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The Child’s Grieving Response In Divorce Proceedings: Pre-teens and Teenagers

Just like anyone, pre-teens and teenagers also grieve in their own way when their parents divorce.  Pre-teens (11-12 years old) start turning to their peers for support when they deal with their feelings of sadness, loneliness, insecurity or helplessness. They may act outwardly as if they are “cool and confident,” however pre-teens are also vulnerable to taking sides with one parent over the other, becoming protective of one parent, or perhaps even trying to play the role of the absentee parent. The pre-teen child needs to perceive clear permission to act like a child rather than an adult.

Pre-teen children may begin to worry about how their own life will be affected by the divorce and may become quite critical of their parents’ dating/social/sexual behavior. They may even act out their feelings in a negative way, like stealing or refusing to go to school.

At this age, children need to be encouraged to express their feelings in appropriate ways.  Outlets like sports, exercise and other extra-curricular activities that interest your pre-teen can be helpful outlets.

Older children of high school age may also withdraw from adults, preferring peer support for dealing with their parents’ divorce. They can react in many different ways, some negative. They can become moralistic, judgmental, and blaming. They may also become depressed, angry, and rebellious. Sadly, there is a risk of the usage of drugs or alcohol for teenagers reacting negatively to a divorce.

Teenagers often resent the disruption in their lives from the divorce and sometimes become concerned about money issues. Though not all high school age children are able to reason like adults, they do often have the capacity to understand and adapt to the divorce with structure and guidance. Parents need to maintain parental control while developing an adult support system. This is so the child can be free to act his or her own age. It is very important that the high school age child, like younger school age children, feel like they have permission and are allowed to love both parents.