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How Divorce Affects Teens Psychologically & Emotionally

by Sheri Oz, studioD

Adolescence is an important stage during which your children need to apply themselves to their studies and cope with a growing variety of social circumstances as they acquire the skills to take on an adult role within society. One significant event that may affect their ability to manage these developmental tasks is parental divorce. While divorce is stressful, and teens are often hurt when their parents split up, the picture is not without hope. Awareness of the possible problems can prepare you to give your teens the support they need to navigate their way to healthy adulthood.

Depression and Anxiety

Parental divorce in early childhood seems to increase the chances for depression in adolescence. If parents of teens divorce before their children reach the age of 15, there is a higher chance for depression and anxiety than if the divorce occurs after 15, according to a recent article published in the journal “BMC Public Health.” It seems that older adolescents are better equipped to deal with the disruptive effects of divorce on their lives than their younger siblings do. In addition, older teens may be better able to find supportive friends with whom they can talk and their greater autonomy may cushion the impact of instability at home.

Romantic Relationships

Parental divorce seems to affect girls' difficulties with romantic relationships more so than boys’ relationships, according to a study published in the “Journal of Family Psychology.” Teenage girls from divorced families reported that they have less confidence in their ability to maintain a relationship, to be less positive about couples’ relationships in general and to avoid getting involved in relationships to a greater extent than girls from intact families, according to the article, “Adolescent Daughters’ Romantic Competence.” This means that teenagers with divorced parents might be less likely to develop relationship skills than teens from an intact family.


Teens with healthy self-esteem are more able to resist temptations to engage in risky behaviors than those with a low sense of self-worth and teens with healthy self-esteem are more likely to set high academic and occupational goals for themselves. Unfortunately, parental divorce can have a serious negative effect on adolescents’ self-esteem as they struggle to maintain their academic standards while dealing with reduced family financial resources, parental conflict and perhaps a change in residence and school, according to an article published in the "Journal of Clinical Child and Adolescent Psychology."

What You Can Do

Research shows that supportive and reliable parenting from mothers and fathers can help adolescents weather the negative psychological and emotional impact of divorce. After an initial turbulent response to the divorce, many teens regain their stability two to three years later. These years, however, are valuable to the healthy psychological development of your kids, and naturally, you want to reduce their suffering as much as possible. If you are divorced or divorcing, to take care of your own psychological and emotional needs so that you can support your children while dealing with this extremely stressful time of your own life. Find a support group for divorced parents or seek counseling if your family or friends do not understand what you are experiencing.

About the Author

With an Master of Science in marital and family therapy, Sheri Oz ran a private clinical practice for almost 30 years. Based on her clinical work, she has published a book and many professional articles and book chapters. She has also traveled extensively around the world and has volunteered in her field in China and South Sudan.

Photo Credits

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