TEENS: Skilled At Manipulating Divorced Parents

Pixabay manipulating teen-722650_640Many teens are good at manipulating 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, and dodge questions. They also engineer images of themselves, and parry parents’ probes. Additionally, they 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:

A. 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. This can happen because, following a separation or divorce, there is often reduced communication between parents.

B. 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.

C. 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.”

This article was originally titled, “You’re Divorcing: Do You Know Where Your Teen Is?” It was published June 23, 2004 in the HealthDayNews.


Here are two articles that you may furthermore find helpful in parenting after divorce:

Marriage Missions Explanation:

You may wonder why we would put the above articles on a web site devoted to marriage. The reason is because we want to give married couples as much information as possible. It is important that they interact with each other as a team. When you have a child that is causing problems in your marital teamwork, you need to deal with it.

When you remarry, the children of your past marriage often try to put a wedge between you. They usually want their mom’s and dad’s to be together again (although peacefully, this time). That’s only natural, of course. Their hearts, homes, and dreams have been broken. As children, they act out in ways that are “immature” and aren’t always in everyone’s best interests, including their own.

That’s why it’s important to be aware of problems that come from the dissolution of your first marriage, where children are involved.

Be on The Alert

Your awareness will help you to “be on the alert” as the Bible talks about. The enemy of our faith is trying to work through every means he can (including our children) to put a wedge between our having healthy family relationships.

As your new family is forming you will need to be aware of divisiveness that you may very well encounter. Ask the Lord to help you to work as a team in your current marriage. Resolve that you will not to be divided in your resolve to be loving, responsible care-takers of the children God has entrusted to your care. And also ask the Lord to help you not to allow your children to pit you against their other parent.

The circumstances that divided you in your past marriage does not mean that you shouldn’t work to parent your children as allies, rather than enemies. They need for you to be united in giving them love. They need for you to give the grace of forgiveness in not treating each other with hostility. There’s nothing in the Bible that condones disrespectful, unloving behavior. As a result, we must work to stop these types of actions

You will need to set up boundaries with each other for the sake of your present marital relationship. But you still need to treat each other respectfully for the children’s sake and for the gospel of Jesus Christ. We pray this above article helps you to treat the situation with the wisdom God will give you as you ask for it.

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19 responses to “TEENS: Skilled At Manipulating Divorced Parents

  1. (USA) I think this is a wonderful thing you are doing. I found your site while researching children of divorce for an essay I am doing in College. I am majoring in Criminal Justice and I want to work with kids of all ages. So many of them feel unloved and therefore they act out.

    I divorced my girls Dad in 1981. I talked to a lot of their friends about what I should and should not do. I have never regretted that. I learned a lot from them; because of them I never belittled their Dad in front of them and never denied them the right to see or speak with him. Most of all we never argued in front of them.

    Their Dad died when they were 11 & 12. He had not been around much or called them at all. My girls knew I had never come between them and their Dad. If I had they would never have forgiven me after his death. He was a child of divorce and he died at the age of 34 from Alcoholic Serosis of the liver.

  2. (UNITED STATES)  My son recently moved out over me disciplining over a driving violation. The vehicle is mine, and he is a new driver. I placed boundaries. He now lives with his dad going on 4 weeks. He won’t spend time with me, or call to just talk. If or when he calls he just wants the vehicle back. I said if he drove it he had to move back. He says he is not ready, and doesn’t see moving back any time soon.

    I am so hurt over these unfolding events. Now my ex is asking for child support back to add to my stress. What do you do? Should I make him spend time with me when he should be with me? Or do I simply be patient and let him make the first move. Currently he has chosen not to interact with me. Help!!!!!

  3. (USA)  Ruby, That seems a tough situation. On one hand, if you had a well announced consequence prior to him getting a violation and are sticking to that, then that’s the breaks for your son. On the other hand, in most jurisdictions, if he’s old enough to drive, he’s old enough to decide which parent he lives with.

    Of course, I see manipulation on all sides of this. Your son is trying to get the car back and you’re holding the car as a carrot to convince your son to move back in with you. Neither of those are good strategies.

    Give it time, let your son decide. If your son is with his father full time, then I think he IS DUE child support. The same would be true if the child were with you full time.

    So do the right thing and pay what your jurisdiction says a non-custodial parent would have to pay.

  4. (USA)  I believe that at seeing first signs parents need to address the situations instead of hiding them under the rug thinking they will go away. Things don’t get better ignoring them but addressing them and finding a solution ASAP. Kids will continue their wrong doing if they see they can get away with it.

  5. (SOUTH AFRICA)  Hi, I have a lovely son. He is 16. He lived with his father for a few years, but became very unhappy with his school and his home. He now lives with me, and I have put him into another school. The problem is that my son, wants everything his way. He calls me 50 times a day, when I take him out I get told I am driving to fast or too slow, or I walk too fast or too slow. He will scream at me until I have done what He wants. I am not allowed to have my friends over, and I’m not allowed to go to my friends.

    I am not sure what to do. When I am on the phone he will talk to me, and demand I talk back to Him. Even if it’s a client, he just doesn’t care. I can’t do this, and I just don’t know what to do. I have thought of sending Him back to his father, but I love my child and I want it to work out. But unfortunately at the moment, he makes me very unhappy.

    1. (UK)  Charlene, it’s not my business to say but I thought for the first time, to share what I think. I rarely do when it comes to family because it’s a delicate situation; and no one knows the full story.

      I think you know the answer already, which is why there’s a conflict in your heart and it makes you feel unhappy. Decide who is the parent here. You or your son.

      We have a saying, “do you want your child to always be happy or prepared for the world?” The world has terms, it has rules, and you can’t scream and shout, when you want something. You earn it with respect, becoming valuable and having an understanding between your fellow human being.

      This is just my personal thought Charlene but from me personally, I see a lot of parents do things because of the worry that they might lose their child. It takes courage and a greater love to say, ‘enough, is enough’ and to do what’s best for the child to prepare them for the world.

      I have rules at my home and no son or daughter, tells me what to do, say, drive or anything else. I’m the parent not the other way round. And if it comes to it, that they shout, “I’m leaving” then so be it, they leave.

      My role is to prepare them for the world, not to make them always happy. The right things sometimes don’t make any person happy because doing the right thing isn’t easy.

      Do the right thing and know, you can look back knowing, you tried to prepare your son for the world. That’s all we can do no matter what our situation is.

  6. (USA)  I have been divorced for eight years. I have three children and the oldest is 15. A year ago I moved 1200 miles away from the children’s father. We worked on a visitation schedule for a year and he has never been denied access. We have a working court order.

    The children and their father have had monthly physical contact. My oldest child had settled into her new life and new school by December. She had a best friend and a boyfriend. She went to her father’s house for visitation and disconnects from the new best friend out of loyalty to her old friends. She comes home and the new best friend is hurt. They stop speaking. She builds connections with new friends and maintains a connection to her boyfriend in her new hometown.

    She goes to summer visitation and the cycle repeats. She disconnects from her new friends and the boyfriend out of loyalty to the old friends. It is as if she does not know that she can care for people in both places. She called last night asking to stay with her dad and not come home, sighting friendship as the primary reason. Her father and I worked very hard to create an amicable solution to the distance. We rarely agree on life issues, but neither of us have ever used the children to hurt the other.

    With that said I don’t trust him to raise a teenage daughter. I believe his life style is too permissive. He has never established consistent rules in his home, but I never felt like it would hurt the children since their primary residence was with me. I know that if he chooses to move this to a legal battle I will explain the differences between our parenting styles. The advantages and disadvantages. My attorney will argue my view point. Teenagers are still children. They should not be allowed to manipulate their parents or the legal system. They are too emotional to make sound decisions.

    The big question… how do you help a teenager realise they are trying to make life choices that are based on fluxating emotions? My daughter wants to make choices that will forever alter her life because she wants control of these emotions. What she does not know is that changing primary residence does not change the emotions she feels. She will be disconnected from friends regardless of her primary residence. Divorce stinks for everyone.

  7. (CANADA)  I have been divorced from my ex-husband since 2007. When I left, my daughter came with me. But a few months later, suffering from lack of confidence as to whether I would be able to support myself and continue to give the best to my child, I allowed my ex to convince me that our daughter would be better off with him being the custodial parent. Initially, it was agreed that our child would be with him on weekdays and come to me on weekends.

    Soon, she started giving excuses that she wanted to spend weekends with her friends and more time with her dad. I was deeply hurt but did not want to force my daughter to do otherwise. It was no use speaking to my ex. Since day one, he has declared in front of our child that no parent should ever force his/her child to do what he/she doesn’t want to. My daughter used that as her support and came to me less and less.

    A year ago, we have started to resume more frequent contact. I was able to persuade her to come visit me at least once a month per weekend. Recently, she had some arguments with her dad and has begun coming to me over the weekends more often. I was delighted. When she complains about her father, I refrain from commenting negatively. Our relationship has improved considerably, with her telling me that she may be keen to move in with me permanently. Of course, I am aware that all these may be largely due to the fact that she is upset with her father. I would be happy for her to move in, but only with the blessings of her dad.

    This is not what bothers me. Even though I know that there have been times when she controls information flow between both parents, and moments when she tries to solidify her relationship with me, she is generally a stable and sensible girl for a 12 year old. What bothers me is how recently, after signs of affection and maturity at understanding and seemingly accepting the situations of her father, she has started to be cold with me again. Two weekends before, she had left my home hugging and kissing me. Two days later, after writing to tell me that her situation with her dad has improved, she has returned to the pattern of answering my messages only intermittently and not committing to when she might next see me.

    I know that teenage emotions are unstable and teenagers change their minds as fast as the wind changes directions. Still, I cannot understand how the seemingly improved communication/relationship between us could have gone back to what it was before, only perhaps a little bit better than when I first left her dad. The expectations I have after rebonding with her and the hurt I feel at being ‘cast aside’ once again, especially after the situation with her dad mended, has left me feeling confused, hurt and emotionally drained. Please advise what I should do and how I should behave to improve this precious relationship with the daughter I love so deeply.

  8. (USA) Hello, I really need some help. I have two children: a girl 32 and boy 26. I am divorced from their father 11 years. He has lead a life of lies, irresponsiblity, stealing and spitefullness. Knowing this, I have tried to save my kids from his wrath as they believe in him when it is convenient. They have both played between thier Dad and I who do not like each other at all. He did terrible things not only to me but also our children. It seems as though I am the one who is always in trouble cause I do not agree with the advice they take from their Dad. I am at a point where I do not want any part of it anymore. Is this bad for me to feel this way and act on it? I could never get their Dad to parent with me and has made a life of hitting me off at the pass and when things turn out wrong…I get the call for help. My kids blame me for things they shouldn’t. They need to see how they played their Dad and I against each other. There have been such hurtful things they have done to me with their father loving it. I am tired of being hurt. I have many friends who have gone through all of this with me and think my kids have been very unfair. What should I do to end this craziness?

  9. (USA) It looks like you and I are the only ones on this part of this site… we can be the blind leading the blind. It looks to me like you are onto your daughter playing between you and your ex, sooner than I. I am divorced 11 yrs. with lots of troubles since. I am just starting to figure this playing between parents thing out. My ex has added into it, as well and would not ever work with me for the good of our kids. If you could ever get your ex to work with you for the best interest of your daughter it would be so much better for you all! I am losing my battle now but in the long run it is going to bite my ex in the butt. In time, my adult kids will see what has been going on all these years and it will possibly be a bad ending for their Dad! Best to you, Bonnie

  10. (USA) I have been in a relationship for four years now and so many times I have been just banging my head against the wall. My significant other has had sole custody of his 17 year old daughter since she was three. I have raised my 24 year old son alone since he was 5. It has been very very difficult to say the least. He is a good man but allows his daughter to totally control his and our life. I know that he loves me but his life totally revolves around her and I am always an afterthought. I have tried every thing I know to do. We have broken up several times but somehow we find our way back and when we get really close here come a wedge driven either by his family or his daughter and sadly he doesn’t even notice and thinks I am crazy when I bring his attention to it. I am so frustrated any advice?

  11. (CANADA) I come from divorced parents due to my mother’s infidelity. I did exactly this. I was 15-16 yrs old and currently, I am 31 yrs old. I rebelled, I did not care at all about life, and I was depressed well into my mid 20’s. I am Asian so my parents didn’t talk about the divorce, my feelings, nor their feelings (unless it was anger). Instead, they constantly spoke negatively about each other.

    My grades slipped drastically (I was a B+ student and I quickly accumulated by D’s and F’s) but both my parents didn’t seem to really notice. I liked the idea of not having to answer to anyone no matter what I did. I knew that each parent liked hearing me talk negatively about the other parent sometimes. My mom often threw money my way or bought me things I wanted to keep me happy. I was on a bad path to self-destruction that no one knew about. I became so depressed, so self-loathing, and felt like the victim that I tried to take my own life 3 times, had 2 abortions, and many partners.

    If I were to give 1 piece of important advice to parents going through this- talk to you teen or child. Keep an open line of communication. You want you child/teen to come to you with whatever they need BUT always keep disciplined. DO NOT let them get away with things even though they’re going through a tough situation. They need BOUNDARIES, they need parents to listen to them, and do not let them slip in school. Get them a tutor if it helps. I had a tutor for 1 course and it was my best subject out of all the D’s and F’s. It was hard for me to focus in school with everything that was going on.

    So how I am doing now? I went back to school and I work FT in an office environment. I’m not sure if therapy helped me (my parents still dont know that I went to therapy or tried to take my own life)… I think I came to a point in my life where I just wanted to be happy/optimistic so I chose to be. I had to train my brain to think not-so-darkly. I’m not the bubbliest/upbeat person in the world but I’m definitely not the person I was before –I’m stronger.

    1. (CANADA) Also, another important piece of advice: work with your ex spouse in raising you child. This may be really tough but set your anger/pride aside to raise your kids properly. There is a reason why there is a mom and dad because the dynamics work so well. Don’t let you child/teen get away with things. To have him/her grow up to be a decent person, you MUST be civilized. Encourage you daughter or son to visit your ex spouse if they’re not doing so. You may hate your ex but remember that your ex plays a major role in your children’s lives and so do you.

  12. My step-son who I consider to be my own has been a part of my life for almost six years. He was 9 when his Dad and I got together. He’s now fixing to turn 15. His Mom who was arrested when he was 5 years old was released from prison a year ago. Once she was released she didn’t come where her child was. She decided there was a man in another town that she wanted to be with. When that didn’t work out she moved here and the first thing she did was take his Dad to court for visitation. She was given supervised visits when they were divorced while she was still in prison.

    Due to choices she has made to talk negatively about his Father and myself or tell him she doesn’t like how we chose to run this household and asking him questions such as “Are you having sex yet” at 12 years old. If she really knew her son she would have never asked that. His grades have fallen since this took place and he has began to lie to us along with other things that are not allowed in this house. We don’t know what to do. Now we go back to court this month for her to get more visitation.

    He has been getting to spend every other Saturday with her where we drop him off with her then pick him up later that afternoon. It has been this way since our first visit to court in March. Now we’re being told she could get full visitation. This really scares us because she has shown with her every move she isn’t out for his best interest. What do we do? Scared Parents

  13. My 16 yr old stepdaughter does this all the time and it is irritating. As the step parent it’s like I have no say. I get cursed at and attempts to bully by her fails. She plays both parents to get what she wants then causes problems with the step parent to manipulate the parent to side with her or re-enforce her wants or desires (material things, privileges, breaking household rules). She’s bi-polar!

  14. I am the grandmother of a 17 year old female junior. My son and her mother are divorced. Mother at the time of divorce was granted residential custody. For the last 13 years both parents were at odds with each other. There are two children from this marriage… a boy 15 also. Now, because of issues due to high school fighting, the girl is now living with her father as of this past Monday… There is me and my fiancé who live in a 5th wheel on the property and my son’s new wife of five years and her 5 & 9 year old sons who my son is raising also.

    Now this is his 3rd marriage with his 2nd wife and also has two of my grandchildren ages 11 & 9. They live in a different state, which he doesn’t see a lot of, but there jealousy between the 17 yr old and the younger children. She has become a manipulator and uses her family to get her way, including now my fiancé who can’t say no. How do I help her stop or put her in a child’s place so there’s no fussing with her or us adults fussing because of her acting out? She is on paxil for depression and though I love her dearly she could cause a family uproar if we’re not careful. We want only what’s best for her to finish high school and go to college. Do you have any advice that may help us? Sincerely, Elizabeth — grandmother

  15. I’m divorced and am buying a hobby farm with my boyfriend. I’m keeping an apartment in town so my daughter can finish high school where she is. Moving is a week away and my daughter is so mad at me about the situation that she is always angry with me. When we decided to do the arrangement I had her 50% of the time. She has since moved out of her dad’s house and is with me full time. I can’t be in both places at once and I’m a nervous wreck trying to figure out how this will work. My 11 yr old son who is still with his dad 50% of the time was originally okay with the move now he is starting to get upset about it too. This should be a happy time and it is hard to see the light right now…

    Not sure if you can advise and/or pray for me. I have tremendous guilt over this and it is affecting all aspects of my life. ~ Gail