February 19, 2015

How to avoid divorce damaging children’s GCSE chances

By Peter Jones

Tens of thousands of teenagers across the UK have finished their mock GCSEs and now begin the nail biting countdown to the real exams in May. 

Some of those young people may be feeling especially anxious because of their home circumstances, particularly if their parents are separated or divorced – making it hard to prepare for these critical exams.

Resolution, the organisation representing collaborative lawyers such as Jones Myers, reported that around one in five young people whose parents had divorced said their exam results suffered, with a staggering two thirds (65%) saying their GCSE results were affected and 44% admitting they consequently struggled with their A Levels.

Resolution’s survey of 14 – 22 year olds revealed that almost a quarter (24%) struggled to complete homework, essays or assignments.

Teenagers may look and act like young adults, but in these formative years they are often vulnerable and lacking in confidence – despite outward appearances suggesting otherwise. Mum and dad separating can inflame teenage angst and leave these young adults feeling powerless and without a voice.

At Jones Myers we encourage parents to put the needs of their children first so that they retain a good relationship with both mum and dad.  As exams approach teenagers will need extra practical and emotional support – here are seven top tips for ensuring that divorce doesn’t damage their GCSEs:

Keep a lid on your feelings about your ex and avoid confrontation in front of your children. Taking an amicable and constructive approach to separation and divorce will have positive and lasting benefits beyond the few months leading to your child’s exams

  1. Don’t use children as pawns in your relationship with the other parent. They need to be reassured that they can love both parents and they should never be used as a bargaining tool or a go between
  2. Collaborative lawyers like Jones Myers will encourage you to take a holistic approach to managing the fallout of your separation. That can mean turning to counsellors, therapists and other family workers for extra support to help your children manage their feelings and cope with their parents’ split
  3. Listen to your teenagers and allow them space and time to talk about their feelings. If they can’t talk to you or your ex, they might open up to an empathetic family member, friend or a professional
  4. Teenagers preparing for GCSEs will need appropriate space and resources for their revision. If they split their time between two family homes, can they study quietly away from distractions and will they have any equipment they need, such as a computer?
  5. Be practical and show your children you care about them by putting their interest first. Consider adapting the usual arrangements for spending time with each parent as exams approach. For example, a mid-week stay with dad or a weekend visit to grandparents may disrupt a teenager’s studies – and may add extra pressure if they forget to bring the necessary revision books. Therefore, be willing to compromise based on what is best for your son or daughter
  6. If you have any concerns about your child’s physical or emotional wellbeing, for example if you spot changes in eating, signs of alcohol or drug use, then seek outside professional help immediately.

There are online resources to help both parents and teenagers.  Mental health charity Young Minds has a divorce section on its website and signposts to useful websites. The organisation also has a specific parents’ helpline for mums and dads concerned about their children’s mental wellbeing.  Kids in the Middle is new organisation to help young people deal with separation and divorce. The Royal College of Psychiatrists produces a factsheet with practical advice for parents and children on dealing with the effect of divorce.

If you have any concerns about the impact of separation or divorce on children then please call us on 0113 246 0055 or email us.