Helping Children Survive Divorce: The Myth of the Mature Teen

by Norris Law Group on November 18, 2013

Helping Children Survive Divorce: The Myth of the Mature TeenIn his series of blogs on the Psychology Today website entitled The New Grief, Joseph Nowinski, Ph.D. includes an entry focused on Helping Children Survive Divorce: The Myth of the Mature Teen. Dr. Nowinski directly addresses what he calls the “myth” that adolescents are somehow better equipped to handle divorce better than younger children. Instead, he contends that “divorce represents a major crisis for children of any age – including fully grown, adult children,” and that while adolescents can certainly deal with divorce without suffering lasting “scars,” parents should let go of the “myth” that teenagers somehow handle divorce “better.”

Dr. Nowinski suggests that adolescents are primarily concerned with the development of their identity, which he describes as an adolescent’s:

  • private sense of [one’s] abilities, talents, and interests,
  • private sense of [one’s] weaknesses and flaws,
  • the sense of where [one] fit[s] in on the social totem pole, and
  • ideas about what [one] stand[s] for: what [one’s] values and ideals are.

He goes on to recommend that parents should “not be fooled by the game face that…teens put on every day,” and reminds parents that teens are volatile “works in progress” and that parents may be able to minimize the impact of divorce on teens through one or more of the following:

  • Expect anger. Don’t assume that teens are more “mature” than they actually are and will not object to your decision to divorce.
  • Avoid having to change schools if at all possible, as a teen’s established peer group plays a major role in a teen’s developing sense of identity. Do not think that teens are already “grown up” and can easily handle change. If schools must change, try to preserve your teen’s former peer group.
  • Be honest about financial issues. Do not assume that teens do not need to know about how divorce might affect their future options, for college, jobs/careers, etc.
  • Allow teens to make decisions about how they will divide their time between homes after you and your spouse separate. Do not rely on arbitrary legal guidelines which might be better applied to how younger children will divide their time.
  • Offer your teen the chance to talk with a counselor of his or her choice. Your teen may even have some peers whose parents have divorced and who may have seen a counselor.

Attorney Graham Norris and his associates at the Norris Law Group serve the residents of Utah County and throughout Utah in the area of divorce. Contact them today at 801-932-1238 or online for a free consultation.

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