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The increase in the rate of divorce may be the most dramatic change in family life and divorce is being more and more common in the modern society. Demographers suggest that about 50% of first marriages would be voluntarily dissolved in recent years (Cherlin, 1992). Compared with statistics in the middle of 19th century which only 5% of first marriages ended in divorce (Preston & McDonald, 1979), the number is shocking. Moreover, slightly more than half of all divorces involve children and adolescences aged below 18. More than one million children experience parental divorce every year (U.S. Bureau of the Census, 1998, Table 160), and Bumpass (1990) suggested that about 40% of all children will experience parental divorce before reaching adulthood. The statistics and experts’ opinions demonstrate the trend of increasing divorce rate, and thus there are more and more children experiencing parental divorce. In response to this, the essay is going to focus on the impact of parental divorce in different aspects if the event happens at the time when the children are in their adolescence and young adulthood. After that, the essay will discuss the impact on them when they grow up into young adults.
With the increasing rate of divorce, parental divorce happening at the time when children are in their adolescence and young adulthood is more commonplace. The parental divorce may affect the children in different aspects. The impact may also be widespread. A 25-year study of 60 post-divorce families with 131 children was conducted by psychologist Judith Wallerstein. Wallerstein (2001) finds out that the immediate effects of divorce on children may be different according to their gender, age and developmental stage. For adolescents which are one of the focuses of this essay, they will suffer depression. They will also have suicidal thoughts and express anxiety about having successful marriages. Sandford(2008) also suggests that some findings in 1990s indicated that children of divorce have lower academic achievement. They may also have some behavioral, psychological, relationship or even health problems.
Researches done over the past years have consistently shown that divorce has a negative impact on the academic achievement of children of divorce. (Wallerstein, Corbin, & Lewis, 1988; Popenoe, 1993). They are more likely to have low grades and score lower on academic tests. They also have lower educational aspirations and are two to three times more likely to be dropped out of school. The impact may continue to their adulthood and lower their social competence as they just achieve lower levels of education and thus lower occupational status. Thus, their income is usually less.
Adolescents experiencing parental divorce may also have different psychological problems. According to Wallerstein (2001), the level of depression and anxiety is higher in children of divorce. Their self esteem is also lower and they experience more often use of psychological services. It is found that girls from divorced families are much more depressed than girls from intact families in some cases. For boys, they are more hopeless and discouraged when there are more family distresses. It should be noted that some differences in psychological well-being may due to financial disadvantages. Compared with peers from married families, children of divorce may have a lower standard of living. It is due to two reasons. Firstly, living standard of women usually decline more than men’s after divorce (Ross, 1995). Secondly, most children live with their mothers after divorce (Smyth, Sheenhan and Felberg, 2001). Thus they usually live with a lower family income. They will probably move to new residences and to poor neighborhoods. Because of the difficult economic conditions, they would have another form of loss and become more depress.
Children of divorce are also prone to different behavioral problems. They may have disorders in conduct, difficulty with authorities and behaviors that are antisocial (Hetherington and Kelly, 2002). Compared with children from intact families, they are also two to three times more probably to engage in adolescent delinquency and the conduct problems are more common among boys than in girls. Jeynes (2001) also suggests that adolescent from divorced families have alcohol more often and in larger quantities. They are also more likely to take drugs, have pre-marital sex, end up in prison and commit murder, etc.
Apart from psychological and behavioral problems, relationship problems are common among children from divorced families. Sandford (2008) suggests that female adolescents that have experienced parental divorce are more likely to have earlier sexual activities and have more sexual partners than those without experience in parental divorce during their high school years. He also points out that they begin their menstruation earlier. And it seems to be some relationships between early menstruation and early sexual intercourse. It is suggested that the girls having earlier sexual activity have poor self-regulatory skills. It might be attributed to the avoidance of teaching the skills needed to gain self-control in divorced families. Moreover, it might be due to disengagement between these children and their parents at a younger age. Thus their relationship is not as good as that in intact family.
Divorced children’s relationship with parents is also weaker (Sandford, 2008). According to research done by Hetherington and Kelly (2002), similar proportion of children from divorced families and from intact families feel close to their mothers (70% vs. 80%). However, only less than one-third of children report such closeness with their father while 70% of children with married parents report these feelings. The findings coincide with other researches that there are high proportion of disengaged or totally absent fathers following divorces. It is the conflicts between the ex-spouses and custody arrangements that cause fathers to feel disengaged from their children. Avoidance of child support payments is also a reason for the fathers to stay away from their children. Because of the above reasons, adolescents from divorced families view their father to be less caring. Marital instability is also another relationship faced by children from divorced families when they grow up and it will be discussed later in the essay.
Although research found quite a lot of negative impacts on adolescents when they face parental divorce, positive consequences are also possible. A study by Arditti (1999) suggests that the children from divorced families, especially daughters, develop very close relationships with their custodial mother. It may be due to the extra care given by the custodial mothers as their fathers are disengaged from the families.
The impact of divorce on children may not be short term. It is possible that divorce will affect the children in different aspects even when they grow up into young adults. Several impacts are confirmed by Amato (2000) that they are consistent with prior research. Firstly, children with divorced parents are more likely to experience psychological problems in adulthood. Secondly, they have more problems in forming and maintaining stable intimate relationships with their partners. Thirdly, they have weaker ties to their parents when they grow up into young adults.
Amato (2000) suggests that divorce is undoubtedly “a risk factor for psychological problems during childhood and into adulthood”. It is agreed that there is a tendency of adults having parental divorce experience less satisfaction with their lives, higher rates of depression and lower self-esteem. Wallerstein, Lewis and Blakeslee (2001) findings also point out that about one third of the children had serious psychological problems such as clinical depression, poor performance in school or difficulty in maintaining friendships. Moreover, their 25-year in depth study also suggests that even 25 years after the divorce, the children (now adults) “still recalled the shock, unhappiness, loneliness, bewilderment and anger”. Higher level of depression has also been found to continue in adulthood. Both men and women report comparatively worse of psychological well-being. Although Amato (2000) argues that the adults who experienced parental divorce and are suffering from serious psychological problems are not as many as one third of them, the effects of divorce would probably persist into adulthood.
Weaker ties to their parents is another impact when children grown up into young adults. Weisberg and Appleton (2003) describe a survey carried out by a sociologist. 1500 adults who had experienced a divorce before the age of 14 and a comparison group of children from intact family were surveyed. It was found that children of divorce (now adults) felt they were outsiders in their own home. They also had frequent feelings of being alone and were less likely to seek comfort from their parents. The weak ties to their parents usually persist into their adulthood. Another research done by Hetherington and Kelly (2002) also found that less than one-third of children of divorce report close feelings to their fathers. And even when they grow up into adult, they doubt whether their fathers care or love them.
It is also suggested that children with parental divorce would have more problems in forming and maintaining stable intimate relationships with their partners (Amato, 2000). According to Hetherington and Kelly (2002), children of divorce are more likely than children of intact families to have marital instability and lower marital satisfaction. They generally have more thoughts about divorce and the divorce rates among children of divorce are also a bit higher when they grow up into adults. The phenomenon may be explained by the wariness to commit to a relationship, perceiving divorce as an alternative for unhappy marriages. Moreover, a contentious family life may result in generally weaker relationship skills.
Weisberg and Appleton (2003) also stated that a lot of studies have shown that parental divorce is a risk factor for other problems in adulthood. The problems include low socioeconomic attainment, poor subjective wellbeing, increased marital problems, and a greater likelihood of seeing one’s own marriages end in divorce (Amato, 1999). It might be hard to understand why the problems persist into adulthood. Weisberg and Appleton (2003) suggested that parental divorce may lead to financial crisis. The original plans to attend college may be abandoned, thus resulting in lower occupational attainment and wages throughout adulthood. For children who were exposed to poor parental models of interpersonal behavior, they might have difficulty when wanting to form stable, satisfying and intimate relationship as young adults. The above considerations suggest that it may be possible that some children show improvement soon after parental divorce in terms of behavior or relationship, however, some effects might only appear when the children reach young adulthood.
Although the essay focuses on the impact of parental divorce on children, it is also important to note some of the methods that the children can adopt in order to adjust to divorce and minimize the negative impacts brought. Kelly (2003) suggests that conflicts between parents should be diminished. Competent residential parenting such as warmth and emotional support and adequate monitoring to the children is also needed. The non-residential parents also have a role. They should offer stable financial support to the divorced family. Regular contacts with the children and involvement in issues related to their children should also be carried out in order to help with children’s adjustment to divorce. It is the effort made by the parents that can minimized the impacts mentioned above.
As discussed above, it is shown that parental divorce is an upsetting and disruptive event in the lives of the children. Although some scholars argue that children can develop successfully in a variety of family structures and view divorce as an escape from a dysfunctional home environment, more evidences and findings suggest that having experience of parental divorce may cause different problems such as psychological, emotional, behavioral and social problems. The children in divorced families may also deal with relationships in a disturbed manner. The effect may not be short term and can extent to adulthood in some cases. There may be intergenerational transmission of divorce and the adults may have difficulties in dealing with intimate relationship. The marriages of the adults with parental divorce experience would also be affected. It is arguable that not all children from divorced families suffer from these problems. And there are a lot of factors affect the impacts of parental divorce on children or the recovery process such as access to parents or parental support. Sex difference, the family structure or the relationship with parents may also be some of the factors. Although many factors should be considered, some negative impacts are proved that they would happen more frequently among children with parental divorce. And we should understand the impacts in order to find measures that can help the children adjust to divorce.
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