1. Be respectful of his/her feelings. Don’t try to minimize the event with logic (“Can’t you see I am happier now?” “Would you really want me back in that situation?” etc.).
2. Don’t defend or “stick up for” the disgraced parent. Don’t try to demean or “downgrade” the idealized parent.
3. Remember for teens, peers and friends are usually more important than parents and siblings. This is developmentally appropriate, even in intact families.
4. Realize everyone grieves differently. Grief lasts as long as it lasts (there is no way to hurry it) and the only way to the “other side” is through.
a) The first stage of grief is denial. “This can’t happen to my family” “They’ll work it out and get back together.”
b) The second stage of grief is bargaining. “If only I didn’t fight with my sister.” “If only Dad would stay home more.” “If only Mom wouldn’t nag so much.”
c) The third stage of grief is anger. Anger and frustration may be targeted toward family members, friends, or even oneself.
d) The fourth stage of grief is sadness. Many times teens hide their sadness and discouragement. Sometimes they share it only with close friends. Isolation and wanting to be alone when very sad is common.
e) The fifth stage of grief is acceptance. Even though no one may ever understand all the reasons “why” the divorce occurred, acceptance means that the teen releases the parent from “owing” him/her a debt due to the divorce. They have some ability to find serenity and look at the positive and understand the divorce is not their fault and they could not have prevented it.
5. These stages are not necessarily in this order and many times teens slip back and forth between stages before ultimate resolution is obtained.
6. Teens may be frustrated with the financial issues around divorce, especially in the areas it directly affects them. Make sure time is given for them to express their concerns, priorities, and frustrations. Encourage them to think of solutions to get the things they most want. This is a time to teach respect, tenacity, and ambition.
7. Make sure your teen knows you are physically and emotionally OK. Teenagers can worry about parents’ safety and worry if they are getting enough to eat or if they are lonely. Teens may worry that a parent is not treating an addiction or getting medical help. It is important to not make a teen your emotional peer. Keep friends around you and let your teen know you are being responsible for your daily needs.
8. Do activities together that do not require a lot of face-to-face talking, but provide the opportunity to do so. Such as, hiking, going to the batting cages, working out, fishing, golfing, rollerblading, bicycling, eating out, driving, etc.
9. Support your teenager even if he/she is turning to other adults for comfort and support. It is often easier for a teen to talk to someone outside the family to express real feelings and emotions.
10. Never say anything bad about the other parent to your teenager, no matter how “true” the statement may be. Your son or daughter knows that 50% of them came from that other parent and will feel you are saying half of him/her is not good. You also increase the chances of a teen taking sides with the belittled parent. Teenagers will rescue a parent they see as an underdog. Also, if you express anger and outrage at the other parent, your teen is less likely to tell you things that might upset you about him/her. They will be afraid your anger will then be targeted toward them. Speak respectfully about the other parent in front of, or within earshot of, your teenager.
11. Remind them (even if they pretend they don’t want to hear it) that the divorce is not their fault.
12. Remember that depression and grieving in teenagers can look like hostility, volatility and acting out. Be patient with short fuses and quick tempers. They may be “testing the waters” to see if you will leave them as well. Don’t take outbursts of anger personally.
13. Spend time with supportive friends who also have teenagers. Don’t blame everything that happens on the divorce. Adolescence is a difficult time of life. Be kind to yourself. Remember you are doing the best you can see to do every day and with every decision. And so is your teenager.