The purpose of this research paper is to examine the effects divorce has on children.
This paper will look at several areas of child development and introduce some statistics on children affected by divorce. It will discuss pre and post-divorce family environments and the factors that lead to it, as well as the effects 25 years post-divorce. It will also summarize studies conducted by other researchers and present ideas found to be true from clinical interviews and following a group of children from 18 months post parental divorce to 25 years later.
Other topics will include family functioning pre and post-divorce, the impact of father involvement post-divorce; as well as common behavioral issues present with children of parental divorce families. In conclusion a summary of how variations in home life, parenting style and personalities can affect the outcome of long term effects on children of parental divorce. I. Introduction Several studies have been conducted over the years analyzing the effects divorce has on children. This research has proved to be a valuable tool in the field of psychology.
This year over one million children will experience parental divorce (Demo & Supple, 2003) and the effects can last a lifetime. Of those one million children fifty percent of them are under the age of six (Wallerstein & Lewis, 2004). II. Statistics In the United States the divorce rate is over fifty percent (Portnoy, 2008). This means that over one half of all first marriages will end in divorce. Of the fifty percent that divorce, half to two-thirds of those adults will remarry, resulting in one in three children living with a step-parent at some time before the age of 19 (Portnoy, 2008).
Half of all marriages that end in divorce involve minor children (Portnoy, 2008). Of the children currently living in the United States, 40 percent of them will experience parental divorce which will result in living (at least temporarily) in a single parent household (Portnoy, 2008). Of all these children that are experiencing parental divorce, it can be expected that one quarter of them will experience long term adjustment problems (Demo & Supple, 2003). III. Child Development
Child development can certainly play a part in how a child will handle the stress of divorce. The studies conducted by Hetherington and Kelly found five adjustment patterns to be notable of divorced children. The Competent-Opportunist group was mature children that had few behavioral issues, but did lean towards manipulation with their peer group. This group was found to be successful in early adulthood. The Competent- Caring group was made up of mostly females and tended to seek caretaking roles early in life.
This group would often include children/ young adults that would seek out others they could help or “fix” in some way. The next group was labeled the Competent-at-a-Cost group. This group emerged around early adulthood and felt the need to take care of their parents. However, the inability to solve their parents’ problems plagued them with depression and low self-esteem. This group was also mostly female. The Good Enough group made up about half of the children studied. This group was comparable to the general population of children with common problems and few behavioral issues.
Lastly the group labeled Aggressive-Insecure came from families of high stress and high conflict. These are the children that were neglected, and/or abused. These children had a higher risk of alcohol abuse, delinquency, and suicide than the rest of the children in the study (Portnoy, 2008). This research proved that children dealing with divorce were at a higher risk for lifelong behavioral problems and psychological conditions such as depression and anxiety. Child development would be affected long-term because of the parental divorce.
IV. Family Functioning The marriage breakdown is usually a process that can last for years and have several negative effects on children and the parents’ ability to be effective role models. The negative feelings towards the other spouse often start years before the actual divorce. Bitterness and fighting can create stressful environments for children, often witnessing fighting and emotional separation. These pre-divorce environments can have negative psychological effects on the children in the family.
An older child in a pre-divorce home might experience stress and anxiety from the constant warring of the parents leading up to the divorce and might actually feel relief when the physical separation happens; while a young child in this same home might have considerable anxiety when the physical separation happens not understanding the events leading up to one parent leaving the family home (Amato, 2000). This high stress environment can lead to diminishing levels of parental supervision and parental warmth and affection (Demo & Supple, 2003).
This is usually the point when children will start exhibiting behavioral problems which can in turn add to the stressful environment, leading to further stress in the home. For both parents and children, this time leading up to the divorce and immediately following are the most stressful and difficult phase. Family function is breaking down considerably during this phase, with most children living with their mothers and having less contact with their fathers (Demo & Supple, 2003).
As a result, the children are forced to adjust to live without one parent or the other, which can cause several behavioral issues. Switching households from Mothers home to Fathers home can create confusion and different sets of rules for children to adjust to. V. Father Involvement Post Divorce Families have found several creative ways to maintain relationships with both parents post-divorce. One common solution is sharing custody, with children switching households. However, most children will suffer from less parental contact with their fathers (Demo & Supple, 2003).
National surveys show that one fourth of children living with their mothers in a post-divorce household never saw their father in the previous year (Demo & Supple, 2003). The research done by Hetherington & Kelly showed that 1/3 of the children involved in the study did not feel close to their fathers at all, and by adolescents felt their father was uncaring; by adulthood those same children questioned if their father even loved them (Portnoy, 2008). Of the children that maintain regular contact with their fathers felt they did not have the opportunity to spend quality time with them on their visits.
There has been evidence that fathers that had close relationships with their children prior to the divorce are more likely to maintain a close relationship with their children post-divorce, which is especially important for those children to adjust to the new family dynamic. In the Wallerstein & Lewis study, 1/3 of the children that had maintained a positive relationship with their fathers still had a close relationship with him at the 25 year mark of the study. The fathers’ involvement often had an influence on career choices as the children became adults (Wallerstein & Lewis, 2004).
The statistics from the study conducted by Kelly & Emery (2003) showed that on average, children only saw the non-residential father 4 times per month and 20 percent had no contact with their fathers 2-3 years post-divorce (Hughes, 2005). When fathers help with homework, set rules, and provide loving attention and affection the children will adjust better post-divorce and have a better relationship with both parents. The evidence shows that children will adjust better when a relationship is maintained with both parents (Hughes, 2005).
The standout fact of all the studies reviewed showed that all children of divorce will experience some sort of parental loss. Moms and Dads provide emotional support for their children and have the biggest influence on their lives. VI. Behavioral Issues in Children Post-Divorce Researchers agree that there are differences in the psychological well-being of children from intact families and those from divorced families. Several areas of development are affected by divorce. The major areas of concern are academic success, conduct, psychological well-being, social skills and physical health (Portnoy, 2008).
Amy Desai summarizes in her article written for Focus on the Family: “Children from divorced homes suffer academically. They experience high levels of behavioral problems. Their grades suffer, and they are less likely to graduate from high school. Kids whose parents divorce are substantially more likely to be incarcerated for committing a crime as a juvenile. Teens from divorced homes are much more likely to engage in drug and alcohol use, as well as sexual intercourse than those from intact families” (Desai, 2006-2007).
Children from divorced families are at risk to develop more psychological problems such as depression, anxiety, and low self-esteem. This can lead to decreased satisfaction in relationships with peers and romantic relationship later in life (Portnoy, 2008). Girls especially are at risk to have more problems with depression post-divorce. This can lead to young girls becoming sexually active at a younger age and having multiple sexual partners in their teen years.
Girls can also experience their periods at younger ages; leading to the belief that the onset of early menstruation is linked to early intercourse (Portnoy, 2008). Conduct problems are also an area of concern; as research has shown that children from divorce are more likely to have delinquent behavior than their cohorts from intact families. They are also more likely to associate with a peer group that drinks alcohol, and uses drug; leading to a higher probability they will use alcohol and drugs themselves (Portnoy, 2008).
VII. Conclusion The majority of children from divorced families will adjust well after a few years post-divorce. The years leading to a divorce and after are quite stressful on children of any age. The parents should work together to create the best circumstance possible for the children post-divorce. Fathers should make every effort to maintain quality time and visitation with their children on a regular basis. They should be supportive role models and active in daily life, including homework and discipline.
Children that witness their parents working together to arrange visitation, finances and other aspects of their lives are less likely to feel they are to blame for the divorce, or feel guilt when they have close relationships with both parents at different points in their lives (Jellinek, 2010). The majority of children will have short term behavioral or psychological difficulties that seem to be the worst when parents physically separate, however; children are resilient, and have the ability to adapt to changes (Demo & Supple, 2003). Supportive parents are vital during this time!
A final statistic from research by Demo and Supple explains: “Still a minority remain vulnerable. Following divorce, approximately 20-25 percent of children in divorced families experience long term adjustment problems, compared to roughly 10 percent of children in first marriage families” (Demo & Supple, 2003). Divorce carries a large impact on the lives of children, and should be carefully considered when parents are contemplating a separation. Long term effects can last until adulthood; however most children will adapt well with proper support and parental affection.
Amato, P. R. (2000, November). The Consequences of Divorce for Adults and Children. Journal of Marriage and Family, 62, 1269-1287. Demo, D. H. , & Supple, A. J. (2003). Divorce: Effects on Children. In J. J. Ponzetto, The International Encyclopedia of Marriage and Family Relationships (pp. 475-479). New York: Macmillan. Desai, A. J. (2006-2007). How Could Divorce Affect my Kids? Retrieved July 18, 2012, from Focus on the Family: http://www. focusonthefamily. com/marriage/divorce Hughes, R. J. (2005). The Effects of Divorce on Children.
Parenting 24/7. Urbana, IL, United States of America: University of Illinois Extension. Retrieved from http://parenting247. org Jellinek, M. S. (2010). Recognize Effects of Divorce on Children. Family Practice News, 40(18), 19. Portnoy, S. M. (2008). The Psychology of Divorce: A Lawyers’s Primer, Part 2: The Effects of Divorce on Children. American Journal of Family Law, 21(4), pp. 126-134. Wallerstein, J. S. , & Lewis, J. M. (2004). The Unexpected Legacy of Divorce: Report of a 25 year study. Psychoanalytic Psychology, 21, 353-370.
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