Teens and Divorce: The Effects of Divorce on Youth

teens and divorce

Impact of Divorce on Children, Teenagers, and Young Adults

Teens and divorce can be a difficult combination. Adolescents may struggle to cope with changes to their family dynamic resulting in emotional or behavioral issues. The effects of divorce on teenage sons and daughters include mental health struggles, behavioral issues, and risks to their overall health.

While you navigate this change in your life, it’s important to support your teenager and provide guidance to them so they can deal with the divorce in a healthy way. Despite your best efforts, your children may face challenges that you’re not equipped to help them with. This is why it’s helpful to learn what the effects of divorce on youth are and what you can do to support your child.

Emotional and Psychological Effects of Divorce

Divorce can significantly impact teenagers emotionally and psychologically. This time in a young person’s life is full of development so it’s important to take care of their mental health during this time. The stress of parents getting a divorce can be overwhelming and cause many confusing or uncomfortable feelings.

Some teens may experience deep grief and become depressed. It’s not uncommon for a child of divorce to blame themselves, which lowers their self-esteem and contributes to depression. On the other hand, a kid may become resentful of their parents for getting a divorce and struggle with these feelings of anger and abandonment. These emotional big changes in their life can lead to psychological disorders such as anxiety or depression.

Impact of Divorce on Self-Esteem and Self-Confidence

While their parents work through divorce, their children deal with complicated emotions and may struggle with their self-esteem and self-confidence. They may feel a loss of control over their life which impacts how confident they may feel. The changes in the family dynamics can make a teen feel less secure at home and in the family. This may trigger feelings of worthlessness and self-doubt.

Parents may become preoccupied with the divorce and their own issues, neglecting their child’s emotional needs. A lack of emotional support during this time can make a child feel alone, which not only negatively impacts their self-esteem, but it may also lead to depression.

Effect of Divorce on Academic Performance and Career Goals

The issues of divorce and the changes it requires in a child’s life and home can be a significant distraction. This may impact their academic performance since it may be difficult for them to concentrate in class. Or your child may neglect homework because they’re focused on the new changes at home.

For a teenager with parents going through a divorce, this distraction may cause them to lose focus on college and career goals. They may become too depressed or anxious about their future to care about what they may do after high school. Some may put aside previous goals to pursue a career where they feel they could resolve issues their parents have.

Social Effects of Divorce

Divorce is a significant relationship change for parents as well as their children. Between the issues that cause the divorce and the issues that may come up during the divorce legal process, a child may experience changes in all their close relationships. For example, they may take one parent’s side or have feelings of resentment toward one or both parents. How each child reacts to the divorce can also change their relationship with siblings. If siblings disagree with each other or have a stronger relationship with another parent, this can further isolate a teen from their family.

The changes in their home life can affect friendships and relationships with other adults such as school counselors or coaches. Teens may become closer to other adults in their life who they feel give them support or they may pull away from relationships due to trust issues. Changes in a teen’s mood and behavior may create problems with their friends and cause them to be withdrawn socially.

Effect of Divorce on Teenage Sons and Daughters

It may be more likely to see the behavioral effects of divorce on teenage sons and daughters rather than to notice the psychological effects. Teens who feel angry or upset may act out and have behavioral problems. These behavior issues could be minor such as arguing with siblings, or their feelings may manifest in more serious ways such as substance abuse.

Common Effects

The most common effects of divorce on teens include:

  • Poor performance academically
  • Getting in trouble at school
  • Acting out aggressively
  • Being defiant or non-compliant with adults
  • Feeling depressed and isolating themselves
  • Difficulty getting along with siblings, classmates, and parents
  • Trouble forming and maintaining relationships
  • Experiencing more stress

If your child is struggling in school, you can help by enrolling them in an individualized academic program. This may help them focus more on their learning and set them back on track to succeed.

Risky Behaviors

Unfortunately teens of divorced parents are more likely to engage in risky behaviors. This may be a result of mismanaging their emotions, wanting to act out, or having less supervision with split parents. Teenagers with parents going through a divorce are more likely to have sexual relationships early. This can affect their development as well as have health consequences. Engaging in sexual activity before they’re emotionally prepared can also negatively impact their relationships with peers.

Other risky behaviors you may notice in teens of divorce include substance abuse and suicidal ideation. Depression is a common symptom for children with divorced parents and if untreated this can lead to unhealthy coping mechanisms.

Factors That Contribute to Negative Behavior

You may be able to prevent risky or negative behavior by addressing some factors that contribute to your teen acting out. Common factors that contribute to negative behavior during or after divorce include:

  • Parental conflict
  • Parental absence
  • Economic instability
  • Parents date or remarry
  • Change in living arrangements
  • Emotional instability

How to Help Your Teen During Divorce

Divorce can be difficult for your entire family and despite what issues you may be dealing with, it’s important to support your children through the entire process fully; before and after your divorce. Try to offer them reassurance by verbally showing your support and being present for them. You can also offer reassurance that you support them by explaining the situation between you and your partner and making your teen aware of the changes that may be coming, such as moving and sharing time between you and their other parent.

As far as changes, it can be helpful to stick to your regular routines as much as possible. Since divorce will create significant changes in your child’s life, it may reduce stress for them if they’re able to continue with most of their daily activities. Lastly, make sure you’re listening to your child and addressing any concerns they may have. This will reinforce that you’re there for them. Listening to them talk about the situation can also help you prevent emotional problems they may develop.

What to Look Out For

Mental health issues including depression, anxiety, and substance use disorder are concerns for teens in response to divorce. You can help your teenager by knowing the signs of each so you can get them professional help.

Signs of Depression
  • Persistent sadness or anger
  • Unexplained illnesses such as headaches, stomach pains, or physical discomfort
  • Lack of appetite
  • Weight loss or weight gain
  • Lack of interest in their hobbies
  • Disrupted sleeping patterns
  • Poor academic performance
  • Self-harm or suicidal thoughts
Signs of Anxiety
  • Excessive worrying
  • Avoiding social situations
  • Easily irritated
  • Unexplained headaches, stomach aches, or nausea
  • Having unusually high standards for themselves
  • Experiencing panic attacks
  • Difficulty concentrating
Signs of Substance Use
  • Mood swings
  • Aggression
  • Withdrawal from close relationships
  • Poor academic performance
  • Neglecting personal hygiene
  • Lack of appetite or eating more than usual
  • Physical symptoms such as bloodshot eyes, tremors, or weight loss
  • Being secretive about activities and whereabouts

Mental Health Treatment for Teens at Ironwood

effects of divorce on teenage sons

We understand that it can be difficult to connect with and help your kids deal with the emotions they have relating to a divorce. The effects of divorce on teenage sons and daughters can be difficult to prevent and manage. At our treatment center, we provide professional mental health services that help teens cope with complicated emotions.

Some teens may be hard to reach and trying to help can overwhelm parents who are already struggling. Ironwood Maine has a great program to help teens and young adults with mental health, behavioral, social, and academic challenges. Here your child can receive treatment and thrive.

A residential program, such as ours, provides 24/7 care and support that really makes a difference in teens with mental health, behavioral health, substance use, or co-occurring disorders. We offer a full continuum of care that’s split into two programs. In these programs, teens and young adults learn healthy life skills, engage in regular physical activities, attend therapy, and participate in community projects. They also get to participate in equine-assisted psychotherapy where they can ride and take care of horses. This helps build responsibility, find emotional healing, and learn compassion for others.

Contact us today to find out how our residential program can help your teenager resolve their mental health issues. We offer healing to troubled youth and can help support your child.

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