How Divorce Affect Adolescents Social Work Essay

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With the rising divorce rate it is important to look at how divorce affects adolescents in these situations. In terms of academics both boys and girls are more inferior than that of nondivorced children in school performance. There is also a lower number of these children who go on to higher education. One difference that is found between boys and girls form divorced families is that boys of divorced parents are found to have the most behavioral problems (e.g., aggressiveness, impulsivity). These poorer skills prior to the divorce lead to decresed school performance. Also the dropout rate for boys from divorced families is higher than that of girls in the same situation (Forehand, 1991). Not only are there academic effects of divorce but also social. These effects were reported to be similiar in many cases. Some of them are having more responsibility at home (e.g., baby-sitting, household chores, etc.) causing them to spend less time with friends and going to social events. Many teens experience anger and frustration toward the parents for this reason. These as well as other things lead to depression which is frequently found in teens form divorced families. One difference in social adjustment after divorce in girls is that they become more sexually active at a younger age (Avo, 1992).

How does divorce affect the child's present and future relationships?


experienced higher levels of distrust

did not want a serious relationship

more prone to breakups


more likely to get a divorce or separate

those who can see past parents mistakes and forgive them make stronger more

committed marriage partners

How can the affects of divorce be strengthened or weakened?

presences of extra familial support systems

accurately assessing responsibility for divorce

resolving loyalty conflicts

the child-parent relationship before, during and after divorce

relationship between parents during and after the divorce

For Further Reading . . .

Buchanan, Christy M., October 1991. Caught Between Parents, Adolescents' Experience in Divorced Homes. Child Development, 72, p 1008-1029.

Hargreaves, Margaret Barnwell, 1991. Learning Under Stress. Metuchen, New Jersey:Women's Action Alliance and The Scarecrow Press, Inc.

Wallerstein, Judith S. Ph.D., and Blaklee, Snadra, 1989. Second Chances. New York: Tickor and Fields.

Wallerstein, Judith S. and Kelly, Joan Berlin, 1980. Surviving The Breakup. New York:

Divorce and Children:

An Interview with Robert Hughes, Jr, PhD

Robert Hughes is an Associate Professor and Extension Specialist in the Department of Human Development and Family Science at Ohio State University. For the past 20 years, he has conducted educational programs in family relations for family life professionals, and for family members themselves, with a primary emphasis on families at risk, family stress, and single parenting. Parent News asked him to discuss his work in the area of divorce and its impact on children.

The following article discusses the impact of divorce on children's behavior and academic achievement.

Parent News: What is the current divorce rate? Has the divorce rate changed much over the past 5 to 10 years?

Robert Hughes: The divorce rate in the United States has generally been going up throughout the 20th century until its peak in the late 1970s. The rate of divorce has been slowly declining since that peak. In the most recent data, there were about 20 divorces for every 1,000 women over the age of 15. This number is down from about 23 divorces per 1,000 women in 1978, but it is still significantly greater than the rate of divorce during the 1950s. At that time, the rate of divorce was about 5 per 1,000 women.

The divorce rate has been climbing in every industrialized country in the world. There are two significant factors affecting the rising divorce rate in the United States and elsewhere:

men and women are less in need of each other for economic survival, and

gains made in birth control allow men and women to separate sexual activity from having children.

A variety of factors are producing the current leveling off of the divorce rate. We may be at the end of the effects produced by the emergence of reliable birth control in the 1960s, but there are also other factors. Our population is aging, and in general longer marriages are more likely to remain intact. Also, more young people are cohabiting rather than getting married. The breakup of this kind of relationship does not get recorded as a divorce.

Parent News: What are some of the outcomes for children who experience divorce?

Robert Hughes: It is important to note that while divorce increases children's risk for a variety of problems, not all children who experience divorce have problems. Children of divorce are twice as likely as children living in nondivorced families to experience difficulties. Roughly 20% to 25% of these children will have problems. Another way of saying this is that 75% to 80% will not experience these difficulties. In other words, while children of divorce are at greater risk, most will not have major problems.

Parent News: What are some of the problems children frequently have?

Robert Hughes: Children from divorced families are more likely to have academic problems. They are more likely to be aggressive and get in trouble with school authorities or the police. These children are more likely to have low self-esteem and feel depressed. Children who grow up in divorced families often have more difficulties getting along with siblings, peers, and their parents. Also, in adolescence, they are more likely to engage in delinquent activities, to get involved in early sexual activity, and to experiment with illegal drugs. In adolescence and young adulthood, they are more likely to have some difficulty forming intimate relationships and establishing independence from their families.

Parent News: Can you elaborate on the effects of divorce on children's academic achievement?

Robert Hughes: Whether you use children's grades, standardized test scores, or dropout rates, children whose parents divorce generally have poorer scores. These results have been found quite consistently throughout a variety of research studies over the past three decades. Importantly, children's actual performance on tests consistently shows this difference, but results based on teacher or parent reports are less likely to show this difference. We believe that both parents and teachers often underestimate the difficulties a child may be having in school or may not recognize the problems.

In some cases, it appears that children's difficulties with school may be caused more by their behavior than their intellectual abilities. The pattern may be somewhat different for boys and girls. Boys are more likely to be aggressive and have problems getting along with their peers and teachers. These problems may lead them to spend less time in school or on their schoolwork. Girls, on the other hand, are more likely to experience depression, which may interfere with their ability to concentrate on schoolwork or to put as much effort into their work. School success has long-term implications for children's success in life, and so it is important to find ways to support children from divorced families.

The Child Advocate

Divorce Effects on Children

An Exploration of the Ramifications of Divorce on Children and Adolescents

Sara Eleoff

The Pennsylvania State University College of Medicine

November 2003


Initial Reactions of Children to Divorce [3]

·       Divorce is an intensely stressful experience for all children, regardless of age or developmental level; many children are inadequately prepared for the impending divorce by their parents. A study in 1980 found that less than 10% of children had support from adults other than relatives during the acute phase of the divorce. 

·       The pain experienced by children at the beginning of a divorce is composed of: a sense of vulnerability as the family disintegrates, a grief reaction to the loss of the intact family (many children do not realize their parents' marriage is troubled), loss of the non-custodial parent, a feeling of intense anger as the disruption of the family, and strong feelings of powerlessness. 

·       Unlike bereavement or other stressful events, it is almost unique to divorcing families that as children experience the onset of this life change, usual and customary support systems tend to dissolve, though the ignorance or unwillingness of adults to actively seek out this support for children. 

Developmental Considerations in the Response of Children [3]

·       A major focus of the scholarly literature on divorce is the grouping of common reactions of children by age groups. 

·       Preschool (ages 3-5): These children are likely to exhibit a regression of the most recent developmental milestone achieved. Additionally, sleep disturbances and an exacerbated fear of separation from the custodial parent are common. There is usually a great deal of yearning for the non-custodial parent. 

·       Early latency (ages 6½-8): These children will often openly grieve for the departed parent. There is a noted preoccupation with fantasies that distinguishes the reactions of this age group. Children have replacement fantasies, or fantasies that their parents will happily reunite in the not-so-distant future. Children in this developmental stage have an especially difficult time with the concept of the permanence of the divorce.  

·       Late latency (ages 8-11): Anger and a feeling of powerlessness are the predominate emotional response in this age group. Like the other developmental stages, these children experience a grief reaction to the loss of their previously intact family. There is a greater tendency to label a 'good' parent and a 'bad' parent and these children are very susceptible to attempting to take care of a parent at the expense of their own needs. 

·       Adolescence (ages 12-18): Adolescents are prone to responding to their parent's divorce with acute depression, suicidal ideation, and sometimes violent acting out episodes. These children tend to focus on the moral issues surrounding divorce and will often judge their parents' decisions and actions. Many adolescents become anxious and fearful about their own future love and marital relationships. However, this age group has the capability to perceive integrity in the post-divorce relationship of their parents and to show compassion for their parents without neglecting their own needs.


Effects of Divorce on the Parent-Child Relationship

·       Diminished parenting: In the wake of a divorce, most custodial mothers exhibit varying degrees of disorganization, anger, decreased expectations for appropriate social behavior of their children, and a reduction of the ability of parents to separate the child's needs and actions from those of the adult. While diminished parenting is usually an expected short-term consequence of divorce; there is a serious potential for these changes to become chronic if a custodial parent does not reconstitute the relationship with the child or becomes involved in a new relationship which overwhelms the relationship with the child. [4] 

·       The overburdened child phenomena: approximately 15% of children interviewed at the 10 year follow-up point in a 15 year study showed significant effects from taking on the role of holding a custodial parent together psychologically. In a change that goes deeper than a simple reversal of the care-taker role, the child oftentimes becomes responsible for staving off depression and other threats to parent's psychological functioning, at the cost of their own needs. [3]

The Impact of Paternal Involvement on Post-Divorce Children [2]

·       When the divorce rate began to rise exponentially in the 1970s, it was thought that absence of paternal contact was a critical factor in the poor adaptation of some children to divorce. Several studies, including the National Survey of Children, have shown that paternal participation has a negligible effect, if any, on the well being of children (academics, behavioral problems, distress, and delinquency). However, it is important to note that there are several limiting factors in these studies (low overall level of paternal contact with children) and that the principle conclusion derived should be that increased paternal contact does not correlate to increases in positive outcomes.

Long-term Outcomes

·       10 and 15 year longitudinal studies show that divorce is not to be considered as an acute stress/crisis in the lives of children but rather, it is an event that can have long term consequences on psychosocial functional of children, adolescents, and young adults. The long-term outcomes of well-adjusted or poorly adjusted children draw heavily on the child's post-divorce quality of life and on the post-divorce or remarried parent-child relationships. 

·       The most frequent delayed onset negative consequences center around anxieties and fear of the child that s/he will repeat the failed marital or love relationship that the child observed during the divorce. [4] 

·       Wallerstein's 'sleeper effect' is a piquant example of the far-reaching effects of one such long-term consequence. Up to 66% of the women between 19-23 that were interviewed during 10 years post-divorce had a resurgence of anxiety, fear, guilt, and anger that they had suppressed for many years. These feelings tended to resurface when the adolescent and young adult women were attempting to make major life decisions (such as marriage). [3]


·       Divorce and its ensuing ramifications can have a significant and life-altering impact on the well being and subsequent development of children and adolescents. 

·       The consequences of divorce impact almost all aspects of a child's life, including the parent-child relationship, emotions and behavior, psychological development, and coping skills. 

·       There is a significant need for child mental health professionals, along with other child specialists, to be cognizant of the broad spectrum of possible fall-out from a divorce and then to provide sufficient support for children of divorced parents in all the necessary psychosocial aspects of the child's life.