As young people spend so much of their time in school, the adults who deal with them such as teachers, guidance counsellors and sports coaches, are in a good position to recognise problems and guide young people to the support they need.
No one pattern of behaviour can be expected as young people react in many different and sometimes puzzling ways during and after experiencing their parents’ separation.
Sad feelings – young people may be tearful, distressed and upset. Aggressive feelings – young people may become more argumentative and disruptive in school and at home. It is quite normal for anger to be expressed and sometimes this can be inappropriately expressed.
Academic work may deteriorate or occasionally may improve as young people may cope by burying themselves in their work.
Withdrawal – young people may be preoccupied, appear to be daydreaming, have difficulty in concentrating and become moody. This could be both in class and with family and friends. School attendance may deteriorate.
Homework routines may be disrupted. Punctuality may suffer – pupils have had to move house, motivation to be on time may alter. No apparent change – some young people hide their feelings from teachers and/or friends and family.
Embarrassment – some young people feel that their family problems should not be discussed at school and may resent any mention of problems at home.
Many of these behaviours may be observed in young people which are part of normal teenage development and are unrelated to family breakdown.
NOTE Boys and girls often display differing behaviours e.g. girls tend to show more sadness and often share more with friends. Boys tend to hide their feelings and can display more aggressive behaviour than usual.
No one pattern of behaviour can be expected as young people react in many different and sometimes puzzling ways during and after experiencing their parents’ separation. Sad feelings – young people may be tearful, distressed and upset.
How Can School Help?
Decide what arrangements can be made for school reports. Will you send separate reports to each parent? Will both parents be notified about school events? Parents may let you know about the situation or you may be informed of a new address.
It may be useful to know whether there is still contact between the parents or are there any restrictions in relation to contact? Find out whether the pupil wants both parents together at school events. How Can Teachers Help? Most helpful – just listen. If a pupil wants someone to talk to – just listen and hear their story. Accept that you CANNOT make the pain go away – but you can be supportive just by being there for them.
Not all pupils may be ready or willing to talk to you – accept this. Some pupils may be embarrassed, feel stigmatised and may resent offers of help. Pupils do not want attention drawn to their situation especially in class.
Coping at school, studying and homework are enough to keep up with at the best of times, not to mention social and sporting commitments. There is usually enough going on without adding any more to the list. Having to cope with your parents splitting up on top of everything can throw you off balance.
There will be days when you feel there is too much going on to handle and your mind will be in overdrive trying to sort out everything. On days like these, concentrating on work in school can be really difficult. This is normal at a stressful time. To everyone else you look the same as you did the day before.
No one sees anything different about you. The fact of knowing that your parents are breaking up has changed you on the inside, but this is not visible to your friends. Taking some time to talk to a friend about what’s going on can help you feel better and make it easier for you to concentrate on things in your life like school and sports which don’t need to be affected by your parents’ separation
While we recognise the main focus of guidance counsellors in schools is to help students find their direction in life especially in regard to future study and careers we are aware that from time to time they are faced with more immediate personal issues that need attention.
As guidance counsellors you are at the coal face of the emotional roller-coaster that is the transitionary stage of adolescence. In the case of parental separation and divorce this emotional flux can be exacerbated as the much needed stability of family and home is under threat. It is important for Career giudance teachers to refer students to Teen counsellors like myself when they become overwhelmed by separation/divorce.
Teens respond in different ways and ‘acting out’ behaviours can vary but a common experience for all is that of grief and loss. Research shows that parental break-up can accelerate and exaggerate the changes that occur during adolescence.
Girls can experience a promiscuous adolescence as early as nine or ten due to the father’s leaving. Boys can engage in risk taking behaviour at an early age. I hope that you will find my website an additional helpful support to your work and welcome any feedback you may have.