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The link between parental divorce and teen depression is obvious to many. After all, not only does depression often result from a major change in one's life circumstances, but teenagers are also more likely to suffer disproportionately from any of life's stressors. These two things put together greatly increase a teenager's susceptibility to depression in the face of their parents' divorce.
The early teenage years are marked by an incredible array of changes, both social and physical. Just as the adolescent body undergoes changes to prepared it the for adulthood (increased hormone production, emergence of secondary sex characteristics, etc.), so too is the brain undergoing changes in its structure, connectivity and adaptability in the face of stress.
Into all of this hormonal turmoil is throw a new set of cultural and societal expectations and behaviors. People at this are expected to begin taking responsibility for themselves. They are allowed to pick classes that interest them, they develop hobbies and have more control over who they associate with. Finally, this is the age when it is expected that a young person will begin to grow independent of their parents.
The Effects of Divorce
Even under the best of circumstances, divorce can cause huge stresses on a family. As one of the strongest emotional and social institutions, the marriage of two parents establishes a foundation upon which the rest of the family is built. When this foundation is removed after years or decades, it is no surprise just how jarring its effects can be.
For the teenage mind, divorce can upend the world as they know it. Their identity might, justifiably, be tied up with their place in the family, and if divorce has massively altered that dynamic, a period that sees adolescents struggling to form their own identity in the best of cases may find the child of divorced parent utterly lost and alone. Additionally, children at this age are more sensitive than usual to changes in location and routine schedules, both of which can be disrupted by divorced parents.
The two years immediately following the divorce are the most critical. This is when most parental divorce and teen depression co-occur. The most stressful events within this time period are when parents are making plans about child custody and discussing the possibility of one or both of them moving into a new home. Even though it is ultimately the parents' decision, try to involve the children in these discussions to show that there is some method to the decisions being made. Do not subject the kids to what they might see as arbitrary changes.
The degree of conflict during divorce proceedings also has a strong bearing on whether teens will develop depression. By working to minimize conflict and present a positive face to your children, you will place lower stress on them and they will find it easier to adjust. Whatever happens, it is imperative that parents not force a child to choose between the two of them.
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