The Impact of Parental Separation on Teenagers
What can be harmful for teenagers?
Research tells us that the factors that put teenagers most at risk of harm are:
- Conflict between parents before, during and/or after separation
Arguments and tension between parents affect teenagers deeply, leaving them anxious, aggressive or withdrawn, and more likely to develop emotional and behavioural problems.
- Repeated disruptions to their lives
This means having to move homes, change schools and lose contact with family members or friends. This might result from several family changes, such as the breakdown of two or more parental relationships and/or adjusting to more than one new step-parent.
- Feeling their life is out of control
This happens when teenagers don’t receive adequate explanations or reassurances from parents about the separation or are not involved in decisions that affect them. This can leave them anxious, fearful and confused.
- Feeling alone or ‘different’
This can result from teenagers being isolated and without support inside or outside the family.
Will the separation affect my teenager at school?
It can be very difficult for teenagers to apply themselves to classes, study or homework when there is upheaval in their life, particularly in the early stages. They might also have extra responsibilities at home before or after school.
- Although your teenager might want to keep your family situation private, it is better to let their school know. Most teachers and guidance counsellors usually understand how difficult family separation is for students.
- Talk it over with your child. Ask them if they would like to be involved. Decide who is the best person at school to talk to
When Teenagers are Let Down by a Parent
How can I support my teenage child when my former partner repeatedly misses visits or no longer stays in contact?
If this is happening in your family, it is a difficult and painful situation for your son or daughter. They may experience feelings such as loss, guilt and self-blame, sadness and anger. In order to help your teenage child to cope it is important to:
- Continually reassure them that it is not their fault and that nothing they ever said or did caused this situation to happen.
- Reassure your teenage child that they still have a family. One parent may be gone, or may miss visits, but you are there for them every day. Other family members and trusted friends in your son or daughter’s life can also provide much-needed comfort and understanding
- In situations when there is no contact with the non-resident parent, ensure that your teenage child has as much information as possible about their parent (e.g. photographs and keepsakes). Suggest that they write down happy memories of their parent in a diary or journal.
- Encourage contact with your former partner’s wider family, if this is possible and in your teenage child’s best interests.
It’s hurtful to my teenager when my former partner’s relatives take sides or criticise me. What can I do?
Talk to your teenager about it. Let them know that everyone in a family deals with separation differently. Grandparents, aunts, uncles and cousins will all have feelings and opinions about it. But these are their opinions, and it’s okay not to share them.
Try talking to your former partner, or the relative in question, about how this behaviour is making your teenager feel. It’s possible that they might not have realised how their behaviour was affecting your child.
‘this information is taken from the Parenting Positively series, a series of booklets by Barnardos that provides information and guidance to parents of children between the ages of 6 and 12. The aim is to help to create a positive, loving and supportive relationship between you and your child. Please see www.barnardos.ie for further details’