Is top judge right that divorced parents should toughen up on teens?

The country’s top family judge Sir James Munby is urging parents to lay down the law with teenagers to make them ‘do what they don’t want to do’.

Sir James was ruling in the Court of Appeal in London on a case where two sisters aged 14 and 16 had refused to see their father for six years. He said that there would be ‘no winners’ if the divorced parents didn’t use tough love to ensure that the girls rebuilt a relationship with their dad.

Without knowing the full details I can’t comment on this particular case, but I can’t help thinking that his esteemed lordship is over simplifying the issue.

Being a teenager can be hard: they have to deal with raging hormones, spots, exams and visits to boring relatives. However, being a child of separated or divorced parents can be even tougher. In fact, scientists from Stockholm University claim that teens whose parents are divorced are more likely to suffer headaches, loss of appetite and sleep problems.

As experienced family lawyers we would always advise our clients to put their children at the heart of their divorce. We’ll suggest support such as counselling or family therapy if we feel it will help families to cope with a marriage breakdown and ensure that children retain relationships with both mum and dad.

Divorce is up there with death as a major cause of anxiety and heartbreak. With the demise of legal aid for most family matters not every separating parent will have the support of expert legal advisers and family professionals. As we have said before in this blog, it is the most vulnerable who have been thrown into the wilderness with the axing of public funds for most divorces.

Separating parents who have to represent themselves in court, and who may be lurching from one decision to another without knowing the consequences or benefits, will be struggling to cope. Throw in a stroppy teenager and you have a potent mix for both confrontation and rising stress levels. It’s hardly any wonder that many newly single parents will opt for a quiet life and not tackle their teen offspring on issues ranging from doing their homework to visiting dad.

Sir James is right that children and both parents should continue to enjoy meaningful relationships after a divorce, however confiscating mobile phones or grounding a teenager is not the answer to making that happen. There are many excellent organisations that offer sensible, free advice to both parents and teenagers, including:

• Relate, one of UK’s largest provider of relationship support has a useful section on its website for dealing with disruptive teenagers.

• Young Minds, the leading charity committed to helping improve the emotional wellbeing and mental health of children and young people. A specific section of their website addresses the concerns of divorcing parents.

• Family Lives, a charity with more than three decades of experience in helping parents deal with change. It has comprehensive resources relating to teenagers.

Kids in the Middle, a relatively new organisation set up by children to help children.

Do you have any tips for helping teenagers cope with divorce? Please leave a comment below or tweet us on @helpwithdivorce. If you need advice on any aspect of separation or divorce please call us on 0113 246 0055, leave us a comment below or drop us an e-mail.

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