How Dads Can Help Teenagers Cope with Divorce

While it might be difficult for most to believe, let alone accept, few marriages last forever. And conjecture this is not; it is a reality substantiated by multiple studies. One of those studies was not too long ago published by Forbes, an international media company focusing on business, investing, technology, entrepreneurship, leadership, and lifestyle. In that study, researchers revealed that nearly 690,000 marriages ended in divorce in 2021. While this might cause some people to lose hope in the institute of marriage, divorce rates have been trending downward since reaching more than 944,000 in 2000.

Also, some people are lucky enough to find love after a failed marriage. The same study data from Forbes notes 64% and 52% of men and women remarry after getting divorced, respectively. Indeed, more than half of men and women rebound and find happiness after divorce. But the same can’t always be said for children of divorced parents. That’s according to a plurality of studies that have evaluated the psychological effects of divorce on children, particularly teenagers.

How Divorce Impacts the Physical and Mental Health of Teenagers:

Although they might not always vocalize how they feel, teenagers can usually tell when something is off with their parent’s relationship. After a while, it gets to the point where it is next to impossible to conceal the arguing, crying, and lack of affection between two people that were once each other’s world. These changes can take a tremendous toll on teenagers still trying to figure out their lives and learning to deal with life’s unexpected curve balls.

marriage decree cut in half - divorce - graphic

According to the National Institutes of Health, conflicts between divorced parents can significantly increase the risk of psychological distress, depression, suicidal ideation, and suicide attempts. Similar findings were reached in other studies, all of which found teenagers of divorced parents are more likely to suffer from eating disorders, anxiety, and a wide range of psychosomatic symptoms that can even affect their physical health. Some of those symptoms can include the following:

• Fatigue
• Insomnia
• General aches and pain
• Hypertension
• Shortness of breath
• Indigestion
• Headaches and migraines
• Erectile dysfunction (ED) in males
• Skin rash
• Peptic ulcers

Besides mental and physical health issues, some teenagers develop behavioral problems after their parents get divorced. The most common ones include increased irritability, aggressiveness, and sexual promiscuity. But it does not end there, sadly. According to a study published in the Journal of the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry (JAACP), it is common for teenagers of divorced parents to suffer from low self-esteem and even turn to drugs and alcohol to cope with their feelings.

The study further noted that the emotional and psychological trauma of witnessing their parents go through a divorce follows teens well into adulthood, with some continuing to deal with sadness and haunting memories of their parents’ failed marriage for at least ten years following the divorce. All in all, teenagers will have a rough time dealing with the breakup of their once-happy family in the short and long term. Fortunately, there are things parents, especially fathers, can do to help their teenage children cope with such trying times.

Studies Show Women Are More Likely Than Men To Initiate Divorce.

Women initiate an estimated 70% of all divorces in the United States. That’s not to point fingers or play the blame game. It is about explaining why more men are helping their teenage sons and daughters make sense of what is happening to the family when a marriage goes south. To understand why women initiate divorce at a higher rate than men, it helps to look at another study from the National Institutes of Health. In that study, researchers revealed the following are the top reasons why women file for divorce:

• Boredom
• Constant arguing
• Physical or verbal abuse
• Financial problems
• Getting married too young
• Infidelity
• Lack of commitment
• Lack of intimacy
• Poor communication
• Substance abuse

Women Gain Less Emotional Benefits From Being Married Than Men.

Along with the previously mentioned go-to reasons women cite for choosing to divorce their husbands, many women are not emotionally fulfilled in their marriage, according to Gilza Fort-Martinez, a Florida-based licensed couples’ therapist well-versed in conflict resolution. For this reason, many women find single life extremely appealing after they’ve been married for several years or, in some cases, a few months.

Sometimes, that yearning for single life leads to infidelity, and sometimes, it leads to women filing for divorce. Often, attention from other men helps some women feel recharged emotionally, not to mention more desirable. These two things have an uncanny knack of falling by the wayside after women have been married for a while.

How Dads Can Help Teenagers Cope With Divorce:

Having established the toll a divorce can take on teenagers and how women initiate the vast majority of divorces, let’s discuss how dads can help their kids cope with this unfortunate change in the family dynamic. After all, more and more dads are getting custody of their kids following a divorce. That’s according to the U.S. Census Bureau, which found that fathers made up 20% of custodial parents in 2018, up from 16% in 1994; that means dads can spend more time with their kids, which results in them feeling less alone and less likely to act out or engage in self-destructive behavior. It’s also worth noting, according to some divorce attorneys, that there is no evidence to suggest that courts show bias to women during a divorce.

teenager riding skateboard against the setting sun

The first thing dads should do is establish open lines of communication; doing so allows teenagers to feel comfortable asking questions and asking for help as they try to work through any negative feelings they might be experiencing. Additionally, dads can employ some of the following tips frequently recommended by child psychologists to help teens get adjusted to a new life that doesn’t include having both parents under the same roof

• Allow teens the opportunity to weigh in on decisions that involve them directly.
• Encourage teens to continue participating in their extracurricular activities.
• Remain consistent when it comes to rules and discipline.
• Encourage teens to continue their relationship with their mothers.
• Model appropriate behavior that teens will want to emulate.
• Provide teens with unwavering affection and support, especially if they appear to be struggling with the reality of the divorce.

It is also worth noting that many states have no-fault divorce, which makes it easier for women who might have been on the fence to pull the trigger and finally file for divorce. For those unfamiliar with a no-fault divorce, it is a type of divorce where the person filing does not have to demonstrate wrongdoing. No-fault divorces are not available in all states, but where they are available, women are filing these types of divorces to get out of their marriages quicker than they otherwise would.

According to an article published by Cornell University, women filing for a no-fault divorce need only claim they are no longer getting along with their husbands and that the marriage has factually broken down.

What Influences a Teenager’s Response to Their Parents Getting Divorced?

Divorces and how they impact the lives of teenagers can vary considerably. Not all teens act out, develop behavioral problems, or abuse drugs or alcohol upon realizing that their family dynamic is changing. Available data shows teenagers respond to divorce based on how their parents are getting along as the divorce plays out. The more amicable their parents are with one another, the better off they will be from a physical, behavioral, and mental health standpoint.

According to the same data, teenagers are more likely to develop mental health problems when their parents argue and fight during and throughout the divorce process. That said, even an amicable divorce can be hard on some teens, with many struggling with depression, anxiety, and fears of abandonment.

What Dads Should Avoid When Trying To Help Teenagers Cope With Life Post Divorce

Just like there are things dads should do to help their teens weather the storm that is a failed marriage, there are also a few things they should avoid. Some of the more critical ones include the following:

• Arguing with their soon-to-be ex-wife in front of their teen son or daughter
• Bad-mouthing their teen’s mother in front of them
• Putting their teen in the center of a conflict between themselves and their mother
• Using their teen to send messages to their soon-to-be ex-wife rather than communicating with them directly.

How Observant Dads Can Help Teens Cope With Depression

Being observant is, arguably, the best thing a dad can do for their children during and after a divorce. Bearing that in mind, dads should not hesitate to arrange counseling sessions with licensed therapists if they observe significant changes in their teen’s behavior, especially if those changes point to depression or another mental health disorder.

teen girl reading on couch

Common signs of depression and other mental illnesses include the following:

• Sudden or unusual academic shortcomings
• Aggression, sadness, and other changes in mood
• A desire to remain isolated for prolonged periods
• Feeling hopeless or worthless
• Uncharacteristic low self-esteem
• Changes in appetite
• Loss of interest in engaging in one’s favorite activities or spending time with friends and family

How to Help Teens Struggling With Substance Abuse Brought on by a Divorce

Aside from behavioral and mental health problems, substance abuse is another issue dads should be on the lookout for and be ready to address if necessary. According to the Mayo Clinic, signs that usually correlate with a substance abuse problem include sudden weight loss or weight gain, neglected appearance, low energy, and money issues insofar as always needing money without a reasonable explanation justifying the need for the money. The following are also synonymous with drug or alcohol addiction:

• Bloodshot eyes
• Changes in behavior, mannerisms, or both
• Chronic fatigue
• Dilated pupils
• Finding new and questionable friends
• Ignoring curfews
• Impaired judgment
• Lack of motivation
• Not keeping up with personal hygiene
• Possession of drugs or drug paraphernalia

While we are on the topic, the drugs teens tend to abuse the most are as follows:

• Adderall
• Alcohol
• Dextromethorphan (DXM)
• Hallucinogens
• Inhalants
• Marijuana
• Prescription and street-level opioids
• Spice/K2 or synthetic marijuana
• Tranquilizers

Discovering their child has fallen victim to addiction is a parent’s worst nightmare, but all hope is not lost. There are more than 14,000 licensed rehab facilities across the U.S., and most have addiction recovery programs aimed at helping teens put substance abuse behind them. Many of those programs also offer family counseling with a licensed therapist, which can be a godsend for children of divorced parents trying to get their lives back on track.

In summary, not all marriages are forever marriages; a large percentage end in divorce. And of it’s the children of the parents getting divorced who get harmed the most, with most left psychologically and emotionally scarred. Thankfully, there are numerous things parents, especially dads, can do before, during, and after a divorce to help minimize some of that psychological and emotional scarring.

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