DIVORCE AND CHILDREN… EXPLORING THE NEGATIVE EFFECTS ON CHILDREN INTRODUCTION Pickhardt (2006) defined divorce as the process in which two individuals decided to legally separate all aspect of their lives (legal, social, physical, and emotional) to develop their own individual lives. In today’s society, divorce is becoming an increasing epidemic of married couples with or without children. Such divorces that involve kids become increasingly difficult due to the stability of the children involved. Many children feel a sense of guilt when he or she learns that their parents are getting a divorce. Children often take the blame and feel as if he or she was the cause of their parents’ problems and the reason for divorce. Lansky also accredits divorce to being the single most traumatic experience within a child’s life that does experience the divorce of their parents (Lansky 2003). DIVORCE AFFECTS IN CHILDREN Divorce impacts anyone who is involved within the matter. Studies use to assume that preschoolers were the worst effected by divorce, but further research does not support this theory. In fact, there's not a single age that is clearly worse or clearly better effected by a parents divorce. The unfortunate act within divorce is that children get caught in the middle of divorce, when the children are simply innocent victims within such situations. Children, individuals at the age of ten and younger, can have a difficult time within such an event. Kids at this age aren’t at the emotional or psychological state to be able to fully grasp the circumstances of divorce and how it can be inevitable with most failing marriages. Because of their age, they feel that each parent should stay together no matter what and can’t look outside of the situation to evaluate the true damage being done to all relationships surrounding the marriage. Children of this age depend upon parents to provide stability, love, and security. Once divorce arises, these children can feel that his or her world is crumbling around them and feel a sense of abandonment from both parents. This sense of abandonment can be increasingly stronger towards the parent who he or she feels initiated the divorce. Other emotional and psychological issues can arise from the feeling of abandonment such as anxiety and insecurities. These children can experience feelings of insecurity by the thought of love leaving the home because of divorce. Children face anxiety of loosing the lifestyle he or she is accustomed to as well as the future living arrangements of the parent leaving. They look at the situation as if one or both parents can “stop” loving each other then how is it guaranteed that they won’t stop loving me (Pickhardt 2006). Other questions that children are faced with in divorce situations are “why? Why is this happening to my family? Why can’t mommy and daddy stay together? Why are you making mommy or daddy move out? The way parents address such answers with children can hinder or help his or her emotional state throughout understanding the terms for divorce (Lansky 2003). Young children can also encounter behavioral changes due to the emotional stress that divorce has on them. Such stress can cause physical changes, as well, in the health of a child. Children may develop the following due to stress: appetite changes (loss or over eating), sleep loss, decrease in normal play activities, nausea, and even headaches. These signs and symptoms correlate with the direct affects of stress on individuals (Pickhardt 2006). DIVORCE AFFECTS IN ADOLESCENCE Adolescence is the stage in an individual’s life where he or she is trying to define his or her self and breakaway from their childhood habits. Children that fall within this group are able to understand the reasons for divorce and see the conceptual things that are going on within the household such as disagreements, nonverbal cues, and the disengagement within their parents. These adolescents are going through their own independence and are gaining of self worth; therefore divorce can further push these children away from their parents and push them to the extremes of expressing his or her self. He or she will turn to anger to express his or her emotion and can look to piers for guidance whereas previously looked to his or her parents. This can definitely cause the parents to struggle in discipline because the children are being so rebellious and angry (Pickhardt 2006). Such rebellion can result in children committing crimes, sneaking out of the house, skipping school, becoming sexually active to seek attention from another, and to experiment and possibly become addicted to drugs (Lansky 2003). The risk of child/teen pregnancy also increases due to these children looking for “love in all the wrong places” and the feeling of need and importance. If a pregnancy arises, the mindset of the child is usual in that of neglecting attention from the divorcing parent and the child feels that this could be a way or she can gain such attention. Parents often think it is all right to confide in his or her children about what is going on because he or she is at the age to be able to understand. This can cause an adolescent to think that he or she must pick a side within the divorce. This is very damaging among the relationship with the other parent because it can distort the views that he or she has for this parent. Adolescents can often feel that he or she needs to become the support system for the other parent and he or she feels the need to take an “adult” type relationship with that parent. This puts more stress on these adolescents who are already experiencing the stress of change and can cause more emotional and psychological problems (Lansky 2003). EDUCATIONAL INTERFERENCES As mentioned above, a child’s health can be affected by a divorce on an emotional, physical, and psychological viewpoint. Because of this, their functionality within school and play can be affected. A child who is in elementary school can become withdrawn and struggle to stay attentive in school. These children can also show aggression towards others because of the defeat and anger about the divorce. If these children encounter such physical side effects, he or she can start to miss more school and fall behind in school activities as well (Benedek and Brown 1995). Studies also report that parents of divorce have lower educational expectations of their children. This is due in part to the parent being distracted by the divorce and establishing his or her own life and managing it without spousal support as before. The parent may become less involved in monitoring the schoolwork to be completed by the child or mistaken that the other parent has taken on this role. The overall supervision of school and social activities can be compromised of those children who are products of divorce (Rodriguez and Arnold 1998). There is also statistical information that supports significant negative differences in high school dropout rates between children whose parents are divorced and those whose parents are still together. According to Rodriguez and Arnold, 73% of children receive a high school diploma and another 12% receive a General Equivalency Diploma (GED). The other 15% of children are those who do not receive any type of degree accredited with finishing high school. Children from divorced families are about twice as likely to drop out of school as children from two-parent families. The differences between these two groups of children are even larger when GEDs are excluded and only high school diplomas are used as indicators of school success. This source also indicates that the high school dropout rate with divorce is at an astonishing 31% verse only 13% with a two-parent family (Rodriguez and Arnold, 1998). Therefore, one can derive that divorce has a greater negative affect on a child’s education than a child of a two-parent household. Thus, living in a divorced household increases the risk of dropping out of school, but is not the primary source of school failure. LONG TERM CONSEQUENCES Judith Wallerstein, a psychologist, is known for her world-renowned research on divorce effects on children. She researched many of these long lasting effects of divorce in her 25 year long study that she called “The Unexpected Legacy of Divorce”. Wallerstein remains one of the most influential persons of such divorce studies. Wallerstein, Lewis, and Blakeslee (2001) explained the difficulties that young adults still carry because of divorce. We watch as they struggle with fear that their relationships will fail like those of their parents. Lacking an internal template of what a successful relationship looks like, they must invert their own codes of behavior in a culture that offers many models and few guidelines (Wallerstein, Lewis, and Blakeslee 2001). ” She also explained how divorce is not just a sudden and abrupt change for children but is a life long changing experience. She first handedly saw this pattern time and time again in a quarter century long study. This study pointed out just how drastic and life-transforming divorce can be. After divorce, life is completely changed; thus childhood and adolescence is different for those experiencing such levels in maturing. Adulthood is effected and changed because the views of individuals change based upon his or her experience, of divorce, in the areas of marriage and the decision to have children. Whether the final outcome is good or bad, the whole trajectory of an individual’s life is profoundly altered by the divorce experience (Wallerstein, Lewis, and Blakeslee 2001). THE TRUTH: HOW OFTEN DIVORCE REALLY HAPPENS In the last twenty years, divorce statistics have skyrocketed. According to Jennifer Baker, between forty-five and fifty percent of U. S. marriages are ending in divorce in just their first marriages. Baker also noted that couples that stay together through the first year, have divorce rates of up to 67% of second year and up to 74% of third year marriages end in divorce. The highest divorce percentage amongst adults is between the ages of twenty to twenty four year olds. Amongst this age group, women have a divorce rate of 36. 6%; whereas men are at 38. 8 % (“Divorce Statistics,” n. d. ). The trauma to this country due to divorce is an overwhelming statistics that continues to rise. Married couples that decided to get divorced with children have a lower divorce rate than those couple that does not children, according to the Discovery Channel. The married couples, which do not have kids, are thought to divorce because of the possible factor of not having children, according to Sociologists. These couples experience a sense of loneliness within their relationship and are more likely to get a divorce because of this. Married couples without kids account for at least 66% of all divorces according to the Discovery Channel (“Divorce Statistics,” n. d. ). As divorce statistics continue to rise, experts expect the proportion of single parent households to increase as well. This would have a huge impact on not just American families, but the American culture as a whole, as children from single parent households often don't receive the attention and security they need. Children that do not have father figures in their lives have behavioral problems (85% of these children) and quit their high school education (71% of these children). Children from single parent homes are also more than likely to have teenage pregnancies and to become single parents themselves (Arasteh 1988). SINGLE PARENT HOMES Single parent families can no longer be viewed as nontraditional families. These families are all around us today. The U. S. Census Bureau reported that only one parent heads about 30 percent of American families. In 2000, this single parent family structure accounted for over 12 million households. It's estimated that about 60 percent of all children spend at least some of their childhood in a single parent family (as cited in “Parents without Partners, International,” n. d. ). In America, the effects of single parent family life on children fall into two categories: • Those attributed to the lower socioeconomic status of single parents and • The short-term consequences of divorce that moderate over time. Poverty is the most profound and pervasive factor underlying developmental problems of the young. Roughly, one of two families headed by a single mother is living in poverty compared with one of ten married couples with children (McLanahan & Booth, 1989). On average, poor children in mother headed families are poor for seven years, more than a third of their childhood (Garfinkel & McLanahan, 1986). Single parents are also less involved in their children's school activities and have lower educational goals for their children, two factors known to jeopardize their academic achievement. The largest education gap was found among white males, with each year spent in a one-parent family reducing eventual education by about a tenth of a year. Black males, on average, spent eight years in a parent situation, and received six tenths of a year less schooling than those who spend their entire childhood in a two-parent home. Black males that spent eighteen years with just one parent finished 1. 3 fewer years of school. The differences were much less significant for women. For white women, time spent in a single parent family made no difference in educational gains. The variation was slight for black women (Arasteh 1988). Single parent homes affect children’s psychology producing negative effects on the child's self esteem, behavior, as well as education. Fatherless homes also take a greater toll, particularly on boys, rather than girls. Growing up in a single parent home effects children's self esteem to where they may develop negative feelings about themselves and they start to feel unwanted because they do not have a father that is actively present in their lives. There are also a large number of children who don't even know who their father is. Children might think of themselves as lesser, or not as good as those who do. This causes repressed anger and resentment towards the parent that isn't there. Children will not always show signs, but it affects them on the inside. The negative aspects of single motherhood are that because women make less money, they have to work longer hours, which leaves them with less time for the children (Pickhardt 2006). The ever-growing single father household also faces unique challenges. In comparison to women, men tend to have better positions in the work force, giving them higher salaries. Because of this, some single men do not run into the economic issues that most single mothers do. Single fathers often do not communicate as well with their children as single mothers do. This leads to the children of single father households being more likely to use drugs, to have been drunk countless times, and to have had sex at an earlier age (Arasteh 1988). THE SMART STRATEGY FOR DIVORCE Divorce among parents does not have to be a negative action and can be properly addressed with children causing less negative effects on children of divorce. Both parents should understand the well being of their children and both work to keep their children out of the “mess” that a divorce can create. Children should not be involved in any discussions about the divorce or legalities of the event as well as refrain from any arguments in front of the children. Both parents should be prepared to address the “why” questions in appropriate manners that do not single out either parent. This will help the child to refrain from taking sides as well as demonstrate that there can still remain open communications within the household. During such discussions children need to feel that each parent understands where he or she is coming from and further assure this when answering such questions. This will break down the communication to a level for their understanding (Neuman and Romanowski 1998). Each parent needs to work out a plan so that each of them can parent well together. Each parent should remain involved within their children’s lives and constantly talk with their kids. If possible, it’s also a good idea to live nearby so that the child has the opportunity to stay within the same school and keep the same friends because a transition in result of a move can become very stressful on kids. Disciple and organization needs to be developed amongst both parents and equally implemented within both households. This will help keep a balance within the child’s life and show that each parent is willing to play an active role in their children’s lives. This will also show the child that each parent is willing to put him or her first within his or her own individual lives (Ahrons 2004). CONCLUSION Divorce in America has risen to the point that every marriage is threatened. Behind the numbers are millions of families struggling to rebuild after this incredible loss. Most people don't regret their divorce once the actual legal process is complete. Even among people who were not the instigators of divorce, most divorced couples are happier years later. Although many people view divorce as a threat to the "American society", it clearly can be the right choice in many circumstances. As mentioned in “the smart strategy for divorce,” there are many ways that children can experience the less harsh realities of divorce and how families can work together to put their children first. REFERENCES Ahrons, Constance (2004). We’re still family: What grown children have to say about their Parents’ divorce. New York: HarperCollins Publishers. Arasteh, Josephine D. (1988). Impact of Divorce, Single Parenting, and Step parenting on Children. Hillsdale: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates. Benedek, Elissa P. & Brown, Catherine F. (1995). How to help your child overcome your divorce. New York: Newmarket Press. Divorce Statistics. (n. d. ). Retrieved on June 27, 2009, from http://www. divorcestatistics. org Garfinkel, Irwin & McLanahan, S. (1986). Single Mothers and Their Children: A New American Dilemma (pp. 24-25). Washington, D. C. : The Urban Inst Press. Lansky, Vicki (2006). Divorce book for parents: Helping your children cope with divorce and its aftermath. Minnetonka, MN: Book Peddlers. McLanahan, S. & Booth, K. (1989). Mother-only families: Problems, prospects, and politics. Journal of Marriage and the Family, 51, 557-580. Neuman, M. Gary & Romanowski, Patricia (1998). Helping your kids cope with divorce: the sandcastles way. New York: Random House. Parenting without Partners, International (n. . ). Facts about single parent families. Retrieved on June 27, 2009, from http://www. parentswithoutpartners. org/Support1. htm Pickhardt, Carl E. (2006). The Everything: Parent’s guide to children and divorce. Avon, MA: Adams Media. Rodriguez, H & Arnold, C. (1998). Children & Divorce: A Snapshot. Retrieved on June 26, 2009, from http://www. clasp. org/publications/children_and_divorce. htm Wallerstein, Judith, Lewis, Julia, & Blakeslee, Sandra. (2001). The Unexpected Legacy of divorce: A 25 Year Landmark Study. New York: Hyperion.
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