Helping a Teen Through a Big Transition

as seen in in Brooklyn Family Magazine and on NY Parenting.com

Dear Sharon,

My husband and I have recently separated. Our children are of varied ages and the young ones are dealing with it well. It’s our teenager who seems to be having the hardest time. Any advice for us?

Dear Parents,

I am not surprised to hear that your teenager is having a hard time with this transition. Most teens go through periods when they require extra attention from their parents and they can be particularly sensitive to signs of family upheaval.

Adolescents are often sorting through complications in their own peer relationships and can be keenly aware of and affected by adult interactions around them. Teens are also juggling hormonal changes and academic pressures while in the midst of figuring out plans for their future. With so much going on for children this age any significant change can easily feel like too much to bear.

It doesn’t make it easier for parents that most adolescents rarely keep their emotions to themselves, even ones who become sulky and removed when upset often wear their “heart on their sleeve.”

Upset teens usually need extra TLC from mom and dad. As recently separated parents usually have a lot on their plate, finding extra patience and time can be challenging. Nevertheless any effort that moms and dads can direct toward their adolescent is often worth the effort. Adult care and perspective can sometimes transform a cranky teen into an invaluable family member.

Unfortunately lks” from an understandably worried or urgent parent usually do not help an already agitated young person. Instead, whenever possible, I suggest that parents begin offering TLC by setting aside some quiet time to “hang” with their child remembering to listen more than they talk. Sometimes listening to a teen’s music, quietly watching a show or movie together or even taking a turn at a much loved video game can eventually lead to a good discussion. Many parents, including myself, have also found that productive conversations are more likely to occur when “in transit” or doing an activity away from home that a teen enjoys. The movement and change in surroundings that comes with simple activities like driving, riding the subway, shopping, going out to eat, or walkng the dog can often “shake up” a bad mood or unhealthy routine and open up more relaxed lines of communication.

When parents have recently separated and are sorting through their own emotions it can be hard to hear the strong opinions, anger or frustration of an upset teen but if a parent can spend “down” time with their child and help him or her release tension by listening it usually helps moms and dads stay calm and caring when sharing helpful perspectives or answering difficult questions.

Helping a teen weather a family transition like yours takes patience, love and a fair amount of parental fortitude but sour moods can brighten and over time the change can go well for everyone.