This page focuses on what adolescents (age 13-20) go through when their parents divorce. Teenagers are old enough to understand much more about the divorce between their parents than younger children. It is surprising, however, how little they know about the real reason for their parents’ divorce. Adolescents feel the same range of emotions as younger children do, but there are some responses that seem peculiar to their age group.
Adolescents are more likely to question marriage, and more likely to swear that they will never marry for fear their marriage will be a “fail” the way their parents’ marriage has failed. To the extent this slows down a teenager from marrying too soon, it’s probably healthy. I’m aware of no statistical evidence on this, but anecdotally, I’m willing to bet that few adults whose parents divorced when they were adolescents are permanently discouraged from marrying.
Adolescents are more likely to have financial worries than are younger children. This is due in part, of course, to the intense focus on self that comes to full flower during adolescence. Teenagers have things they want to buy, places they want to travel, and experiences they want to savor, and they are understandably focused on making sure their parents can afford them. In addition, however, adolescents are more aware than younger children about the limitations imposed by money. They suspect the divorce may have direct financial ramifications for them, and they’re usually right.
Adolescents are more likely than younger children to find and discuss the faults of their parents. Adolescents do this in the healthiest of families, and it’s normal and appropriate for them to do so; it’s part of the normal disconnecting process. Divorce will exacerbate this tendency, however, to the point where an adolescent whose parents are divorcing may declare one or both of them to be “scum,” or “evil.”
Adolescents are more likely than younger children to take sides in the divorce. They are more likely to seek an explanation (and if they don’t get one to make one up) about which parent is the “bad” parent and which parent is the “good” parent. Teenagers seek clarity, and they’re much more likely than younger children to condemn one of their parents. The most poignant cases of Parental Alienation Syndrome seem to involve teenagers.
Perhaps the most troublesome response of some adolescents to the divorce of their parents is to attempt to fill the role they perceive to be filled in the past by one of their parents. Some parents make this worse by encouraging this kind of behavior as indicating “maturity” on the part of their child.
It’s not mature, and it’s not normal, for a 15-year-old boy to become the “man of the house.” It’s not mature, and it’s not normal, for either parent to confide in a teenager about the issues of the divorce. It’s particularly dangerous and inappropriate for a teenage girl to become the confidant of her father during divorce. In each of these cases, the child may welcome this and even encourage it, because it makes them feel important, valued, and loved. In each of these cases, you may welcome the support out of your loneliness and need. But it’s never appropriate.
Here are some other pages about children here on Divorceinfo.com: