Effects of Divorce on Children
Divorce has become an everyday part of American society today. This has caused parents and professionals alike to have concern about the effects of divorce on children of all ages. Research in this area is new but is nevertheless helping us to gradually gain a better understanding and appreciation that divorce is difficult for a child of any age. This paper considers the effects of divorce on children ranging in age by summarizing and analyzing existing research. The focus of my paper will be measuring the different aspects of life affected by a child’s experience with divorce. Some of the factors that will be of concern include the subject’s age at the time of the divorce, gender and time passed since the divorce occurred. Mainly, this paper will be trying to prove that divorce can and does affect many aspects of a child’s future.
There have been numerous studies and piles of research done on this topic since the beginning of divorce and more so now due to its rising numbers in our society. from the research that I have completed, it appears that a lot of this research is consistent as far as their results go. Divorce has become a major concern for children’s health and development in American society. Parents and professionals are becoming much more interested in the effects of divorce on children. It is definitely known that divorce is a very stressful time for children. Children, adolescents, and teenagers will are likely to experience feelings of anxiety, sadness and anger during and after their experiencing their parents’ divorce. Many of the resources that I have read have stated that parental divorce produced a moderate, long-term negative impact on their mental health as adults. The negative effects of divorce on mental health operated indirectly through higher emotional problems and lower levels of school achievement and family economic status.
I have found that there have been several theoretical perspectives created, that I have read about, that try to explain some of the effects of divorce and other types of explanations for some of the behaviors. Some of these include the socialization perspective of divorce, interparental conflict, the divorce-stress-adjustment perspective, etc. These theories choose different ways of looking at how divorce may affect the child experiencing it. One of these that I discussed, as an example was the divorce-stress-adjustment perspective, this views divorce as a very long-term event, beginning with the arguments and other behaviors that occur while the couple lives together and ending long after the legal procedures have been completed. This perspective also goes into the different emotional, behavioral and health issues connected with divorce.
Many researchers are looking at divorce as an easy way out or selfishness on the part of the parents. Parents are not thinking about the lifelong and traumatic effects that they might be creating for their children by making the permanent decision to divorce. In most cases, unhappily married parents staying together for the sake of their kids, will be found as beneficial for them. Research has found that children of divorce are more likely to develop mental and emotional disorders later in life. These children are also likelier to start sexual activity earlier, abuse drugs, turn to crime and even as fateful as committing suicide. They additionally will find themselves facing problems in their future intimate relationships as they may not have had the proper model for one through their parents due to their split. These emotional problems may not appear right away that is why they have been given the title of a "sleeper effect". Their parents divorce hangs like a cloud over their lives haunting them later on as adults.
In researching my objective I do hope to find more precise descriptions on divorce than I presently have knowledge of. I want to develop a much better understanding of what aftermath, if it exists, of divorce may be for a child’s future. I think that I will have excellent results due to the fact that I will be studying numerous studies that have already been completed rather than just one or creating my own new study. My plan was to use more of a qualitative analysis through my research as opposed to a quantitative analysis. This is because I want to have a better sense of social observations that have previously been made. I will base my report on the information that I find by comparing and contrasting these numerous researchers’ collections of work. This is in hopes of finding any of the kinks that I may come across by reading so many different research projects and then summarizing and putting all of the information together to make my final conclusions.
According to Webster’s Dictionary, the definition of divorce is the legal dissolution of a marriage or to end marriage with one’s spouse. In looking up grounds for divorce one will find many different variations including but most certainly not limited to, adultery, desertion, physical or mental cruelty, habitual drunkenness, incurable mental illness, conviction of a crime, nonsupport, etc. The statistics for divorce in the 1990’s suggest that around fifty percent of marriages inevitably end in divorce. Given this startling figure, the assumption can be made that many children will experience some effects caused by this life-changing event called divorce. This unsettling realization that is being made through the collections of research being done is that young children of divorced parents are facing various types of psychological challenges due to the environmental conditions and changes associated and brought about by the event of divorce. "Recently, family researchers have started to perceive marital disruption as a continuous, multistage process that may begin long before families dissolve and extend many years after divorce or separation" (Sun, 697).
Children that experience their parents’ divorce will have trouble in the future with numerous social developments in their life such as, school, socialization with peers, intimate relationships, etc.
My objective in doing this research is to study children that have experienced their parents’ divorce and find out how this may affect them in the future. I have a particular interest in this topic because my parents were divorced when I was thirteen. This experience was very hard on me and I feel that it still affects me today in certain aspects of my life. I also believe that it may have had a lot to do with molding me into the person that I am today. I would like to research this topic to see what has been found thus far through research so that I can develop a better understanding of my own personal situation and the millions of others in this similar situation.
When compared to children of never-divorced families, researchers have agreed that children and adolescents from divorced families show poorer adjustment in numerous aspects of life. After following more than 100 kids whose parents had recently divorced, Judith Wallerstein concluded that the effects of a break in the family unit can be life-long and traumatic for a considerably large enough group of children and adolescents for us to have concern. "While their parents might feel liberated by getting out of an unhappy marriage, the kids were bereft. In interviews, many expressed a profound pessimism about their future" (Kantrowitz, 48). Adolescents and children also battle with anxiety, and self blame and anger, which then transform into the undercurrent for making bad decisions in their future relationships, and giving up hastily when any new kind of problems present themselves. Part of this struggle is said to be due to "the loss of the powerful mental image of the intact family inflicts the crucial harm" (Leo, 140). Later as adults, these young people become frightened of failure, commitment, and terrified that they might end up following in their parents footsteps. Such emotional hardships only set the stage for misbehavior and delinquent activity.
As marriage has become a more optional and less permanent institution in contemporary America, adolescents are encountering stresses and adaptive challenges that reflect off of their parents’ marital transitions. Such dysfunctional self-concepts, anxiety and trouble adapting socially as discussed earlier have been proven to affect the child’s actions, as well as their mindset. Recent studies have shown that children of divorce are more depressed, aggressive toward parents and teachers, more likely to develop mental and emotional disorders later in life, start sexual activity earlier, have more children out of wedlock, have problems with drug abuse, crime and even have been lead to suicide (Leo, 140). The anxiety battles they face are brought with them most everywhere, including the classroom where numerous problems are being displayed. Additionally, these problems in the classroom may sooner than later appear on the streets and neighborhoods in some form of delinquency or violence.
One of the concepts developed to describe an aspect of these problems caused in children of divorce is the "sleeper effect". This term is found in many researchers’ writings to describe the "deep and long-term emotional problems that arise only when the children enter early adulthood and begin to confront issues of romance and marriage" (Leo, 140). It is because of the "sleeper effect" that so many children of divorce are later in life finding themselves having different problems with numerous aspects including intimate relationships that they become involved in. Divorce is a difficult thing for a child of any age to be forced to face as their reality. Understanding what may be the necessity of the divorce is never the problem, it is learning how to deal with the consequences of it that they will find themselves facing later on down the road.
Parental conflict appears to have a pronounced effect on the coping efforts of children. The intense anxiety and anger between some parents in the early stages of divorce is all too real. It is common behavior for the parents to allow their children to get in the middle of fierce verbal confrontations that may be occurring between them. Criticizing and belittling the other parent in front of the child is another way of placing the child in an unfair position. This, in essence, is leading to putting the pressure on the child to feel as if they must choose between the parents. A less tangible example of parental-conflict is the way in which the two opposite genders relate to one another in the presence of children. Mothers may treat fathers as if they are less important and undeserving of respect, just as the opposite can apply. Any form of parental conflict, no matter to what degree, leads to more confusion and a difficult adjustment period for the children involved.
The deterioration in parent-child relationships after divorce is another leading cause in psychological maladjustment for children. "Recent studies say that it’s not the parents’ marriage or divorce that affects children’s later relationships, but the parent-child bond that is key to children’s success in achieving their own satisfying adult relationships" (Campbell, 16). With any divorce comes a new parenting plan of some kind. A child may experience either shared custody between the two parents or custody by one parent with visitation by the other parent. Variations of these plans can be included or added at different times in the child’s life depending on special circumstances. More often than not, the mother is awarded custody of the children. The absence of the father on a full time level is detrimental to the healthy development of the children. In the case that the father is awarded custody of the children, the opposite applies as well. "Some scholars see the two-parent family as the fundamental institution of society--the setting in which adults achieve a sense of meaning, stability, and security and the setting in which children develop into healthy, competent, and productive citizens" (Amato, 1269). Studies have shown that deterioration in custodial parent-child relationships may frequently occur in the first year or two following divorce.
The correlation between divorce and a drop in standards of living for female-headed families has been documented in several studies. The association between divorce and financial difficulties in these households may negatively impact children’s adjustment periods. "Because females have lower-paying jobs and often aren’t able to collect child support, they can’t provide an adequate standard of living for their families" (Henderson, 2). It is a disappointing statement but sadly usually still true today that men commonly are more successful in their occupations than women. Men are usually the ones that bring home more money and women usually win custody battles so a balance has to be found; the resulting decision most commonly being some form of child support. The decrease in income level can contribute to anxiety, frustration, and even embarrassment for children.
Listed by age group are some of the more common post-divorce symptoms experienced by children. Preschool children are more likely to blame themselves and to experience nightmares, enuresis, and eating disturbances. Early-school age children suffer with academic problems, withdrawal and depression. Older school age children are more likely to blame one parent for the divorce and feel intense anger at one or both of their parents. Adolescents experience the most intense anger and also exhibit problems with developmental issues of independence and interpersonal relationships. The adjustment period for children experiencing divorce is traumatic. Parental conflict is generally high and tense in the beginning stages, which gives children a sense of insecurity. Change occurring in the parent-child relationship is almost always prevalent leading children to worry about who will take care of them. Disorganization and inconsistency in parenting styles leave the children in a state of confusion. Children don’t know what behavior is acceptable at mom’s vs. dad’s place of residence. Due to all these changes, it is reasonable to hypothesize that environmental condition and change associated with the post divorce adjustment period are mediated both by the different experiences that occur and by different responses to these experiences.
This investigation was done as a means of proving my hypothesis that I developed before setting out to find my resources. My goal was to explore the different perceptions and experiences had by children of divorce that were stated in numerous different collections of research. This is what makes my research a qualitative study since I have chosen to examine and interpret my observations through the research of many other examiners of this topic. I have done this for the purpose of discovering any underlying meanings and patterns that may exist concerning the effects of divorce on children.
Presentation of Data
As had been stated earlier, around 50% of marriages end in divorce. Divorce rates seem to be constantly rising, numbers closer to 60% have also been reported. "More than 12 million children younger than 18 years of age have divorced parents, and more than 1 million children younger than 18 years of age will experience divorce this year" (Lebowitz, 695). Even though growing up in divorced families raises the risk certain kinds of psychological, emotional and physical problems, it by no means forces the child into a terrible life. It has been found and recorded that "75% to 80% of children of divorce are functioning well, with little long-term damage....25% of children from divorced families have serious social, emotional or psychological problems" (Corliss and McLauglin, 40).
This study obviously is mainly focused on children ranging in ages from younger school aged to older teenagers and college adults. The one thing that the subjects in this study will have in common is their having been through their parents’ divorce at some point in their childhood, adolescence or teenage years. Divorce obviously affects both males and females. The two genders have shown that they are affected differently in some cases, though they are for the most part similar.
As long as families follow the trend that divorce is setting, more and more children will become the victims of their own parents’ divorce and be left to fend for themselves whether it is physically with unstable custodial parents or mentally without the needed role models and structure in their lives to keep them headed in a more positive direction. Divorce has been shown to adversely affect academic performance, and personal characteristics as far as social skills and self-presentation, it erodes the parent-child relationship and takes away structure and replaces it with a consequence free environment. When you take a child, an adolescent none-the-less at the height of confusion and insecurity and remove boundaries such as parents, rules, and regulations, some sort of trouble is likely to result. It is true that children are our future, so maybe we should be taking this fact into more serious consideration when making the decision to divorce which will more than likely have some kind of negative effect on their future well-being.
The easiest recommendation to give to any married couple with children is to remain married for the kids’ sake. "If a couple can repair their marriage and develop an effective parental alliance, their kids will certainly benefit" (Coontz, 21). Divorce is commonly the easy way out, rather than spending a little extra time working things out, couples selfishly opt to divorce. Usually, their reasons for divorce are nothing more than just not getting along with each other like they used to. Parents have, for some reason, become unwilling to put forth the extra necessary effort towards making their relationship successful.
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