The importance of promoting your teenage children’s wellbeing
Mental Health Awareness Week
Mental health awareness week highlights the importance of looking after your mental health. When you go through a separation, this will naturally put a strain on your emotional and psychological wellbeing and therefore have an impact on your mental health. There will be a similar impact on your ex-partner and potentially your children as well. A separation between parents can especially be challenging for teenage children.
The impact of separation on teenage children’s mental health
Family relationships are incredibly important to teenagers and when those relationships are disrupted, they can have a harmful impact on their welfare when the separation is not managed correctly. I have personally seen cases where teenage children have required extensive professional therapy due to the impact separation has had on their mental health. In my experience, the biggest contributor towards causing this harm is the conflict between the parents themselves which could have been avoided from the outset had the right approach been taken. Sometimes, one parent may be to blame more than the other, but both can be equally responsible.
A separation that causes harm to teenage children can affect their performance at school, how they socially interact with their friends, influence how they will approach future intimate relationships and can even lead to self-harm. I can recall one case that I have worked on where the latter occurred.
Teenagers, much like young children, will find separation between their parents upsetting and indeed they may blame themselves. However, provided you and your ex-partner manage the separation sensibly, it will not impact on their physical and mental health to the extent that it will cause them harm. They can adapt.
How can I promote the wellbeing of my teenage children my teenager?
It is important you and your ex-partner do what you can to protect your children and ensure their rights, needs and welfare is always at the forefront of your mind when making decisions during and following separation. Some of the issues you may always need to think about when it comes to your teenage children could include:
- Whether your children are protected from being exposed to information or material that may cause them harm;
- Whether they are being kept informed of their living arrangements and do such arrangements provide appropriate flexibility given their age;
- Whether your children have the opportunity to appropriately express their wishes and feelings;
- Whether they feel loved and cared for by both parents; and
- Whether your children have the right level of support at school?
Most children following separation want to spend time with both parents and the law supports this approach provided it is safe and in their best interests. You and your ex-partner therefore have a role to play in promoting your children’s relationship with the other parent. You and your ex-partner may see each other differently now but your children will likely see you both the same way as before. Your teenage children will not want you to:
- Argue with the other parent in their presence;
- Criticise the other parent in front of them or within earshot;
- Treat them as an adult friend that you can confide in and express/release your emotions too;
- Expect them to pick sides; and
- Be asked to make the final decisions.
The importance of the voice of the child
From my experience in the family court, and applying the law in practice, the older the child, the more important their voice becomes. Generally speaking, teenage children want their voice to be heard when a separation takes place. Therefore, it is important for you and your ex-partner to listen to what they are saying. As already said, that does not mean they want to make adult decisions, but they want their views taken into account. It is important you understand how they feel and why they are expressing the feelings that they are. For example, they may have a view how they would like Christmas/birthday/holiday arrangements to work, express the importance of spending time with extended family such as grandparents, or for time to be allowed so they can be with their friends or continue to take part in extracurricular activities which can be important for teenage children.
By listening and making your children feel involved, it gives them confidence and a sense of control. The way parents communicate with their children about the separation and how they involve them in future decisions can have an impact on the way they adjust.
Not everything will go to plan. Your children will have good days and also bad days but that is the life of a teenager even when their parents aren’t separated. You may even find that your children won’t talk to you about their feelings and keep it to themselves. Encourage your children to speak to somebody if they can’t speak to you or the other parent. It is important they release their emotions to somebody. Sometimes, you may just need to give your children time and space. Reassure them that you will and the other parent will always be there for them and ready to listen.
Whatever happens, don’t feel like you have to do everything on your own. Your GP or child’s school could be a good point of contact if you are worried about your children’s mental health as they may be able to point you in the right direction as to who can help. There are resources online specifically aimed at supporting teenage children whose parents are going through a separation as well as organisations up and down the country.
Some useful resources we’d recommend:
At Calibrate Law take pride in our professional network and can direct you to the right resource at the right time. If you require support or guidance, do not hesitate to contact us. Marc is a Senior Associate and Collaborative Lawyer who works in our family law team Central London. He was nominated for Associate of the Year at the Family Law Awards 2019.
This post is intended to be a brief note for clients and other interested parties. The information is believed to be correct at the date of publication but should not be relied upon as a substitute for professional advice.