Kids listening carefully to their parents.
Written by Craig Cherney

How to talk to teens and pre-teens about divorce

There will be many difficult conversations during divorce; possibly the most worrisome discussion takes place the day you speak with your children about the divorce. There are good guidelines for sharing the news about an impending divorce with your youngsters. When you talk to teens and pre-teens about divorce, don’t assume anything.

Schedule the Talk with Teens and Pre-Teens About Divorce

You can’t assume your kids already know about the divorce and you also can’t assume they are clueless. When you and your partner are prepared for “the talk,” make an appointment with your kids. This gives you added time to prepare, and it also gives your children a heads-up. They knew something was going on, and they heard your hushed conversations and Mom crying at night.

The talk makes it real.

Age is Not Just a Number

Developmentally, your 10-year old may be a pre-teen. Or your 16-year-old could be socially challenged and immature. The emotional and physical development of each child has its own agenda, and conscientious parents can adjust the conversation as needed. When you talk to teens and pre-teens about divorce, let them know your divorce doesn’t change your family. Divorce changes how your family will live. Most importantly, while reinforcing your respect for each other, don’t give them false hope that you and your spouse may reconcile.

If it feels like a slippery slope, that’s because it is. Here are some general age group guidelines for your talk to teens and pre-teens about divorce.

Pre-Teens: 9-12 Years

Children this age have “rigid moral views,” says clinical psychologist Deanna Conklin-Danao. There is a wide range of behaviors in this age group and most are an effort to stop this frightening change. Be prepared for your judgmental pre-teen to throw a tantrum or shut you down with silence.

No matter how bad it’s been at home, the finality of divorce can shatter their world. Their responses may be:

  • Frustration, anger: “Why can’t you just suck it up and stay together?”
  • Guilt: “I can be better, I promise.”
  • Manipulative: “Okay, I want to live with Dad because this is YOUR fault.”
  • Withdrawal: “I’m going over to Henry’s house.”

Teens: 13-17 Years

As if raising a teenager wasn’t hard enough, a divorce can trigger unexpected, even risky behavior from your teen. You may have difficulty separating “normal” teen angst from divorce-motivated behavior. Because of its very nature of respect for each other, a collaborative divorce sets a better stage for dealing with this age group.

Remember, it’s not what they say as much as what they do, and they’re watching you both for cues. You should watch for:

  • Challenges – Not telling you where she is; not responding to your phone calls and texts are ways a teen might express anger.
  • Physical problems – Your son or daughter could have loss of appetite, sleep problems, or binge eat.
  • Problems at school – You may want to give a heads-up to one or more teachers. Ask them to communicate with you if your teen has schoolwork or social problems, but stress sensitivity about the situation at home.
  • Risky behavior – Closely monitor friends and grades for changes. Your teen may exhibit promiscuous, problematic (shoplifting/graffiti), or even dangerous (drugs/alcohol) behavior.
  • Withdrawal – Keep routines front and center, no matter how your teen tries to sabotage them by shutting himself off from family (lengthy periods in her/his bedroom. She may defy family rules by spending more time online or gaming with friends.

Collaborative Divorce and Your Family

Collaborative divorce, vs. in-court litigation, is a better way to cope with an emotional time for parents. Your concerns about how, when, and what to say to your children about your divorce are justified, and help is available. Together, you and your partner can learn ways to cope with professional communication coaching. Call or contact a collaborative divorce professional at Best Legal Choices.