June 06, 2017 —

Co-parenting teens can present some unique challenges. As a parent to three girls soon entering their teens, I worry about whether I will be able to give them all the guidance they need to become self-confident, independent women. For 320 days a year, I try to parent selflessly and place them at the center of my world, while the remaining 44 days a year, they are with their dad whose parenting (and lifestyle) is very different than mine.  

My daughters ask me many of the same questions I have to answer as a high school teacher. Students come to me with fear and confusion because their lives are changing so much at the hands of their parents, and they feel like they have no control. I often ask myself how I can create a soft place for them to land when I have no control over what they’re going through outside my classroom.

When my kids, be it my daughters or my students, aren’t with me I want them to have the tools needed to navigate through any situation and still feel a sense of safety and control. Here are some things parents can do to help their teen through divorce:

Be their safe place

You can’t talk to your kids about everything, but you should establish an open line of communication that involves listening and validating their concerns. Remember to talk with them is about their feelings, not yours. And you shouldn’t feel like you have to tell them all the gory details of the divorce. Just focus on facts and reassure them that it’s not their fault.

  • Don’t bash the other parent, it could backfire and your teen could end up resenting you.
  • Don’t use what your child has told you against the other parent (unless it’s illegal). 
  • Do things together that provide opportunities for you to check in and talk.  
  • Remind them often that you are there for them and that they are loved.

Provide Resources 

When parents divorce, children go through a grieving process much like that of death. Parents must be sensitive to how their actions are impacting their kids and vigilant in making sure they are properly coping with these life changes. Teens with no safe place could cope by using drugs, alcohol or engaging in risky sexual behaviors.  

  • If your teen won’t talk to you, don’t be offended. He/she may just be worried about putting more of a burden on you.
  • Instead, ask for their input. Who do they feel the most comfortable talking with? Is it a family member, trusted friend, teacher or counselor? Once you know, you can arrange it.
  • If they still refuse to talk about it, create a circle of trusted people who will help you check in on your teen and make sure he/she is properly coping with this life change.
  • If you have a quiet child, books can be a great resource for teens looking to identify with characters who have faced obstacles and overcome them. Just make sure you talk about the book together and make any necessary connections.

Be Proactive 

When two parents are in the midst of divorce they can create a path of destruction that not only breaks apart the home, but their kid’s sense of security. In hearing my student’s stories of divorce, I know how lucky I am that my children were small. My girls were not seeking independence or desperately trying to find their place in this world. They depended on me and trusted me entirely. Teens are much more skeptical and their parents have a lot more obstacles when helping them through divorce.

Divorce can create many insecurities in a teen’s world:  

  • Who will they live with? Will they have to move away from friends?  
  • Will they ever see the other parent again? If so, how often?  
  • Will they have two houses? A future step mom/dad? Step siblings?  
  • Will the other parent eventually love their new family more? 
  • Teens may blame themselves for the break up and/or may feel unwanted or discarded.

This type of insecurity at a time when they’re trying to discover who they are can be damaging if a parent isn’t proactive in helping them through it.

  • Answer all their questions and check in often.
  • Allow them to have input on decisions that affect them.
  • Make sure they know how important they are to you and, if at all possible, make sure the other parent reassures them as well.

Work Together

When the dust settles, you have to find a way to co-parent and this starts with communication.  Make agreements and share parenting plans, keeping in mind that changes will be needed. If parents aren’t talking, teens could use their parent’s disconnect as a way to manipulate the rules and find themselves in trouble. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard my high school kids talk about what they can get away with when they’re at one parent’s house over the other.  

Here are some ways you need to work together:

  • Maintain similar curfews and routines.
  • Discuss driving privileges, including getting to and from work.  
  • Ensure that dating rules are consistent among both parents.
  • Establish consistent rules about body alterations (piercings, tattoos, dying/cutting hair).  
  • Be on the same page with regard to academic expectations (discipline/grades, college, etc.).
  • Establish rules for acceptable electronic use, including social media accounts and time spent online.

Finally, parents going through a divorce should seek help for themselves. There is no shame in counseling. Without it (a lot of it), I would not have been able to maintain my strength through the divorce. Remember to take care of yourself, so you can be the best parent possible.

Lisa Simmerman is an expertly flawed mother of three girls, ages 12, 11 and 8.  She is originally from Pittsburgh, PA but currently lives in Palm Harbor, Florida with her three girls and husband of two years. Formally an English/Journalism teacher, Lisa now advocates for human rights through her writing, published on the website expertlyflawed.com. She is especially passionate about education, women’s rights and health/wellness. Her #expertlyflawed life can also be found on YouTube, Facebook and Twitter.