Center for Stepfamily Development
Center for Stepfamily Development

136 So. Academy Way
 Eagle, Idaho, 83616


Stepfamilies and Teens
By Marion Summers

KATE IS 16 YEARS OLD and her parents are getting divorced. Her friends have noticed how quiet and withdrawn she's become, but when her friends ask, "What's wrong?" Kate smiles sadly and says, "Nothing." Kate's family and consumer science teacher kept her after class one day to discuss her academic status. The teacher's gentle approach was enough for Kate to divulge what was happening in her family.

More than one million children a year in the United States experience the affects of divorce, feeling hurt, angry, sad and scared. Parents, teachers and peers simply do not realize how heavy the emotional toll of divorce truly is.

At the Meridian Middle School in Meridian, Idaho, "Your Changing conflicts in a relationship.
Family" is an option for students experiencing family changes. What follows are popular activities that help students learn how to cope with their changing family environment.

  • Journal writing is a safe way to express how students feel about divorce, remarriage and living in a stepfamily. Ask students to write and share their feelings of guilt, blame, anger, sadness, hurt, confusion and loyalty conflicts. Writing and discussing stepfamily issues in a trusted group helps students discover common feelings.
  • Students love to compare notes about step-siblings, stepparents and how their family life has changed. This can assist them in gathering information about how to cope with their own personal feelings.
  • Another activity high school students thoroughly enjoy is a discussion, "What is love and marriage all about? Using the journal writing again, have students write what they think love means and he reasons people marry — at any age. You might be surprised at the lively discussion that follows. Then follow this with how to handle conflicts in a relationship.
  • Writing a detailed classified ad for the "perfect mate" is an activity that generates much giggling and laughing at first. Instruct students to be more detailed than the personal ads found in newspapers and magazines. Have them list all the qualities and characteristics of the "perfect spouse." Have them do a collage of what their marriage, family and mate might look like in five, ten, 20 years. A serious discussion usually follows.

When students have someone they trust to talk to, their first reaction is relief: the relief of unburdening the hurt and pain with a trusted teacher or counselor. Then, and only then, can students learn how to cope with the changes divorce brings into their lives.