Divorce can be difficult for the entire family, but it can be especially hard for teenagers. Not only are they coping with hormones and growing up, but they are also forced to deal with their parents separating. From custody battles to settling in a new home, divorce brings many challenges.
Here are some tips for handling a teen who is acting out after a divorce.
Identify when the behavior started
Some children act out after a divorce, especially when they hit their teens. This may stem from feelings of anger or blame toward one or both parents. Similar to any type of loss, children go through emotional stages of grief after a divorce.
If you can identify when their behavior began, it will be easier to seek help and fix it. Warning signs of problems may show up during the separation process or even earlier, such as when the parents are fighting before seeking a divorce.
Look at your own behavior
Has the divorce left you angry, depressed, and stressed? Are you engaging in reckless or self-destructive behavior like drinking too much or dating inappropriately? Your emotions and actions may be setting the tone that your teen is responding to, so you should look at your own behavior after the divorce.
Teens often respond to what they see and can mimic behaviors. If you are struggling, consider professional help like therapy, so your teen does not copy your actions.
Have a no holds barred conversation with your teen
Teens can be hard to talk to, but you need to understand what is driving their behavior. Allow them the opportunity to express their feelings in an open, honest and non-threatening space. If you cannot get through to your teens, perhaps there is another family member they trust that can step in and talk to them.
Being available and willing to listen is an important part of helping your teen cope with divorce. Sometimes they simply need to talk through their concerns and to feel like you care.
Do not bad-mouth your ex
In the aftermath of divorce, hurt feelings can lead to some disparaging remarks about your ex. Your teens may turn against you if they feel a sense of loyalty to their other parent. Instead, affirm the other parent’s good qualities and try to remain respectful of your ex.
Divorce happens for a reason, so it is important to assess how you should talk about your ex. In abusive or violent situations, you do not want to downplay the actions of your ex. However, you also do not want them to be the main focus.
Also, keep in mind that your teen is not your best friend or confidant. They should not be your sounding board for problems with an ex or current relationship.
Take a closer look at who they have been hanging out with
The reason for the change in a teen’s behavior may have nothing to do with the divorce. Perhaps they have started hanging out with the wrong crowd. Although it may feel like an invasion of privacy, consider installing a tracking app on their phone if they are hiding who they hang out with or are lying about other things.
It is always a good idea before or after a divorce to know your teen’s friends and classmates. You do not want to needlessly interfere in their lives, but you should know who they like and why.
Some teens spend more time interacting with friends online instead of in person. Consider using a program to monitor online activity, including their social media and apps. You can receive alerts about cyberbullying, manage screen time and see the websites your teen visits.
Get professional help
Adolescence is a difficult phase for a young person. When you add divorce to it, the situation can become even more turbulent. If your teen’s behavior worsens, such as they become aggressive, start drinking, taking drugs or commit petty crimes, then enlist the help of a therapist, counselor, or social worker who is trained in juvenile delinquency problems. Look for someone with an educational background in sociology or psychology to help you.
There is no shame in seeking professional help. You do not want to fall into the trap that a parent must be able to fix their child’s problems without outside assistance. Both parents and teens can benefit from individual and group therapy.
Work with your ex on overcoming the problem
Your child still has two parents, and now that your teen is living in two homes, you and your ex need to be on the same page when it comes to parenting. Find out if your teen’s behavior is the same or different with the other parent. Discuss how you can work together to manage the situation.