Helping your teen through your separation


In Australia, almost half (47.3%) of all divorces in 2018 involved children(^) and a significant proportion are separating with teenagers in the family. Raising a teenage child is fraught with challenges: They are already navigating peer pressures and conflict, hormonal mood swings and asserting their authority and independence. Coupling a separation to the teenage shifts, can become an incredibly trying time for parents and children alike. Rachael Scharrer, Separation Strategist, Life Change Counsellor and LawTech founder, says “understanding what your child is likely to be experiencing in their teenage years, what you can do to best support your child during your divorce and what to avoid with your teenager can smooth the transition from two parents in one home to two parents in two homes.”


Parents need to understand that divorcing with a child in the teen years presents some unique challenges. Being aware of these issues can help you to normalise what they are going through and offer greater tolerance and patience.

Your teen’s cognitive development is still underway. Over time as your tween becomes a young adult, their brain is continuing to develop until they are around 25 years of age. As such, the rationality and reasoning part of their brain continues to mature. Even though your child may appear to be more grown-up and adult like, they are still your child and you need to protect and nurture them.

Insecurities becomes amplified. During the teenage years, your child will want to asset their control and independence. However, when the parents are distracted and self-consumed with their own divorce, the teen can feel less secure and more alone. Making regular efforts to connect and communicate becomes an essential part of the teen family divorce.

It’s all about them and their friends. It’s a selfish time in their lives when they want to be able to hang out with their friends rather than with their family or parents. It’s helpful to be understanding (it’s only a phase after all) and negotiate time for them to spend with their friends as well as you. You could try “How about we have lunch together and then you can spend the afternoon with your friends?” or “I get that you want to hang with your friends at the shopping centre. When you have finished, I would really appreciate you spending two hours with me. What would you like to do in our time together?”

Your child will want to create independence from you, which is certainly age appropriate. Give them some space while reassuring them that they have you available to be their base anytime they need.

Furthermore, your teenager may justify the divorce by blaming themselves. Reinforcing that the divorce was an adult decision due to circumstances between the parents becomes essential for your teen to lighten or remove any guilt that they may have associated with the break-up.

Your teen won’t like the financial changes. When you break-up, it is likely that your financial circumstances have changed for the worse and you have much less disposable income. Your teen will still want to have the same money available to them, be able to keep up with their friends and it is possible that your teenager may become resentful and angry that their lifestyle isn’t the same as it used to be.

Your teen’s behaviour will change. All hormonal teenager’s behaviour changes throughout their adolescence, regardless of whether their parents separated or not. However, some research shows that teenagers of divorcing parents can:

• Become more critical of their parents and their parents’ choices

• Become more aggressive and argumentative

• Become more anxious

• Become withdrawn or depressed

• Experience disruptive behaviour at high school, including truancy, acting out in class, lower academic performance, poor diligence with school work and possibly to the extent of higher school drop-out rates

• Are more sexually active at an earlier age

• Are likely to be more experimental with drugs, open to binge drinking, and have higher rates of drug and alcohol addiction

It’s been a long time since you were a teenager – sometimes you may not remember it being such a confronting time in your life. Reminding yourself of what your teen is going through and trying to see things from their perspective can assist in you managing your own expectations and how you can better support your teenager.


Here are 8 tips to help your child through their teenage years and your divorce process.

  1. Build self-esteem. Be positive and uplifting of your teenager. Encouraging them to embrace their strengths and passions also helps to build their self-confidence as well as their self-esteem.
  2. Show your emotions. It’s ok to express sadness and grief at the end of the relationship. You can encourage your child to express their emotions and channel their energy in productive ways.
  3. Allow your child to grieve. Just as you are processing your feelings and emotions from your break-up, your child will also be grieving the end of the family unit as they knew it. Give them the space to feel and express their emotions. Help your child to accept their feelings as normal by validating what they feel.
  4. Be truthful with your teen without oversharing. You child doesn’t need to know everything and every detail about why your relationship failed and your current frustrations with their other parent. Your teen will be inquisitive and you still need to protect them from any conflict.
  5. Continue and maintain the usual routines. Even though your relationship is ending, your child’s life has to continue. Maintaining the usual school, sport and cultural activities offers stability and a constant in a changing time.
  6. Create a united front with your child’s other parent. Where possible, put your teen’s needs first and work with the other parent to be on the same page throughout your separation. Ideally you will back the other parent and they will back you up too. This will limit what your teen thinks they will be able to ‘get away with’ or their attempts to ‘divide and conquer’ their parents.
  7. Remind your child that you are there for them. Your child needs both parents to continually reinforce that they are there to support their teen and that they love them, no matter what is happening during the separation.
  8. Utilise professional support. Sometimes it is helpful for your teen to talk to an unbiased, independent professional where they can have a confidential conversation. The therapist can offer techniques and strategies to help the teenage cope with life and home challenges. The therapist can also offer support during a challenging part in their life.

No one and nothing are perfect. All you can do is your best with the information and resources that you have available to you. By remaining focused on your teenager and understanding of their challenges and needs, you can help them through the process with a greater sense of security and certainty.


Parents can become self-absorbed when going through an emotionally intense and uncertain time. Often, they forget that they aren’t the only ones going through the process. In an attempt to ease their pain, parents often fail in five key areas when raising their teenager through their own divorce process.

These five fails can include:

  1. Expecting your teen to want to spend time with you. It’s the adult’s responsibility to go out of their way to make contact with the teenager, and not expect a gracious response.
  2. Thinking that it’s ok for your teen to parent you. You are the adult and you have to step up. Too often, teenagers have to step up and take on additional responsibility of younger siblings because the parents are having a difficult time emotionally or financially. Your teenager may start cooking dinner, making school lunches and getting younger siblings off to school. If you are holding onto a crutch (like alcohol or prescriptions and pills) your teenager may start telling you off and becoming directive and hostile towards you.
  3. Using your teen as your therapist. They aren’t your therapist or your friend. Find the right people to vent and download on. Your teen is still your child and they should be protected from your mental and emotional processing.
  4. Denigrating your child’s other parent. Your child is half you and half the other parent. Speaking badly of the other parent is essentially speaking poorly about half of your child. While you may get a short-term win with distancing the other parent from your child by denigrating their other parent, in the long-term, you may end up damaging your relationship with your child.
  5. Using your teen as a messenger or as a pawn. Teenagers are just children. They aren’t adults. So, as you are strongly discouraged from using your young child to get information or pass messages between you and your child’s other parent, don’t use your teenager. If you are considering to withhold your child, manipulate their perspective or encourage your child to be distant from their other parent in an attempt to hurt the other parent, you may find that it back-fires on you – it may not happen straight away, but it will happen.


There is a song that says “the first cut is the deepest” and that is similar to your separation. The outset is the hardest, most challenging and confronting time of your separation. You and your child need time to adjust to the changes in home, finances and lifestyle while having some time emotionally process the separation. Overtime, you and your teenager will adjust, you will find your new rhythms and, if you try your hardest to help your child transition through adolescence and divorce, your separation will just be a small bump in the road.


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This is general advice only and is not provided as legal advice. If you have a legal issue, you should contact a lawyer and/or accountant before making a decision about what to do or applying to the Court. cannot provide legal advice. If you have an emergency situation, please contact Emergency '000'. © Divorce Pty Ltd