This age group is separating from the family and shifting loyalty to peer groups. The parents’ divorce may speed this shift and expose a child of this age, with little judgment, conscience, or fear, to involvement in drugs, alcohol, truancy, and sexual acting out. The child may use both parents’ lack of communication and conflict to engage in these activities without consequence.
The child will mourn and show sadness over the loss of the family and fear that the child’s future may be affected by the divorce, such as less money for college.
Rather than reduced parental supervision that accompanies parents who are self involved due to the emotional stages of divorce, the parents need to increase supervision, boundaries, and set limits as role models. The children will model the parents’ behavior and be quick to condemn their behavior. How the parents conduct themselves during the divorce will have lasting effects on the child’s future trust in others and in relationships. The children need to know that their parents can still work together as a team in parenting, with clear, agreed expectations and boundaries, monitoring of school and social involvement.
Parenting plans should consider that adolescent-age children are in a crisis period of transition and self-discovery. Friends become most important in their life, and the see-saw is between feeling invincible and vulnerable. The adolescent’s search for independence tests values in school and home environment. Despite trying to be adults, making decisions about alcohol, drugs, sex, social groups, school performance, and love interests requires close parental supervision and communication between parents.
School can be used for smooth transitions between homes, and periods of time in each home where the child is separated from the other parent can begin to extend to up to seven days during the school year, depending on the maturity and needs of the child and the child’s success with such separation, but with both parents involved with school and related requirements.
Caretaking arrangements should continue to be consistent, stable, and predictable for the older school-age child. However, the adolescent child will want and need to participate in determination of a time-sharing schedule and assert control when he or she can. The adolescent child will think a time-sharing schedule is “fair” if he or she participated in its development.
Although the adolescent wants a continuing and meaningful relationship with family members, he or she wants it on his or her terms and with a base where his or her friends can easily find him or her. They want their parents to be available for them more than they want to be available to their parents. They perceive the world revolving around their needs and desires, and they will be quick to assess fairness between their homes at Mom’s house and Dad’s house and first and second families with respect to availability and finances. The adolescent will be quick to judge a parent, whether deserved or not deserved.
When they have “wheels” or a friend has “wheels,” time-sharing rules should include consistent, common, enforced rules with predictable consistent, common, enforced consequences, i.e., concerning curfew and communication with parents, and even a “contract” between the parents and child as to safety concerns.
Having the child participate in mediation for the development of the parenting plan should be a consideration. Where there is high conflict or impairments, use of a therapist mediator will be of greater assistance.