Divorce and Its Effect on Children

Divorce and its Effect on Children Sociology 120 Wednesday December 7, 2011 My research paper is focusing on how divorced parents affect children. I am focusing mostly on how the child is affected behaviorally, emotionally, and academically. I chose this topic not because my parents are divorced, but because I will be getting married at the end of this month and I thought this would be interesting. I believe that in many cases, divorce is not needed and that the parents should work a little harder and sacrifice to have better relationships with each other and their children.
The question I want to answer is if children are affected by the divorce of their parents, and if so, how much. My hypothesis is that children of divorced parents are negatively affected behaviorally, emotionally, and academically. I felt like it was better to focus specifically on these three areas so I could better measure what it is to be negatively affected by divorce. After I first chose this topic to research and use for my paper, I started off with the general question in mind of does divorce affect children. I used the LCC library resources online to start gathering information.
It was after I spent a while gathering information that I discovered that my topic was too broad and that to more effectively answer the question I was seeking, I needed to narrow down my topic. I looked at the research I had collected from online, newspaper articles, and academic journals, and found a few reoccurring themes. These themes of children of divorced parents being affected emotionally, behaviorally, and academically are the ones I would like to address in my paper. Divorce has become a very common element in today’s society.

When more than half of all divorces involve children under the age of 18, divorce does not only affect the husband and wife, but now more than ever their children get mixed up in the sometimes ugly process of divorce. Every year more than one million children experience the divorce of their parents, and overall close to 40% of all children will experience parental divorce before they turn 18(Amato). Emotional damage is most likely the hardest effect to identify and diagnose with children of divorced parents because it can be hard to measure and is not something that can easily be see.
An article in American Journal of Family Law entitled “The Psychological Impact of Divorce on Children: What is a Family Lawyer to do? ” discusses a study that surveyed 1,000 teenagers between the ages of fourteen and eighteen. The study recorded their opinions on divorce and measured thoughts, feelings, and attitudes on the subject. Dr. Robert Gordon conducted the poll and named it the GordonPoll Youth Survey. The teenagers were asked about their parents’ arguing and 50% of the teens said it is “terrible. When asked what the arguing consisted of, 26% said that their parents’ arguments included “criticizing the other parent. ” Another 35% said that their parents’ arguing included screaming, hitting, and “throwing stuff” (Jolivet). Dr. Robert Gordon stated after the results of the poll were collected and analyzed that, “Clearly, children are more deeply bothered by parent conflict than most adults think. While very few adults would scream, hit or throw things at their spouses, most married couples would admit that they at least occasionally disagree and criticize each other in front of their children.
I’d like to think that these survey results would make them think twice about that” (Jolivet). Whether the parent’s are still together and fighting, or divorced and fighting, it is clear that the children who are caught in the middle of the parents’ feud are the ones who suffer the most. This same article discuses a list of factors that researchers have compiled together to help identify a high-conflict divorce that could have a more significant impact on a child.
The factors that have been identified include “criminal convictions, involvement of child welfare agencies in the dispute, several or frequent changes in lawyers, frequent court hearings, the overall length of time it takes for the case to settle, and a history of contact or timesharing denial” (Jolivet). The effects on children emotionally and behaviorally are roughly doubled when they are a part of a high-conflict divorce. These high-conflict situations should be avoided at all costs to ensure the emotional impact on the child is minimal.
Studies have shown that children who are a part of these high-conflict divorces experience powerful negative emotions including, “chronic stress, insecurity, and agitation; shame, self-blame, and guilt; a chronic sense of helplessness; fears for their own physical safety; a sense of rejection, neglect, unresponsiveness, and lack of interest in the well being” (Jolivet). Luckily, most divorces would not be classified as a ‘high conflict,’ but that does not mean the emotional impact on children of divorce is nonexistent. At the very least, stress is a major problem that divorce has on a child.
Robert Emery, Ph. D. is a Professor of Psychology and Director of the Center for Children, Families, and the Law at the University of Virginia. Emery has written numerous books on the subject of divorce and family relationships. An article he has written displays the results of a study he did on college students and the lasting impact divorce has had in their lives. Of the 99 students polled in this study, 73% admit that they would be a different person today if their parents had not divorced. Close to half also say that their parents’ divorce still causes struggles in their lives (Emery).
Emery also says that besides stress being a major impact on children of divorce, the risk that they will have other affects is substantial. He says, “Divorce clearly increases the risk that children will suffer from psychological and behavioral problems. Troubled children are particularly likely to develop problems with anger, disobedience, and rule violations. School achievement also can suffer. Other children become sad for prolonged periods of time. They may become depressed, anxious, or become perhaps overly responsible kids who end up caring for their parents instead of getting cared for by them” (Emery).
The article “The Psychological Impact of Divorce on Children: What is a Family Lawyer to do? ” states a number of behavioral problems that are brought out in children who experience a high-conflict divorce. Some of the behavioral problems are defined as, “a group of behaviors which can be described as: lower commitment to marriage, infidelity, problems with anger management, feelings of insecurity, neediness, demandingness, denial and blame, contempt, and poor conflict resolution skills, higher levels of depression, and more problems with peers” (Jolivet). In comparison, Dr. Paul R.
Amato of Pennsylvania State University compared the results of these studies to similar ones of children who have grown up in stable, two-parent families. The children of the stable families have a “higher standard of living,  receive more effective parenting, experience more cooperative co-parenting, are emotionally closer to both parents, and are subjected to fewer stressful events and circumstances” (Jolivet). Another study performed by Dr. Amato and Dr. Danelle D. DeBoer has shown that adults who have experienced the divorce of their own parents as children prove to have higher rates of divorce themselves. During the 17 ear study, 2,000 married individuals and 335 of their children who also got married were observed. The study revealed that divorces were seen more often among the adults that had parents of their own who had divorced. Dr. Amato commented on his studies with the theory that parents who had seen their own parents’ divorce saw divorce as a reasonable solution to an unhappy marriage. Dr. Amato does add that adults with divorced parents are not necessarily going to be doomed to divorce themselves, but that they may need to work a little harder to keep their own marriages from following the same path to divorce (Jolivet).
Psychologist Judith Wallerstein, founder of the Judith Wallerstein Center for the Family in Transition, has conducted numerous interviews with children of divorce and to this day is dedicated to her qualitative method stating it is more personal and intimate. Wallerstein began her interviews back in 1971, directly after the no-fault divorce was passed in California. Divorce rates began rising as parents took advantage of this new law not taking into account the affect it would have. Wallerstein decided to start talking to the children about how the divorce affected them.
Of the original 131 children she had when she started her project, she has continued contact with 93 of them. The children are now adults themselves and through her interviews she has determined that, “the major impact of divorce does not occur during childhood or adolescence, rather, it rises in adulthood as serious romantic relationships move center stage. When it comes time to choose a life mate . . . the effects of divorce crescendo” (Peterson). Wallerstein found that of the 93 adult children of divorce she has interviewed, only 40% have married.
She says that the adult children of divorce expect to fail at marriage and that they fear “loss, conflict, betrayal and loneliness. ” She also states, “That she is amazed that the children of divorce tell her divorce is with them every day of their lives” and “how much their parents’ divorce shaped their adult years. ” (Peterson). It’s plain to see that based on the results of these numerous studies, that divorce certainly does play an important role in the lives of children of divorce both while they are still young and as they grow into adulthood.
It not only affects their life as a child, but also their future. An article in the The Miami Times entitled “How divorce affects a child’s education,” Fran Newman, author of “Children in Crisis” explains some of the ways a child’s education is affected by divorce. She states that it can be very difficult to detect the way divorce affects a child, but one of the more noticeable changes is in a child’s education. Whether the child begins acting out in class, or their grades drop, it is something that needs to be addressed. Newman encourages strong communication between home and school.
She also adds that, “in recognizing that there’s something wrong at home, teachers look for two things. One is a child who is normally energetic and outgoing withdraws. The other is the stable child who all of a sudden begins to act up and get into all sorts of problems” (Education). Are the differences in school because of the arguing that occurs at home, or the fact that the parents devote most of their time to the divorce, new spouse, or themselves instead of their children? Sara McLanahan, a sociologist at Princeton University, has done several studies measuring the academic effect divorce has on children.
In one such study, McLanahan discovered that children of divorce are more likely to drop out of high school compared to children whose parents stay together. In her studies, she found that the middle-class is affected the most and that, “They are roughly three times as likely to drop out of high school if their parents split up. ” She also found some interesting results that show how the children are affected as they grow into adulthood. In girls, she discovered that they are more likely to have a premarital birth, and boys have a higher chance of being unemployed (Divorce).
Kathleen Kiernan of the Family Policy Studies Centre and Martin Richards of Cambridge University have also done research of the lasting impact divorce has on children as they grow older. Their research however was focused on families in Great Britain where there are more records, some dating back to the 1950s, of how divorce impacts children as they grow into their 20s. These records confirm much of what McLanahan has shown in her studies of children as they move out of their teens. The studies done by Kiernan and Richards have confirmed that children of divorce are more likely to drop out of school and even leave their homes early.
This leads to higher rates of early cohabitation and premarital birth. Kiernan’s and Richard’s work also suggests that children of divorced parents are less likely to attend a university (Divorce). Writer Diana Mahoney best described divorce when she said, “No divorce is a good divorce, but when it comes to the kids, some divorces are clearly better than others” (Jolivet). It is clear that not all children of divorce are impacted the same ways as others, or as profoundly. Parents have the huge responsibility of caring for their children and many parents take this matter too lightly.
Many steps should be taken before divorce is even an option, and too many parents see divorce as the only step when a relationship becomes a little shaky. If a divorce is absolutely necessary, it is the parents’ great responsibility to make sure the child always comes first no matter what. Works Cited Amato, Paul R. “The Consequences of Divorce for Adults and Children. ” Journal of Marriage and Family 62. 4 (2000): 1269-87. ProQuest Central. Web. 4 Dec. 2011. “Divorce and Children: They Muck You Up. ” The Economist Mar 20 1993: 33-. ProQuest Central. Web. 6 Dec. 2011 . Emery, Robert E. How Divorce Affects Children. ” The Truth about Children and Divorce. 2011. 05 Dec. 2011 http://www. emeryondivorce. com/ how_divorce_affects_children. php. “How Divorce Affects a Child’s Education. ” Miami Times: 15B. Ethnic NewsWatch. 2011. Web. 4 Dec. 2011 . Jolivet, Kendra Randall. “The Psychological Impact of Divorce on Children: What is a Family Lawyer to do? ” American Journal of Family Law 25. 4 (2012): 175-83. ProQuest Central. Web. 4 Dec. 2011. Peterson, Karen S. “Unhappily Ever After Children of Divorce Grow into Bleak Legacy. ” USA TODAY: 01. D. ProQuest Central. Sep 05 2000. Web. 6 Dec. 2011 .

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