Myth #1: Adolescents are better equipped to handle their parents' divorce than younger children.

While it is commonly believed that teenagers are capable of handling divorce better than younger children, the truth is that divorce is a major crisis for children of any age, whether they are fully grown adult children or young children.  Adolescents are at a time in their lives when they are faced with unique stresses, new experiences, and a time of identity discovery. Adding a divorce to a teen's world can be extremely hard on him or her.  Regardless of how "mature" a teen may appear to be, the news of a divorce can literally turn an adolescent's world upside down.  Joseph Nowinski, Ph.D., recommends the following tips to minimize the impact of a divorce on teenage children:

  • Expect anger or hurt from your teenager.
  • Avoid changing your teenager's school as much as possible to prevent them from feeling like they are losing their friends or all that is familiar to them.
  • Be open about potential financial impacts so that teens understand how the divorce may impact their lifestyle and future options for work and school.
  • Offer your adolescent the opportunity to speak with a counselor.

Myth #2: Boys are tougher than girls, both emotionally and physically, and can handle their parents' divorce better.

Behavioral stereotypes often lead people to believe that boys are able to handle tougher physical and emotional situations.  Dr. Nowinski says this stereotype can be downright dangerous when it comes to divorce, as some studies suggest that boys may actually be more emotionally vulnerable and have a harder time adjusting to divorce than girls.  The worst thing parents can do is expect a boy to "be tough" during a divorce.  If a boy acts out with poor behavior or becomes especially emotional or clingy, it is important that parents do not ignore the behavior or encourage the boy to "man up."  Instead, parents need to understand that the child's behavior is due to insecurities and emotional distress, and provide the increased comfort, attention, and understanding that the child is looking for.

Myth #3: A divorce with less animosity and bitterness will lead to less trauma for the children.

As long as the divorce is free from conflict, parents often believe that their children will come out unscathed. Psychologist Judith Wallerstein's 25-year study found that it is not the time of break-up that affects a child most, but the aftermath of the divorce. The majority of long-term negative effects on a child are caused by feelings of sadness, loss, and/or anger over the break-up of his or her family and the adjustment to living in a home with only one parent or splitting time between parents. The smoothness of the divorce itself does not guarantee a positive or seamless transition for children.

Myth #4: If parents are happy after a divorce, their children will be happy too.

The idea that a parent's happiness after a divorce will lead to a child's happiness is commonly believed, but false. In fact, a children's happiness is not dependent on their parents' happiness. Studies show that most children are happiest when their families are intact. Divorce can turn a child's life upside down and lead to feelings of isolation, anger, fear, and loneliness. Statistics show that children of divorce experience more depression and anxiety, learning difficulties, and problems interacting with peers.


Molly B. Kenny
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Divorce and Child Custody Attorney Serving Bellevue and Seattle Washington