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How to tell your teenager you are separating

Telling your teenage child that you plan to divorce or separate is difficult. Their reaction is unpredictable, but you can control how and what you tell them. Some time ago one of our lawyers, Luci Larkin wrote a blog post containing 7 tips for telling your children you plan to divorce. This was written by a lawyer from their experience and we still think it contains some great advice.

However, during the last two years we have been working closely with charity Voices in the Middle, who work with young people, and together we have produced a set of resources to put the teen’s perspective on what they need from their parents when they are divorcing or going through a separation.

A series of short, honest videos has been produced containing some very sensible, and heart felt words of advice from young people who have been caught in the middle of separating parents’ in the past.

Do’s and don’ts for parents

The advice in this video is so poignant. Teenagers want parents to:

  • tell them it’s not their fault
  • listen very carefully to what they have to say
  • give them space to process things, and be prepared for a negative
  • reaction or even silence and withdrawal
  • reassure them that you are still their parent and you’ll still be a family
  • be honest and be clear, if decisions have been made that affect them, they need to know.

But under no circumstances should you encourage your teen to take sides, talk negatively about your partner or show uncontrollable emotions in front of them.

The impact of divorce on teenagers

No one can ignore the fact that not every relationship survives. The failure of a relationship between two people is hard enough but when there are children involved it can be even more painful. There are many studies that show that there are major differences in outcomes for children from parents who have separated compared to those whose parents remain together. This is in areas as diverse as educational achievement and behaviour to mental health and social competence (source: Impact of Family Breakdown on Children’s Well-Being, University of London).

More recent research has suggested that teenage children are amongst the age group most badly affected by their parent’s divorce, especially when it comes to mental health. Older children are more sensitive to the dynamics of the parent’s relationship as well as more likely to suffer from disruption to schooling and social circles.

Every parent wants what is best for their children, or at least that’s what I’d like to think. So, taking a positive and informed approach to how you talk to them about your decision to separate is a good first step. The Voices in the Middle videos are a real help – with advice not only from young people, but also from professionals who work with teenagers on a regular basis.

Perhaps the most important piece of advice from my colleague Luci and the teenagers themselves is to make it clear that they are not to blame. Don’t do anything to make them feel that they are responsible for your relationship breakdown.

Karen Agnew-Griffith
Divorce and family lawyer Thetford

Blog Author - Karen Agnew-Griffith

Karen Agnew-Griffith Karen Agnew-Griffith

Karen is a divorce and family lawyer with Woolley & Co, based in Norfolk, but she acts for clients across the UK, including Suffolk, Hertfordshire and London, and worldwide.

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