend.”

Teenage daughter: “That’s not my fault.”

Dad: “You know the divorce has nothing to do with you.”

Teenage daughter: “Then why am I the only one affected by it?”

Divorce does not get easier on kids just because they are older. As adults, we often think teenagers should understand why the divorce happened but often, they are just as hurt and confused as younger children. It’s important to understand how your divorce impacts your teenager and to adjust your expectations and interactions with your teenager accordingly.

1.Do Not Treat Your Teen Like an Adult.

As your teen begs for freedom and independence, you must remember, they are still children. Do not treat them like a confidante and talk about adult issues with them. Do not talk about whether your ex failed to send child support on time or share your latest dating woes with them. Do not ask them to keep secrets from the other parents. In other words, do not overexpose your teen to adult issues.

2.Give Them Some Space.

Remember, your teen really doesn’t want to spend time with either parent, so don’t feel bad when they decide they don’t want to come to your house during your scheduled parenting time. Your court ordered parenting time doesn’t take into account their social life. That doesn’t mean they get to call the shots but that does mean, be mindful of their plans with friends. Teens find comfort in peer relationships so keep this aspect of their life normal. Also, be careful that you don’t make them feel guilty about making other plans. They often just want to see their friends more than anything else.

3.Communicate With Your Ex.

Your teen will hate you for it. But seriously, your job is to keep them safe. Teenagers are a challenge for even the most united parents but stir in parents who do not communicate effectively and your job is even that much more difficult. If she sees the two of you communicating with each other, she will be less likely to manipulate you both successfully, although, I’m sure she will still try. She is still a teenager after all.

4.Do Not Overburden Them with Adult Responsibilities.

In any marriage, partners take on roles. Perhaps one spouse cooks while the other does laundry. Perhaps, one spouse always cut the lawn while the other primarily picked the younger children up from camp. When you separate from your spouse, it is easy to shift those responsibilities onto the oldest child. While, it is perfectly fine to request help with chores be mindful of giving them too many adult “jobs”.

5.Set Consistent Expectations.

The rules should be the same at both houses. This will save a lot of raised voices and foot stomping later on. Examples are:

  • Curfew
  • Phone access/privileges
  • Social media access
  • Study habits
  • Driving rules

Imagine what would happen if parents have two sets of rules in both houses. The “strict” parent will undoubtedly feel slighted as the teen decides to spend more time at the home with fewer rules. Wouldn’t any teen opt for less parental oversight?

On a final note, if you notice that your teen is withdrawing from friends and family, struggling in school, or engaging in risky behaviors, seek professional help immediately.

Attorney Renée C. Bauer is the founder and principal of the Bauer Law Group that specializes in matrimonial law in Hamden, CT. Attorney Bauer was honored as the 2015 Connecticut Law Tribune’s Litigator of the Year. She is the author of Divorce in Connecticut (Addicus Books) and the children’s book, Percy’s Imperfectly Perfect Family (Archway Publishing) both of which can be found at Amazon.

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