What should you emphasize when talking with a teen?

A divorce can take months, and during that time, parents should emphasize things to teens such as the fact that they have say in what happens to them.

Divorce in California presents challenges for children of all ages. With infants, for example, the parents' biggest task may be making sure that the infant grows up knowing both parents well. With a teenager, the challenge often lies in parents being able to communicate effectively with their teens and drawing up fair parenting plans to meet their needs and wants. Here are some things parents should emphasize when talking to their teens during the months that a divorce can take.

The divorce is happening

It is fine-imperative, even-to acknowledge that teens' lives are changing. Better to recognize that than to brush it aside or tell teens to get over it. That said, it is also critical to convey that the divorce is happening. Some teens will be relieved that their parents recognize their marriage is unhealthy while others may feel blindsided and betrayed. In either case, one of the worst approaches is something like, "Your dad [or mom] was really nice today. Maybe he [or she] is having a change of heart."

To emphasize that the divorce is happening, give timelines and concrete information when possible so teens know what to expect. If one parent is moving, explain when, where and how the relationship with the teen will continue. It can also be a good idea to explore counseling even if the teen seems to be dealing well with the news.

Teens have a say in their future

Some teens do not deal well with divorce because they lose control of their lives. This can happen in many ways, for example, if parents do not communicate with them about where they want to live or ignore their wishes. Divorcing parents should emphasize to their teens that they have a say in their future. The parents do not necessarily need to "give in" to where the teen wants to live or with whom, but they should listen with an open mind and explain the rationale behind decisions in a way that makes sense to the teen.

At the same time, parents should not leave everything up to teens. Having to make every choice can be overwhelming, and teens can feel put on the spot if they are made to choose between living primarily with one parent or another. A great place to start is for both parents to come up with a tentative parenting plan that allows for, say, joint custody. They can then tell their teen that they are receptive to ideas.

Divorce in California is hard on children of all ages. With a teen, divorce can be easier for parents in some ways because their teen may have a solid idea of what he or she wants. At the same time, parents should still remain parents. An attorney can help with drawing up a parenting plan and with navigating the entire divorce process.