Teens Skilled at Manipulating Divorced Parents

They often play one parent off against the other, study finds

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WEDNESDAY, June 23, 2004 (HealthDayNews) -- Many teens learn how to manipulate their divorced or separated parents to their own advantage, according to a Ball State University study.

"There is a perception that after a divorce or separation parents are active and children passive in their relationships. We found the opposite to be true. Adolescents are not passive," study author and sociology professor Chad Menning said in a prepared statement.

"Adolescents after divorce or separation do no simply absorb parental resources as sponges absorb water. Rather, they gather and interpret information about their parents, dodge questions, engineer images of themselves, parry parents' probes, maneuver between households, and cut ties with parents in efforts to exert their own authority and to secure their individual identities," Menning said.

The researchers interviewed 50 teens whose parents were separated or divorced. They discovered strategies that include:

  • Withholding information from one parent to avoid punishment or to solidify a relationship with another parent. Children can gain an upper hand by controlling information flow because, following a separation or divorce, there is often reduced communication between parents.
  • Moving from one home to another. Children often move into the home of the parent who is less controlling. They do this to punish the other parent or to escape a situation they don't like.
  • Cutting one parent completely out of the teen's life. This allows the child to control when and where they have contact with that parent.

"None of these options would be open to a child in a single household with two parents," Menning said. "Parents talk and form a team to raise a child. Separate the two parents and the child can use the situation to play one off the other."

More information

The Nemours Foundation has more about teens and divorce.

SOURCE: Ball State University, news release, June 18, 2004


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