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July 27, 2023

How to Tell Your Teenager You're Getting a Divorce

Deciding how to tell your kids about divorce can undoubtedly be one of the most challenging situations you’ll ever encounter as a parent. It’s an emotional, sensitive topic that requires a careful, considered approach. The conversation needs to be structured in a way that suits your teenager’s unique personality and emotional capacity. As parents, we have the opportunity to be the best support system for our teens, well-positioned to understand their individual needs, fears, and expectations. It’s crucial, therefore, to approach this conversation with empathy and understanding, keeping your teen’s feelings and emotional well-being at the forefront of your mind.

This guide is here to assist you in this difficult process, providing useful strategies and advice to help you navigate this critical transition in your family life. It’s essential to remember that every teen will react differently to the news of a divorce, and there’s no one-size-fits-all method to handle this situation. Therefore, it’s important to adapt the guidance provided to your family’s specific circumstances and your teenager’s unique needs. Remember 1 Corinthians 16:14, “Do everything in love.” So approach this conversation and the subsequent changes your family will face with love, compassion, and patience. Your unwavering support and understanding during this challenging period can go a long way toward helping your teen navigate this significant life change.

Know What You Are Going to Say

Before having this conversation, make sure you have a clear understanding of what you want to convey. Be honest and straightforward about the situation, but remember to keep the explanation age-appropriate. As parents, discuss what you will tell your child, so the message is consistent. Keep the focus on the fact that this is a decision between adults and has nothing to do with your child’s actions. For more guidance on navigating this sensitive discussion, check out our Parent’s Guide to Difficult Conversations.

You might not have all the answers, and it’s okay to admit that to your teen; what’s crucial is that you convey your commitment to support them through this change.

Plan a Time and Place

This isn’t a conversation you should rush. Pick a time when you have a clear schedule without any interruptions. Consider your teen’s schedule as well, choosing a time when they won’t be distracted by homework or other commitments. This could be a quiet weekend afternoon or evening. The place should be comfortable and familiar to your child. It might be at home in the living room or a quiet spot in the park where they feel safe. The environment can significantly influence how your child receives and processes the news, so choosing a calm and peaceful setting can help facilitate a more open and constructive conversation. Also, ensure it’s a private space where your teen feels free to express their feelings openly.

Talk to Your Teen Together

If possible, both parents should be present when telling your child about the divorce. This sends a powerful message that, while your marriage is ending, your responsibility and unity as parents remain intact. This helps to show that you are still united when it comes to parenting. Reiterate that the love you both have for your child hasn’t changed and won’t change because of the divorce. Make it clear that your roles as parents will continue and that you’re both committed to their well-being. This allied approach can provide a strong sense of security for your teen, minimizing the feelings of instability that may accompany the news of divorce.

Avoid Arguing

While emotions can run high, it’s crucial to avoid arguing or showing hostility towards each other during this conversation. This is about your child and their feelings, not about your conflicts. If tensions rise, take a moment to compose yourselves before continuing. Take deep breaths, remind yourselves of the purpose of this discussion – your child’s well-being – and then carry on if possible. Remember, your behavior and demeanor during this conversation will set the tone for how your child perceives the divorce, and seeing you handle the situation calmly and respectfully can help them feel more secure.

Don’t Blame Anyone

Refrain from blaming one another for the divorce. Even if one parent is more responsible for the decision, it’s essential not to lay the blame on them. Emphasize that sometimes adults grow apart, and that’s okay. It’s crucial to communicate that relationships are complex, and the end of your marriage doesn’t mean someone is at fault. By demonstrating respect for each other and emphasizing mutual decision-making, you can help your child understand that love and respect can still exist, even in separation.

Tell Them What Will Stay the Same and What Will Change

One of the most anxiety-inducing aspects of divorce for a child is the fear of the unknown. Clearly outline what changes they can expect (like living arrangements or visitation schedules), but also reassure them about the things that will remain the same, such as your love and support for them. Emphasize that their relationship with both parents will not change. You may not have all the answers right away, and that’s okay, but reassure them that any decisions made will be in their best interests. Keep the lines of communication open for any questions or concerns they may have in the future.

Reassure Them

Make sure your teen knows that both parents will continue to love them unconditionally, regardless of the divorce. Reiterate this point as often as necessary. They might need to hear it more than once to fully believe it. As your family navigates this transition, remind them that it’s normal to feel a range of emotions. Remind them that their feelings are valid and important, and ensure they know you’re there to support them through every step of this transition. Offer consistent reassurances of your love and support to help them navigate this significant change.

Give Them Time to Adjust

Adjusting to a divorce takes time. Be patient with your child and understand that they may go through a wide range of emotions. Make sure they know it’s okay to feel upset or confused, and encourage them to express their feelings openly. Our Conversation Kit on Emotion and the Parent’s Guide to Teen Emotion are excellent resources to help navigate these emotional waters. Allow them the space to process the situation at their own pace, and be there to comfort them, listen, and offer reassurance when they need it.

Reach Out For Help if Needed

There’s no shame in reaching out for professional help if your child struggles to cope with the news. Child therapists and counselors are trained to help children navigate difficult situations like these. If you notice signs of severe anxiety or depression, our Parent’s Guide To Depression & Anxiety can provide valuable insights. Divorce is a life-changing event, but it doesn’t define your child’s future, especially if you provide them with the support they need during this critical time.

Divorce can be an incredibly challenging process for everyone involved, and when it comes to your teenager, their understanding and acceptance of the situation are crucial. As you navigate this major life transition, it’s important to approach it with empathy, understanding, and open communication. These elements can help your teen come to terms with the situation while also reassuring them that both parents will continue to provide love, support, and stability. Remember, every conversation and action taken during this period should center around making sure your child feels safe, heard, and loved, regardless of the changes occurring around them.

At the same time, it’s vital to remember that your well-being is equally essential during this period. As a parent, you serve as a pillar of strength and support for your child. If you are not taking care of your emotional health, it may be more challenging to meet your teen’s emotional needs effectively. The process of divorce can be as emotionally taxing on you as it is on your child, and by ensuring that you are mentally and emotionally strong, you can better navigate this trying time. Make use of support networks, such as friends, family, or professional counseling services, to help you through this transition. This way, you can continue to be the strong, supportive parent your teenager needs during this critical time in their life.

In our journey to support and empower parents, we offer an array of articles, guides, and resources tailored to help you navigate the conversations you have with your teen. To stay informed on what’s trending in your teen’s world and receive practical insights right to your inbox, consider signing up for our Culture Translator. It’s a simple step that can make a world of difference, ensuring you’re equipped with the knowledge and tools you need to guide your teen through life’s challenges.

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