Effects of Divorce on Teens

sad teen with moving boxes

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When parents divorce, it is difficult for the whole family. Children have to deal with an upheaval of their lives and get used to the new reality of their day-to-day living. If you're going through a divorce, it's important to know what type of things you may see from your teen.

Teen Problems After Divorce

Roughly 20% to 25% of teens of divorce experience problems stemming from the changes within the family. Here is how your divorce may affect your teens:

  • Academic problems, like poor grades
  • Trouble sleeping
  • Increased stress
  • Sadness or anger at one parent or both
  • Defiance and non-compliance
  • Substance abuse
  • Depression
  • Suicidal ideation and attempts
  • Behavior problems at school
  • Trouble getting along with siblings, peers, and parents
  • Involved in early sexual activity
  • Difficulty forming intimate relationships.

If you are having suicidal thoughts, contact the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255 for support and assistance from a trained counselor. If you or a loved one are in immediate danger, call 911.

How Will Your Teen React to Divorce

The biggest predictor of how teens will do when their parents divorce, is how their parents get along. Work with your partner on developing a co-parenting strategy. 

Talk to your teen together and encourage your teen to share worries, fears, and frustrations. If you aren't certain of the way things will unfold, admit the uncertainty to your teen. If you're putting a house up for sale, or you aren't sure where you are going to move, acknowledge how difficult such uncertainty can be.

Be prepared for increased emotional and behavioral turmoil. Set firm limits and follow through with consequences when necessary. Make it clear to your teen that you're still going to do what it takes to keep her safe and help her make healthy choices. 

Be Present as Your Teen Deals with the Divorce

Although divorce will be tough for you and everyone else in the family, do your best to be present with your teen. That means talking, monitoring, and showing genuine interest in your teen's activities. It's important for your teen to feel close to you as you go through a rough time.

Even if the divorce is amicable, your teen will grieve the loss of your family life together. Expect to see your teen experience a wide variety of emotions, ranging from anger to sadness. Let her know that it's healthy to experience those feelings, but make it clear that it's important to express those feelings in a healthy manner.

If your teen exhibits behavior problems or she's experiencing changes to her mood, seek professional help. She may benefit from talking to a mental health professional about the changes she's enduring. Sometimes, just a few therapy sessions can be instrumental in helping a teen sort out her feelings over a big issue like divorce.

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Article Sources
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  1. D'Onofrio B, Emery R. Parental divorce or separation and children's mental healthWorld Psychiatry. 2019;18(1):100–101. doi:10.1002/wps.20590

Additional Reading
  • Patten, Peggy. (1999). Divorce and Children Part I: An Interview with Robert Hughes, Jr., Ph.D. ParentNews.