Impacts of Divorce / parental separation on teenagers?
Emotional impacts of parents divorce on adolescents and children
According to 2021 divorce statistics in the UK , 33.3% of all marriages in the last 50 years have ended in divorce. The process of separation/divorce between two individuals is often lengthy and difficult, and often faced with a number of obstacles. However, if the couple have children, the impacts of separation are significantly worse. Many more factors, including child custody and the division of child-related payments need to be taken into consideration, and children can find the process emotionally draining due to being more innocent. So, what are the impacts of parental separation on teenagers, and what can be done to reduce, or even prevent these impacts from occurring?
Firstly, why is the experience of parental separation different for teenagers compared to younger children?
It is without question that both teenagers and younger children will be affected by the separation of their parents, whether the effect is big or small. However, the impacts are likely to be different between teenagers and younger children. This is primarily down to the fact that teenagers are more mature than young children and will have their own views on the divorce. Although younger children may also have their opinions, they are generally more callow and so there is the chance that their views are not necessarily the best for their safety and wellbeing. Therefore, parents are more likely to require support with their divorce if they have young children.
This is where Cafcass  (The Children and Family Court Advisory and Support Service – a non-departmental public body) comes in. According to the Welfare Checklist criteria , ‘the ascertainable wishes and feelings of the child concerned’ should be taken on board. Cafcass is what makes this possible. They act as a voice for younger children and ensure that their feelings and wellbeing are a key factor in family courts, satisfying a requirement of Section 1 of the Children Act 1989 that ‘the child’s welfare shall be the court’s paramount consideration’. The Cafcass officers are extremely well-trained and are hence able to gain honest opinions from the children that they interview. Obtaining the truth behind the lives of children in their homes is important as it allows the workers to come to the right conclusion on what is best for their safety and wellbeing. This is why Cafcass can strongly influence the decision of a judge at court.
Although Cafcass allow the best interests of younger children to be taken into consideration, teenagers are at the age where they themselves can convey their own views, and so they may not require the same support as younger children obtain from Cafcass. This can be beneficial in the sense that teenagers have a better understanding of the reasons behind a divorce.
On the other hand, it can in fact make parent separation worse for teenagers because they may be more vulnerable to persuasion from both sides, leading to feelings of guilt and worry on the child’s part. The thought of needing to please the parents can be physically and emotionally draining for children to the extent that they are not happy, which can have serious impacts on their health and welfare.
The main physical impact of parental separation on teenagers is that they are more likely to suffer from health-related issues. Evidence for this is that in a 2011 study , there was a strong correlation between the welfare of teenagers and family structure. It showed that teenagers with both biological parents present at the same time tend to be in better physical health than those with separated parents.
This could be for a number of reasons. For example, separated parents may allow their teenage child to consume more unhealthy foods/do less exercise so that they are seen as the ‘favourite parent’ in their child’s eyes. This can then result in the child becoming overweight, and may even possibly lead to them developing illnesses such as type 2 diabetes. Another example is that the stress of parental divorce on a teenager may lead to them consuming less calories than the NHS-recommended amount of 2400-3100 calories a day (for 13 to 18-year-old boys and girls) . Not eating enough food can lead to nutritional deficiencies which cause conditions like anaemia (iron deficiency), scurvy (vitamin C deficiency) and rickets (vitamin D/calcium deficiency). In order for parents to avoid or reduce the effect of these physical impacts on their children, it is imperative that the health of their children is monitored by annual visits to a GP/dentist/optician. Parents should also encourage their children to have a healthy lifestyle; that is eating a balanced diet along with regular exercise.
Teenagers can face many emotional impacts from parental separation as the transition from both parents living in the same household to them living separately can be very overwhelming. These impacts generally stem from the stress of parental separation. Firstly, teenagers can become angry or saddened more often. Although this can also be the case in younger children, it is particularly significant in teenagers due to puberty. Teenagers may find it more difficult to deal with puberty when both parents are not around at the same time. This, along with the added strain of the separation can make them over-emotional at times.
Another impact of parental divorce on teenagers is that they are at a higher risk of suffering from anxiety. Turning to alcohol and drugs during adolescence is a result of this because these things can be seen by teenagers as a mean of comfort; which in effect has negative impacts on physical health. In fact, a 2017 study  shows that children with separated parents are twice as likely to need psychological help than children living in stable family environments. In some cases, the psychological effects on teenagers can even last throughout adulthood. Parental separation can sometimes result in their children never finding a partner due to a fear of commitment. This may lead to loneliness at old age and additional psychological effects, showing that divorce can change a child’s entire future. However, some children benefit from divorce if the environment during marriage was unhealthy or unsafe, for example, due to an abusive relationship. Therefore, having a divorce may even lower the risk of teenagers experiencing negative impacts.
One of the most common effects of parental separation on teenagers is a lower academic performance, especially when the divorce is unexpected. The separation can lead to them missing school lessons for court dates, them getting less help from parents due to switching homes, and even some loss of economic security. On a more psychological level, parental separation can result in teenagers having less motivation to study on their own accord due to being overwhelmed with emotion.
A way that parents can help their children improve in academic performance is by keeping a track of their academic records. For subjects that their children are underperforming in, parents can contact the respective teacher for advice. Seeking assistance from the child’s school can be very useful as this is the environment that students are in for the majority of their childhood. If possible, parents could also reserve an hour or so in their weekly schedule to help their children with their studies. As well as academic support, school can also be the perfect place for emotional support. A good place to start may be a school counsellor or a favourite teacher. Even talking to a classmate going through the same experience may help as it can be easier to speak to someone of a similar age.
As shown, there are several possible impacts of parental separation that children can face, and many of these interlink. Hence, it is of vital importance that the children of divorced parents are happy, healthy and safe because a decline in mental health will ultimately result in a decline of physical health and vice versa. Separated parents should also ensure that their children feel comfortable in being honest with them because bottling up emotions can result in physical and emotional stress. In conclusion, whatever decisions are made in the separation of parents, the number one priority is to satisfy the well-being of the children.
This article has been authored by a gifted teenager called Isha (and has been published here with the consent of the parent).
Please do note that this article is NOT legal advise and should not be treated as legal advise.
 – Author: Co-founder and CEO Erin Yurday
Article Title: Divorce Statistics UK 2021
Website title: Nimblefins.co.uk
 – Article title: Home – Cafcass – Children and Family Court Advisory and Support Service
Website title: Cafcass – Children and Family Court Advisory and Support Service
 – Article title: Children Act 1989
Website title: Legislation.gov.uk
 – Article title: What Research Tells Us About the Effect of Divorce on Children
Website title: Verywell Family
 – Article title: How many calories do teenagers need?
Website title: nhs.uk
The author of this article is a gifted teenager names Isha (and has written with the consent of her parent)
Please note this article is not legal advice and should not be taken as legal advice.