Utah Stories

Falling Through the Cracks – Teens and Divorce

Looking beyond the symptoms of troubled teens


UT Divorce Illustration
Illustration by Jessica Hannan

Emily (her name has been changed) was a Utah high school Sophomore with a bright future. She had a 3.8 GPA, was active in sports and school clubs, and was well liked by both her teachers and peers.

“I was extroverted and happy,” she said.

But that would soon change.

Emily’s parents announced they were divorcing. But not just divorcing. It was an ugly dissolution where one side wars viciously against the other. And like most kids, Emily was stuck firmly in the middle.

Emily began to slip into depression. Her grades started to dip and by her junior year, her weight had dropped to 95 pounds. She quit the sports teams and the clubs, and she began to fail her classes.

“My attendance dropped immensely,” she said. “I spent the time I should have been at school sleeping or metaphorically running because of the paralyzing fear I felt, or literally running.”

Emily began over-exercising to control her mood and weight.

Her teachers didn’t seem to notice the drastic change in Emily’s behavior. The same teacher that had given her an A in her Sophomore math class failed her the following year.

She was assigned a hall monitor to make sure she attended class. The hall monitor asked her periodically if she was doing drugs and questioned her about her weight.

“Other than the hall monitor and attendance remediation classes, no one seemed to notice,” Emily said. “My parents were too blind in their divorce and hating each other to really notice either.”

Emily was quickly slipping through the cracks.

She took up drinking and marijuana.

One day, she got called to the school office and they asked to search her car.

“I said, ‘Sure.’ I had lost all sense of preserving myself at all. One of the girls I was with had left her pipe encased in a Louis Vuitton sunglasses case on the backseat floor.”

Emily was handcuffed and lead through the lunchroom full of her fellow high school classmates. The walk ostracized her further from her peers.

She returned her senior year weighing a startling 85 pounds.

“Two teachers approached me and asked if there was anything they could do for me,” Emily said. “But by that time, I was so afraid of the high school authorities and had already given up on myself so I couldn’t even hear what they were trying to say.”

Senior year, she started getting into harder drugs. Two of her friends overdosed and died, another is now in prison and others are in jails and rehabilitation centers. Halfway through the year, Emily attempted suicide and was sent to rehabilitation herself.

Now, five years later, Emily looks back from a place of sobriety and mental health and realizes that through all of that, she was only a child.

“I was an afraid little girl,” she said. “I made many, many mistakes and in many cases I probably got what I deserved. However, I never met the school psychologist but I did meet the police officer. I was asked if I used drugs, but never if I was depressed or if anything was going on at home.”

She now has questions for the police department and school:

Did it seem strange I went from an honor student to a failing student?

Did it seem weird that I quit all sports and clubs in a semester?

Did any of you notice I had lost so much weight?

Why did you make me walk in handcuffs in front of all of my peers?

Why did it always feel like you were against me instead of for me?

If you noticed any of these things, why didn’t you do anything about it?

Why didn’t you try to help me?


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