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The term divorce is defined by Merriam Webster Langenscheidt’s Pocket Dictionary as an act or instance of legally dissolving a marriage. It is usually between a man and a woman. However recent evolution and other social constructs have tended to see divorce as a legal dissolution between partners, for example, a marriage between gay or lesbian partners. The latter statement goes to explain the fact that some jurisdiction recognizes marriages between the same sexes. Therefore the definition of marriage cannot be restricted to the traditional description of what marriage is. It must also be noted that various cultures have a way of dealing with divorce.
To Margulies, Sam (2004), the decision to divorce is the beginning of two streams of events. Firstly, filing for divorce triggers legal, emotional and financial process in which the house hold must be split into two. The second stream of event is the building of new lives, households, who has custody of children of the union and new protocols being negotiated.
Again, one of the things that makes divorce such a unique and often troubled experience is that it involves a complex interaction between two different processes. Firstly, divorce is a difficult emotional process. It causes intense feeling of sadness humiliation, abandonment, disappointment, rejection and rage. Most of all, divorce engenders fear, particularly fear of loss. People fear lost of identity as spouse and parents, loss of economic and security, loss of control over their lives and loss of dignity. So the emotional process of divorce is one in which people have to manage all their feelings at the same time. As with any other transition, there are stages that most people pass, beginning with initial turmoil, followed by struggle with change, and eventually with adaptation and adjustment. Children of the marriage to be honest are not speared the pain of these processes. Margulies, Sam (2004).
For the purposes of this academic discourse, a child is somebody who is primarily under the age of eighteen or someone who is not yet twenty three but still in a training program. For instance, it concerns a person who is studying in a training institution like Sheridan College. The word consequences as would be used in this research represent the various experiences, children whose parents are going through divorce face.
This paper will therefore establish and make clear a hypothesis to be analyzed. Various arguments would be adduced to support and prove the said hypothesis. On the other hand a counter argument will be made to refute the hypothesis. A balance discussion on the research will also be delved into. Finally a presentation on the outcome of the research will be done.
The hypothesis is “there are lifelong consequences for children whose parents go through divorce”. Almost 50 percent of children whose parents divorce show signs of psychological damage during the first year after the event. According to a 1994 policy statement from the American Academy of Paediatrics, such boys become aggressive whiles adolescent girls get depressed. To prove further the devastating nature of divorce on children whose parents go through divorce are more likely to develop drug and alcohol problems. Pemberton K.C.(1998) in reviewing Psychologist Judith Wallerstein’s twenty- five (25) year study on the impact of divorce on children, found out that although the divorcing man and woman might be able to overcome the trauma and challenges associated with divorce, the circumstances of the children are different. Children of such unions can carry the ill effects of divorce into their own adult years. Such adults tend to have fear of commitment, unstable father-child relationships and bitter memories of the legal system. In explaining this position further, Pemberton K.C. (1998), asserts “I do not argue that children have no chance of healthy or happiness after their parents had divorced but the challenges children must meet after their parents’ divorce are severe and devastating”.
As much as scholars like Pemberton K.C. (1998) and Emery (2004) have painted a horrible picture of the situation, the same scholars have conceded to the fact that some children who experience this phenomenon grow to live a healthy and a successful life. For example there are enhancing programs in our schools that go a long way to support and prepare such children for future healthy living.
ARGUMENT TO PROVE HYPOTHESIS
As it has been noted, there are various arguments that go to support the premise that, children whose parents go through divorce suffer lifelong consequences. Some of the issues are best explained when put under emotional, physical and social consequences. To most children, divorce will constitute the first major crisis of their lives. Children turn to exhibit many emotional and psychological traumas. For instance in a conversation I had with a child and youth worker at Apple wood Height secondary school as part of my preparation towards gathering information for this project, enumerated that, children whose parents had gone and are going through divorce turn to be withdrawn in class. This behaviour tends to manifest itself in their academic performance. This Psychological effect makes them act aggressive towards their peers and seems to struggle with normal processes of growing up.
In much the same way, Emery, E. R.(2004), supported this hypothesis by stating that “There are those who contend that divorce inevitable and invariable devastates children and set the stage for a lifetime of emotional problems, period”. To prove this point further, he attempted to compare the behaviour and attitudes of children who are perceived to be normal because they are under the guidance of their two parents and those children whose parents are going or had gone through divorce. He found out that, the very process of divorce between parents causes the children to struggle through the pain and upheaval of their parents’ divorce. Secondly, through sensationalistic media or our own hysteria, we lay the burden of carrying a ticking time bomb on kids by inaccurately trumpeting the “tug of war” between the parents. Even if parents seem to be doing well by handling the divorce crisis, children are inevitable doomed or damaged because of divorce.
After the divorce process, it introduces huge changes into the lives of most children. This encompasses direct involvement in parental conflict, economic hardship, changes in residence and school. To him, divorce also increases the risk for psychological, social and academic problems among children. This increased risk is a legitimate concern for children, parents and the community. Finally, he stipulated that, despite parent’s fervent desire to protect children of divorce, the mere divorce process is a burden to children.
To prove further the long term consequences divorce has on children whose parent are going and had gone through divorce, Emery, E. R. (2004), made available some statistic to throw light on his thoughts. These are; such children are twice as likely to see a mental health professional, up to twice of such children are likely to have problems managing their behaviour. He also said, perhaps 1.25 to 1.5 times are more likely to have problems with depressed moods. Again, twice of such children are likely to drop out of school before graduation. What is more interesting and sad enough to support the Hypothesis is the realization that, 1.25 to 1.5 times of children at one point or the other experienced the challenges of their parents divorced. Similarly, the same children are likely to get divorced themselves. Is this not scary enough to prove the hypothesis?
Besides, Price E. (2000), in her book “Divorce and Teens” has not described the situation in any positive way. She explained that, the issue of parents fighting each other, why are my parents divorcing, why must one parent move out, must I tell my friends and what should be my level of loyalty to each parent, all go a long way to frustrate such children. Eventually, anger takes over and this manifest itself in aggressive behaviour towards life issues.
Another practical perspective to the situation at hand is cleverly summarised by his lordship, Mr. Justice Harvey Brownstone as follows;
After more than fourteen years of presiding in family court, one question has never seized to amaze me: how can two parents who love their children allow a total stranger to make crucial decisions about their leaving arrangements, health, education, extracurricular activities, vacation time and degree of contact with each parent? This question becomes even more mind-boggling when one considers that the stranger making the decision is a judge, whose formal training is in the law, not in family relations, child development, social work, or a psychology. Now add the fact that, because of heavy case loads and crowded dockets, most judges have to make numerous child custody, access, matrimonial property and support decisions every day on the basis of incomplete, subjective and highly emotional written evidence (called affidavits), with virtually no time to get to know the parents and no opportunities to meet the child whose life is being so profoundly affected. What person in their right mind would advocate for this method resolving parental conflict flowing from family breakdown? This are some of the questions that family called judges agonize over. Some say the answer are complicated and have much to do with social conditioning, economic class, level of education, sophistication, familiarity with community resources and even culture. I say the answers are simple. The institution of marriage has not been a great success in North of America…” Brownstone, J.H. (2009). P.1.
COUNTER ARGUMENT TO THE HYPOTHESIS
In spite of the scary picture painted by the various authors supporting the hypothesis that, “there are lifelong consequences for children whose parents go through divorce”, the same topic and ongoing controversies have resulted in the change of authors views. For instance, Emery (2004) has stated that “The Risk of Divorce Are Real but Not the Whole Story”. By this, he has discounted some of the arguments he had put forward to support the hypothesis. He acknowledges that divorce increases children’s psychological problems but also sought to emphasize the need to put it into its right perspectives. To him, the large majority of children from divorced families do not suffer from psychological problems. His argument is centred on the theory of “correlation and causality”. He went further to explain that divorce is correlated with more psychological problems among children but this does not mean that it is the cause of all the problems. Scientific evidence has at least proven that divorce cannot be the cause of all the affected children’s emotional problems. Another important factor, Emery (2004), considered is that what happens after divorce can go a long way to eliminate risk and promoting resilience.
Besides, he used the “half full and half empty analogy to refute the premise that all the children who experience their parents going and had gone through divorce face, Emery (2004). He duelled heavily on a major national study conducted by Nick Zill, Donna Morrison and Mary Jo Cairo. The study looked at children between the ages of twelve and twenty-one. The study revealed that 21% of children whose parents have had divorce received psychological assistance. In comparison, 11% percent from married families also received similar help. It is a fact that, there is a 100% increase between the two groups. Once again, this situation looks scary but the truth of the matter is that, if 11% of children from the normal situation seek psychiatrist assistance, then it presupposes 89% do not. On the other hand, if only 21% of the said troubled children seek for psychiatrist assistance, then the whole phenomenon is not a case of the glass being half empty and half full but rather the statistics should be looked at in both ways. When this happens, it can be adduced that the glass is only 20% empty and 80% full.
There are no doubt that divorce disrupts the lives of almost every child who goes through those challenges. However, great majority of these children are able to sort through these difficulties and succeed. We must not also lose sight of the need to applaud and build on the strengths (strength based approach) of such children. Besides, evaluating it from both scientific and statistical point of view, shows that psychological problems of children whose parents had gone through divorce starts before the actual divorce issues begin to manifest. Emery (2004). To back up his finding, a substantial figure of 50% was found.
A BALANCE DISCUSSION ON THE RESEARCH
At this point, it is important for one to have a balanced analysis of the overall views of the topics of divorce. That is, the ideas which support the hypothesis and the ones that refutes it. On a personal reflection however, I still stand by the hypothesis that, “there are lifelong consequences for children whose parents go through divorce”.
The opponents of this hypothesis have sought to argue that divorce, in itself, does not impose any lifelong consequences. Realistically, most children from divorced families are resilient. There are instances where such children have gone through those challenges and still succeeded in their life endeavours. Most have good careers and are happily married. This disproves the stance portraying children whose parents have gone through divorce as a serious and unimaginable consequence. To me, what those children go through emotionally are equally experienced by children who stay and grow with their parents. Some have even tended to suggested that, it is a normal process of growing up. As noted above, only 20% of such kids experience the phenomenon.
Looking at my social location, I was from a divorced family. However, I had the benefits of some social and traditional structures to support me and my sibling. For instance, my grandmother took up the fathering responsibility so we never felt the absence of our father. Similarly, when we migrated to Canada, the school system has counselling facilities that helped to sustain us to go through the normal processes of growing up. I am proud to say my brother and I are now in college and are determined to succeed in our choosing endeavours. These achievements would probably have not been possible in a case of somebody living with parents. This example goes to support Emery (2004), assertion that “even after a separation, what you do is the most important determinant of whether your children are at risk or resilient.”
In-spite of the argument put up by the opponent of the hypothesis, proponents still argue that children whose parents go through divorce experience lifelong consequences. It has been proven above that such children suffer emotional and psychological consequences. It is estimated that over 21% of such children have mental health issues and are likely to fail in their marriages.
To substantiate this point further, I would like to draw once again on the conversation I had with the Child and Youth Worker at Apple Wood Height Secondary School. She explained the following points from her practical perspective. She said children who have experience the consequence of divorce lack trust. They are unable to give back love because psychologically it has been registered within their sub conscious mind that if their parents who claim to love them are fighting and doing things regardless of the interest of such children, then whom are they to trust.
Isolation of such children from peers and some school activities affects their ability to develop properly into adulthood. In most cases, they are seen to be withdrawn from extracurricular activities because of the shame, having to explain to friends that their parents are divorced. This is more prevalent in religious based schools like the Catholic schools.
The issue of step-parents does not help matters either. In the unlikely event that the step-parents do not get along with such children, it raises tension within the household and puts the child under constant psychological trauma. I am of the opinion that it is some of these problems that makes these children have mental health issues.
Finally, what is more dangerous to society is the fact that such children are unable to establish and maintain positive relationships. Some traditional views, though not fully supported by me, have suggested to the belief that it is some of these societal problems that have led to the emergence of the sub-culture like gay and lesbian communities.
From the above discussion, it has been established that different communities and different scholars have divergent views on the impact of divorce on children. One perspective view is that such a situation is not serious. However, those who support the hypothesis of which I support still believe that “there are lifelong consequences for children whose parents go through divorce”.
This new found knowledge will form as the basis for new theories to be developed. It will also give the opportunity for other research to be carried out in this area. Practically, it will enable single parents form alliances to advocate for policy change in schools and child centres to strengthen child and youth counselling within such facilities.
This research will also assist people within the helping profession such as Psychologists, Child and Youth workers and Social workers to come to the realization that this phenomenon is very prevalent within our schools and that serious efforts should be made to assist children with such challenges to overcome them. As an anti oppressive Child and Youth Worker, it is necessary to pay special attention to the situation even if a child suffers as a result of our inaction to deal with the situation.
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