How divorce affects teens and young adults

When a couple goes through a divorce, if there are young children involved, there is usually a lot of concern about the impact the divorce will have on the children. In fact, many parents make an agreement to stay together until the children get older, to attempt to protect them until they are at an age they deem to be better emotionally equipped to dealing with their parents’ divorce.

However, with older children, people often make the assumption that their parents’ divorce will not affect them too much. In reality, teenagers and young adults are still majorly affected by divorce, but the problems manifest in different ways at this stage of their life. While younger children struggle to understand why their life suddenly changes, the anguish faced by teenagers and young adults can be just as strong, or even worse in some cases.

Added burdens on adult children after their parents’ divorce

One of the problems that teenagers and young adults find during and after a divorce is feeling guilty about seeing the other parent or being seen to take sides. They may be required to provide emotional support to one of their parents who struggles with the divorce and starting up their new life. 

When one parent meets another partner, this can make it even more awkward for children, they may feel unable to tell their other parent and feel enormous guilt at the situation. Teenagers may also need to choose which parent they want to live with, which can also cause them considerable stress.

Teenagers and young adults have a deeper understanding of the events that happen in a divorce, they may even be the main confidant for one or even both of the parents. They may get asked for advice and asked for their opinion on what the parent should do.

While younger children may have the benefit of being shielded from some of the more painful details of a divorce, older children can get dragged into the details and go through the emotions with their parents.

Psychology experts recommend that even older children should only be provided with ‘need to know’ information. Teenagers and young adults can often respond to divorce by being angry about one of their parent’s actions or decisions. If there has been infidelity, for example, the other parent may feel it is fair that their children know about the details. However, this anger can be really destructive to the child’s life and they may also lose out on the loving relationship they have with their parent.

How divorce impacts their own relationships

Many teenagers and young adults will carry the pain of their parents’ divorce into their adult life, in some cases there is fear of commitment in relationships, or they may struggle with their own fidelity or trusting in a partner’s fidelity. 

Several studies show that adult children of divorce go on to have more negative perceptions of relationships and marriage. Those who have gone through a parental divorce are also less likely to have confidence in their own relationships lasting and their own ability to remain happy in a relationship.

This can form a self-fulfilling prophecy situation, where a person has low confidence in their relationship and is therefore less committed to the relationship or behaves in a way that damages the relationship. This in turn is the reason for that relationship then ending. Had they gone into the relationship with a greater level of commitment, the end result may well be very different.

How to support teenagers and young adults through divorce

It is advised for parents to leave most of the details about the divorce out of their discussions with children and to try not to put their children in difficult situations wherever possible. Even as young adults, the prospect of their parents divorcing can be incredibly upsetting and can have a huge impact on their own future. 

Discussing your situation with specialist family divorce lawyers can help you to work out the best approach to take when breaking divorce news to teenage and adult children. They can also help you to prepare for future situations that could put children in stressful positions, to avoid any additional emotional distress.

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