The increased conflict between parents has led to a rise in the number of children and young people seeking help from Ensi- ja turvakotien liitto's (ETKL) divorce services. According to experts, parents and professionals should pay more attention to young people in divorced families.
In 2022, more than 4,000 people received help from ETKL's 22 member associations' divorce services throughout Finland.
Of those who received help, nearly 1,000 were children and young people. The increased conflict between parents was evident in the most common reasons parents sought help, including divorce crises and related emotions, parental interaction problems, and agreements regarding children.
A parent's contentious divorce can be a traumatic experience for a young person and can even cause mental health problems. However, parents typically seek help only after the divorce decision has been made, and professionals do not always treat young people as a separate group from children or adults when dealing with families. According to the 2021 School Health Survey, young people's feelings of loneliness and anxiety have increased. Preemptive work and being there for young people as their parents separate could help reduce their distress.
"Adolescence involves balancing detachment from home and forming one's own identity, which makes a parent's divorce challenging for young people in their own way. Young people's wishes and opinions should be taken into account well before living arrangements are made. Parents should ensure that the young person's relationship with both parents is not severed. A child has the legal right to maintain a relationship with both parents even after a divorce," says ETKL's expert in divorce and families with children, Milja Harju.
The impact of parental divorce on a young person
The importance of professional help increases for those young people who have no one to turn to in their immediate circle. Jussi Pulli, head of development for the Ero lapsiperheessä (Divorce in Families with Children) program, stresses the importance of ensuring that young people can seek help independently:
"A parent may even resist a young person seeking help. This can happen, for example, when a parent sees the divorce as only the parents' business, which must be handled only by the parents. However, divorce always affects the entire family."
Last year, ETKL's Children and Youth Chat reached a record number of people seeking help. More than 1,000 conversations took place in the chat. Although parents' divorce is not the most common topic of conversation, it is sometimes the underlying cause of concerns. Parental divorce can cause anxiety, problems with coping, and challenges in romantic relationships—all recurring themes in Children and Youth Chat conversations.
Erofoorumi provides information on how to help young people
On Wednesday, March 22, the Erofoorumi will bring together professionals who work with divorced families. The theme of the event is Young People, Mental Health, and Parental Divorce. The event will highlight the effects of parental divorce on young people's mental health and well-being. Parental divorce will be addressed from both research and practical perspectives.