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Divorce is a situation where marriage has been terminated. Over the past 30 years, the rate of divorce has increased rapidly. Only about 40% of children grow up in homes with two biological parents today.  The situation is further compounded by the fact that society accepts childbearing out of wedlock.  Society also accepts people living together without marriage. Divorce is easily available these days and can be done quickly. Taken together, the high rate of divorce and single parenthood has led to a large population of children living with just one parent.  This raises critical questions about the effects of divorce on children, and how it affects the society at large.

The objective of this paper is to look at the rate of incidence of divorce and its effect on children. The paper will look at some of the difficulties that children face as a result of divorce in the family and what this means for their participation in society. The paper will contrast the findings about children who are brought up in families that are “intact” versus those who are brought up in homes where the parents are divorced and do not live together. A lot of study has been done on this subject and numerous literatures developed.

Hughes (2009) compared a series of studies looking at the differences between children who were raised in divorced families, as against those who were raised in intact families. An intact family refers to a family where both biological parents live together as a married couple. In his article, he observed that children raised in either scenario could have problems, but that those in divorced families had a tendency to have more behavioral and psychological problems.

He observed that while 10% of the boys and girls in a normal family could have problems, in divorced families, 26% of the boys and 34 % of the girls could have problems. He concluded that it is important to examine the factors that cause these problems. He noted that in addition to loss of parent, economic difficulty and increased stress, children are also affected by feelings of helplessness and long-term painful memories.

Funder and Kinsella (1991) in Australia looked at the economic consequences of divorce. Single parent families especially female, tended to be more prone to poverty and this consequently affects the child. To go from a higher economic status to a lower one can have a very negative impact on the children, because their needs are not being met. They also looked at the post-divorce changes from the aspect of which parent the child lives with. The extent of adjustment of that parent, as well as their competency to raise that child, all have effects on the child. Exploring the psychological wellbeing of children after their parents’ divorce will include information such as; how children feel in the home with the parent with whom they live, how they relate with their siblings and also how they are coping in the society.  In all of these areas, children are usually affected.

Black, Shaw, McCormick and Allen (2012) found that pathological gambling is a common public health problem associated with substance abuse, depression and suicide.  They noted that little attention has been given to studying its negative effects on families and marriages, including childhood maltreatment, divorce rates and family dysfunction. This is important because children who have divorced parents tend to have more problems and could grow up having certain public health problems.

American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry (2011) reported that children usually feel threatened and confused as a result of divorce. Their security is threatened.  Also divorce can create a reverse emotional burden for children where the parents turn to the children for direction or for support. Some parents cannot cope; they feel overwhelmed and end up putting pressure on their children.   Some children are sometimes so confused and feel so guilty that they try to take responsibility of bringing their parents back together. This study highlights the severe emotional trauma that divorce could create for children.

Brynet (2001) observed that in 1996, 45% of marriages in the United States weren’t successful and ended in divorce. In that year, 1,150,000 divorces were recorded and 1,000000 children were affected.  Children are affected by divorce at various stages in life; for some the impact maybe felt immediately, while for some it is much later, in the long term. Some children go through stages in their adjustment; first denial, they don’t believe it has happened, and then they go into the anger stage.  He notes too that some children blame themselves for the divorce.  Some of the children are only able to come to terms with the divorce of their parents when they themselves reach adulthood.   He observes parents who are overwhelmed can put pressure on their children, by beginning to depend on them. All these cause a lot of confusion for children.

Shansky (2002) talks about the theories have been put forward to explain the link between parental divorce and negative effects on the children. Some of these theories are the "marital disruption" theory, the “parental conflict theory” and the "reduced resources" theory. She discusses some of the research that supports these theories and looks at their implications for developing interventions to help both children and adolescents begin to cope with the negative consequences.  The research results were weak in some areas, but all the same, disruption of the family and parenting difficulties were the causes most reinforced by the studies.

Shansky looked at a study in which the authors had used data from a National Education Longitudinal Study that was conducted in 1988, 1990 and 1992. The sample population was 8th grade students in the United States. The study did not include students who lived with a single parent for any other reason than divorce. It also did not include those whose parents got re-married after having divorced.  Most of the students were Caucasian and the total number of students in the study were over 9000.  

Measuring the well-being of students, the parameters used were educational aspiration, self-esteem and educational achievement. Test scores were used to measure achievement in various subjects.  The level of education was used as an ordinal scale for aspiration. A Likert scale was used to measure self-esteem as well as locus of control. Aspiration was measured through an ordinal scale representing various levels of education. The Likert scale is based on “strongly agree to strongly disagree”.  How often the children interacted with their parents was used as a measure of social resources.  Using an interval scale in units of $10,000, the financial resources of the family was measured. The control variables in the study were the ethnicity and gender of the students.

The conclusions from the results of the study were that the difficulties and disruption caused by divorce does not just affect children at the point of parental divorce, but also affects them before and after the divorce.  They found that the negative consequences associated with divorce were not necessarily caused by the condition of the family before divorce. The researcher however recommended that children should receive counseling before a divorce is done, as well as afterwards.

The Future of Children (1994) noted that there were about 17 million children less than 18 years of age that live with a separated, divorced parent of a step-parent. The article observed that children can be either worse off or better off after parental divorce depending on the situation, but in general divorce leads to problems for children. They looked at the economic situation for women and suggested that single women might be more prone to poverty and economic difficulties in raising the children.  The article states that the fact that societal changes have made more women take on masculine roles, may also have contributed to disintegration of families.

Desai (2006) notes that children believe that their parents are able to work through anything, they also believe that the only right relationship is for their parents to live together. She presents research results that show that children from divorced homes do not do quite as well academically. They have a high level of behavioral problems and this affects their grades. Many of them may not graduate from high school.  Children whose parents’ divorce are more likely to commit crimes as juveniles.  Changes in family income means that children in divorced home could have a five times more likelihood of living in poverty than children who have married parents.  Teens are also more likely to use drugs and alcohol and engage in sexual intercourse. Finally, children from divorced homes are more likely to experience child abuse and could also carry emotional scars even as grown-ups.

Desai continues on to say that the emotional needs of children and those of their parents can remain out of sync for several years. If the parents begin to date, the children can begin to feel abandoned. This even gets worse if the parent gets into a new marriage. Second marriages can compound the feeling of abandonment that children feel. It subjects them to further emotional confusion and turmoil to begin to deal with new relationships. There is even more competition now for the parent’s attention and the whole situation is not created by the children, but rather by the choices the adults have made.

The high rate of second marriages is also taking its toll on children.  Feelings of loss are magnified as the parent engages with a new family. It is therefore almost impossible for full recovery to happen for children, because their whole lives is thrown into a continuous turmoil that they have no escape from.  While the adults might think they can move on, the children are never over it in a full sense.  Desai goes on to suggest that while parents might look at divorce as a quick fix for their own problems, the damage they create for their children can last up to 30 years. Therefore, divorce is in no way a minor thing in the lives of children, parents might do well to consider the consequences of their actions on the lives of their children. Such trauma is too much to ask of children. She goes on to say that bad marriages can be salvaged and transformed to successful marriages. She advises parents not choose divorce lightly; in the end, it is neither an easy way out for the parent or good for the children

Foulkes-Jamison (n.d.) notes that divorce creates multiple stressors for children.  Just knowing that things will be different and not being sure of the future can be frightening for children. Children from divorced families have to try to cope with the many changes. The amount of time they spend with one parent will be reduced, they may have to change schools or move from their family homes. They may have to move between two homes, and may have to be poorer.  Children’s adjustment to divorce can take years, maybe two or more. Some will get adjusted to the situation while others will have problems all their lives, or at least well up into adulthood. The age of the child, their temperament and gender also influence how well they can adjust to having divorced parents.  A child in preschool will react differently from an adolescent. Preschoolers have limited cognitive capacity and cannot process a divorce. Therefore, they are often baffled and do not have the skills to deal with all the changes that go with divorce.  This in turn places them at a greater risk for maladjustment than older children.  Children at ages between six to eight sometimes believe that things will be okay and find it very painful when one of their parents are not living with them.  Ages 9 to 12 may understand a little better, but they tend to take sides and are really angry with their parents. For adolescents, integrating a divorce experience into their own developmental tasks and identities is a complicated task.

Demo and Acock (1988) examine empirical evidence concerning the relationship between divorce, family composition, and the wellbeing of children.  They find that from the pattern of empirical results that emotional development, gender-role orientation and antisocial behavior of children are affected by the structure of the family. They acknowledge that there might be methodological errors in the studies that formed the basis of this finding though. They state that family conflict can be an important variable when looking at the effect of family structure on children.

In looking critically at the issues that affect children when their parents are divorced or how divorce affects children, it is important to factor in the children’s experience before the divorce.  Their experiences before the divorce can sometimes play a major role in how well they can adjust.  The experience of watching parental discord, quarreling and fighting are very negative for a child’s psychological health.  Further trauma is imposed by the actual divorce and parental separation itself.  This is not an easy fact for most young minds to accept, despite the fact that it is so common.  There is a lot of emotional pain associated with the thought that both parents no longer are married or live together.  All these speak to the devastating trauma that divorce wreaks on children.  We can go on further to look at the other factors that affect children post-divorce.

Parental loss is a major devastation as both parents are important in the lives of their children. They both provide the emotional support the children need and are also there for practical help.  Both parents provide guidance and attention.  Divorced children lose this resource and this affects their development. Even with visitation rights, the quality of the relationships change and is not quite as fulfilling. Studies have shown that children fared better in their school work with parents helping and monitoring them.  Parents also help the kids set their moral boundaries and learn to participate in society.

In general, children in divorced families have more stress on their lives. Whether it is from the pressure of confusion and guilty feelings, or parental maladjustment related experiences, divorce creates additional stress for young people and children.  In cases where there is parental maladjustment, instead of having someone to depend on in that traumatic time, they are crushed by parental needs rather.

Economic loss is also a major factor because the tendency is that there is reduced income from one parent and that creates some pressure for the children. While this is not true for all cases, in some cases however, economic needs affect the children. With good child support some of these can be alleviated though.

Parental competence is a crucial factor that affects children.  If the parents parenting skills are not too great or diminish after a divorce, the children are affected negatively.  Good parenting skills have been proven by research to be very important in children’s wellbeing. Thus the parenting skills of the parent with whom the child lives after the divorce, can contribute to causing difficulties for the child, or to improving the situation somewhat for the child as the case may be.

Parental adjustment is very important.   Divorce affects the parents, and some divorced people usually need professional help.  They undergo counseling to be able to cope with the feeling of loneliness, insecurity, inadequacy or whatever else might be the case. Even where the violent party is the one who has moved out, still, there needs to be a period of healing. Having well-adjusted parents can help to improve the wellbeing of children.

Conflicts between parents either before or after the divorce can cause difficulties for children. Children in families where there are lots of conflicts do not do quite as well as those children who live in peaceful families. And sometimes, children do better when they live with one of their parents, than when they live with both of them in a conflict-filled home. The difficulties that children experience are not always caused by the divorce. Their experiences prior to the divorce are equally important.  

In summary, it can be seen that divorce has serious effects on children’s psychological and emotional wellbeing. Children’s ability to cope with parental divorce depends on a combination of factors such as age, parental skills and pre-divorce experiences. Divorce also affects children’s overall engagement in the society and their educational achievements. Adjusting to life after divorce is a very difficult process for any child no matter their age, and as has been stated previously, some children bear the scars of parental divorce all their lives.

In conclusion, given the impact of divorce on children, the increasing rate of divorce and the huge percentage of children that are affected by this problem, there is need for society to pay attention to family institution. From all indications, the devaluation of marriage ultimately is not good for children. Efforts should be focused on making marriages work, more so especially more so when children are involved. Instead of making divorce such a fast track solution to marital problems, the legal system could incorporate counseling programs before divorce is granted.   While there are therapists and counselors that work with traumatized children, efforts should be made to create systems that make services available to all children that need it.  Families that decide on divorce should make provisions for trauma care, as well as economic provisions for the children.  But the ultimate fact remains that; nothing can replace marriage and what it stands for, with regards to bringing children into the world and caring for them. Therefore critical efforts should be directed at upholding this institution by government, non-profit groups, religious groups, as well as individuals, for the good of children.

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