There's no perfect time for parents to separate as far as their children are concerned. But if the children are in their teens it's important to tell them what's happening and involve them in decisions which affect them.
Teenagers can react in different ways to their parents deciding to separate. It can be hard enough as a teenager discovering who you are and how you relate to others without your parents having a major issue going on between them.
If they then decide to separate there are all the complexities and confusion of working out how you will relate to both their households and any other people they might be involved with.
Yet, in some ways, a separation can have less impact on a teenager than on children of other ages because they are often deeply involved with their peer group. As long as they know they are loved and will go on having access to both their parents they may find the separation less traumatic than if they were younger.
The important things for parents to remember are not to fight in front of their teenagers and to involve them in decisions about where they will live and how they will continue their relationship with each parent. Always tell them what's happening so you're not doing things behind their backs.
If the separation will mean significant changes for them it can help to write down all the things you want to say to them in a special letter. In that way you can tell them why you are doing what you're doing and that you will go on loving them even if you're no longer living in the same house all the time.
This gives your teenager the chance to take in what you are saying and mull it over. You can both then talk about it when you are ready.
Another important way to help children find security and continuity during a separation is through wider family relationships and networks. Make sure your teenager has a network of close friends or other family members to support them if they need it. They don't have to take it up but it's important for them to know that someone else knows what's happening to them.
Children go on needing all their family when their parents separate. And they need support in adjusting to new definitions of family. Their resilience and ability to do that depends a lot on the messages and explanations that we as adults give them.
It's important to support our children during a separation as they experience loss and grief in their own particular way. If we do this well it helps teenagers to learn about and manage change and become resilient to it. And that equips them well for the world we now live in.
The challenge for us as parents is to find ways of co-operating so that our children's close relationships are protected.
If you would like to talk to a counsellor about children and separation, contact Relationships Aotearoa on 0800 735 283 or telephone your local office.