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The Big Split:  Helping Teens Cope With Divorce

Divorce is one of those things in life that is bad no matter how you look at it.  Unfortunately, it is particularly destructive during the teen years for several reasons.  First, teens are in the throes of trying to find out who they are and need the stability of an intact home.  Second, the teen years are generally a time of rebellion against parents and divorce opens up a myriad of possibilities for pitting one parent against another.  Finally, teens are in the process of defining their own sexuality and sexual moral code, so if a divorce is centered around infidelity, it can leave a lasting mark on how teens view their relationship with the opposite sex.        

Fortunately, there are some things parents can do to minimize the damage.  First, try to share as little information as possible about what is going on.  Answer direct questions from your teen honestly but keep in mind that if he doesn't ask it is probably because he doesn't want to know.  Remember too that your teen is your child, not your therapist.  Do not ever ask him for advice about how to handle issues between you and his other parent.

Next, model civility and respect to your former spouse, no matter what.  While this obviously does not mean accepting bad behavior, it does mean speaking politely to and about him.  Your teen needs to understand that you and your spouse are mature enough to handle what is going on as mature adults.

Also, make as much provision as possible to continue to parent together.  Unless there is some sort of issue related to abuse, continue to consult your former spouse on issues related to parenting your teen.  This will help keep you both on the same page and avoid giving your teen a opportunity to play one of you against the other.

Finally, consider putting off dating until your teen is an adult.  I know this seems like a harsh suggestion, but your teen needs to be the focus of your time and efforts right now.  There will be plenty of time to find a new mate when he is older.

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