Effects of divorce on children

By: Khalid Iqbal, Founder Rahmaa Institute

Children are the silent victims of parent’s dysfunctionality and suffer the most. Many have extreme thought of guilt, trauma, and confusion. They think of running away from the situation or even think of suicide. The effect on children vary based on their age, gender, and understanding of the situation. Many parents who fail to discuss the family situation find their children confused trying to seek answers and sometime solace from others including elder family members, teachers, school mates or even strangers.

Divorcing parents must be honest and straight forward in discussing what is happening within the family. They must be reassured that:
• both parents love them,
• it is not their fault, and
• they will be taken care of no matter what the outcome of the family situation will be.
Parents should be honest and straight forward in answering all the questions that they might have in their mind.

Below are only some of the effects of divorce on children

Psychological
Divorce is associated with diminished psychological well-being in children and adult offspring of divorced parents, including greater unhappiness, less satisfaction with life, weaker sense of personal control, anxiety, depression, and greater use of mental health services. A preponderance of evidence indicates that there is a causal effect between divorce and these outcomes.

Children of divorced parents are also more likely to experience conflict in their own marriages, and are more likely to experience divorce themselves. They are also more likely to be involved in short-term cohabiting relationships, which often dissolve before marriage.

According to Nicholas Wall, former President of the Family Division of the English High Court, “People think that post-separation parenting is easy – in fact, it is exceedingly difficult, and as a rule of thumb my experience is that the more intelligent the parent, the more intractable the dispute. There is nothing worse, for most children, than for their parents to denigrate each other. Parents simply do not realize the damage they do to their children by the battles they wage over them. Separating parents rarely behave reasonably, although they always believe that they are doing so, and that the other party is behaving unreasonably.”

Although not the intention of most parents, putting children in the middle of conflict is particularly detrimental. Examples of this are asking children to carry messages between parents, grilling children about the other parent’s activities, and putting the other parent down in front of the children. High-conflict divorce or custody cases can experience varying forms of Parental Alienation. The Family Courts often consider Parental Alienation as a form of child abuse. Specific examples of Parental Alienation include brainwashing the child to cease their relationship with the other parent, telling the child that the other parent does not love them, teaching the child to call another adult by a parental name in effort to replace the other parent, limiting communication between the child and the other parent, and limiting quality time between the child and the other parent. If evidence reveals that a parent is actively alienating the child from their other parent, their case for custody can be severely damaged.

Poorly managed conflict between parents increases children’s risk of behavior problems, depression, substance abuse and dependence, poor social skills, and poor academic performance. Fortunately, there are approaches by which divorce professionals can help parents reduce conflict. Options include mediation, collaborative divorce, co-parent counseling, and parenting coordination.

Exposure to marital conflict and instability, most often has negative consequences for children. Several mechanisms are likely to be responsible. First, observing overt conflict between parents is a direct stressor for children. Observational studies reveal that children react to inter-parental conflict with fear, anger, or the inhibition of normal behavior. Preschool children – who tend to be egocentric – may blame themselves for marital conflict, resulting in feelings of guilt and lowered self-esteem. Conflict between parents also tends to spill over and negatively affect the quality of parents’ interactions with their children. Researchers found that the associations between marital conflict and children’s externalizing and internalizing problems were largely mediated by parents’ use of harsh punishment and parent-child conflict. Furthermore, modeling verbal or physical aggression, parents “teach” their children that disagreements are resolved through conflict rather than calm discussion. As a result, children may not learn the social skills (such as the ability to negotiate and reach compromises) that are necessary to form mutually rewarding relationships with peers.

Academic and socioeconomic
Children who have experienced a divorce frequently have lower academic achievement than children from non-divorced families In a review of family and school factors related to adolescents’ academic performance, it noted that a child from a divorced family is two times more likely to drop out of high school than a child from a non-divorced family. These children from divorced families may also be less likely to attend college, resulting in the discontinuation of their academic career.

Many times academic problems are associated with those children from single-parent families. Studies have shown that this issue may be directly related to the economic influence of divorce. A divorce may result in the parent and children moving to an area with a higher poverty rate and a poor education system all due to the financial struggles of a single parent.

Children of divorced parents also achieve lower levels of socioeconomic status, income, and wealth accumulation than children of continuously married parents. These outcomes are associated with lower educational achievement.

Young men or women between the ages of 7 and 16 who had experienced the divorce of their parents were more likely than youths who had not experienced the divorce of their parents to leave home because of friction, to cohabit before marriage, and to parent a child before marriage.

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