Divorce is usually perceived as an unfortunate event for each household, especially those with children. When parents decide to divorce, children do not always realize possible consequences that might occur. The effects divorce has on families are far more apparent to children than to adult couple. Thus, there are a variety of events or circumstances that may influence the child’s views, opinions, attitudes as well as memories. Studies show that up to 50% of all marriages end in divorce, leaving more than one million children without a father or mother annually (Kleinsorge and Covitz 147). Parental separation also serves as a predictor of delinquency during the period of adolescence. Adolescence is a stage of life during which children need to face and cope with a number of social problems as they acquire skills and abilities that are important for an adult life in the society. A divorce is a significant event that can have a negative impact on children’s ability to overcome developmental issues and impair relations between parents and children. A quick increase in divorce rates over the decades is closely connected with psychological and physical changes in the conduct and perception of teenagers aged from twelve to eighteen years. Understanding the challenges of parental divorce for teenagers provides an insight into the problems of children’s reactions, well-being, weakened relations, delinquency as well as the necessity to find an effective solution to the issue.
Divorce as a problem in the United States
Divorce constitutes a substantial problem in the United States. More than one million of American teenagers face divorce of their caregivers annually (Fagan and Churchill 1). In 2008, more than 40% of all marriages faced the problem of parental separation (Uphold-Carrier and Utz 247). African-American couples face higher probability of marital disruptions than Hispanic and white females (Kleinsorge and Covitz 147). Women of Asian descent have the lowest rates of marital divorces and separations (Kleinsorge and Covitz 147). Nearly 20% of all divorces occur in couples that have lived together for more than 15 years (Uphold-Carrier and Utz 248). The evidence points to the fact that negative effects of parental divorce are not limited only to young children but also teenagers. More than 5.9% of teenagers experienced parental divorce between the age of 15 or 16 as well as those aged between 18 and 19 years (Zeratsion et al. 61). Only in America, the issue of divorcement affects teenagers of each socioeconomic status, religion, and ethnic background (Kleinsorge and Covitz 147). Over a million of children faced parental divorce in 2012, while nearly 26.6% of adults who were over 18 years old admitted experiencing parental divorce in childhood (Kleinsorge and Covitz 147). Kleinsorge and Covitz state that when considering the rate of marriages which result in long-lasting separation instead of divorce, the number of young individuals affected by parental separation is much higher (147). Such a situation has a negative impact on child’s well-being while his or her reactions to parental disruption may be unpredictable.
Children’s reactions to divorce
Divorce always influences adolescents, but not all of them react in the same way. The reaction of each child depends on how he or she perceives the problem or different individual circumstances before and after divorce. Most teenagers “may have difficulty accepting divorce, and may self-blame” (Kleinsorge and Covitz 149). Additionally, some children may show fear while others may express indifference towards the situation. The age at which a child faces parental divorce also has a substantial impact on its perception.
Fear versus indifference
Parental divorce has a significant effect on children’s minds, hearts, and souls and from severe to mild. However, nobody can predict how a teenager might reach to the separation of his or her parents. Some teenagers express fear of what might happen to them after divorce while others show their indifference towards the situation. Majzuba and Mansor (2012) claim that teenagers from twelve to seventeen years old react and adapt to stress caused by divorce either positively or negatively. Some children react with fear, anger, and grief while others feel happy (Bojuwoy and Akpan 75). The study of 300 students from twenty schools shows that teenagers believed that divorce had a negative effect and caused disappointment (Majzuba and Mansor 3531). The mean score of the feature reached the rate of 3.35 while the syndrome of blaming oneself, mother, and father showed moderate rankings, namely the score of 3.28, 3.24 and 3.08 respectively (Majzuba and Mansor 3531). The other research conducted by Bojuwoy and Akpan shows that some children perceive parental divorce as personal tragedies whereas others as escapes from long-lasting family conflicts (75). Overall, children are more likely to react negatively than positively to their parents’ separation; however, their attitudes also depend on age and gender variables.
Age and gender differences
Teenagers’ age may significantly affect their reaction to parental divorce. In their analysis of interview transcripts, Bojuwoy and Akpan found that fifteen-year-old interviewees whose parents divorced when they were from two to three years old, responded with indifference to the situation (77). The participants could not remember their feelings at the time of their parents’ divorce (Bojuwoy and Akpan 77). However, interviewees whose caregivers had divorced a year or two before to the time of the questionnaire conduction provided a detailed overview of their experiences (Bojuwoy and Akpan 77). They admitted feeling sad and sobbing bitterly as they watched their parents fighting with each other and as one of them later left in anger and did not return (Bojuwoy and Akpan 77). The results point to the fact that young children are less likely to understand what happens in their lives than those who are from twelve to eighteen years old.
Interestingly, the effect of parental divorce may be substantially different for females and males. Thus, girls are more attentive and sensitive to divorce than boys (Oldehinkel et al. 289). Between the age of ten and fifteen years, girls are more likely to suffer from depression than boys (Oldehinkel et al. 289). Gender differences in teenagers’ reactions might be explained by the fact that boys and girls have different perceptions of the role of father in their families (Bojuwoy and Akpan 79). Bojuwoy and Akpan claim that fathers impact boys’ gender role behavior development by teaching them about male activities, interests, as well as social conduct (80). As a result, the age of children at the time of divorce as well as their gender has a significant influence on their reactions and behavior immediately after parental separation.
The effect of divorce on teenagers
Divorce directly affects both physical and emotional development of teenagers. Children from twelve to eighteen years old can better understand complex and abstract aspects surrounding the divorce process than younger individuals. Kleinsorge and Covitz claim that teenagers “are in the process of finding their own identity, and their feelings about their parents’ divorce may affect the development of their own views on love and relationships” (149). Signs that adolescents experience difficulty adjusting to divorce involve worrying about adult problems, acting out, or even taking on excessive responsibility (Kleinsorge and Covitz 149). Such behavior may affect both emotional and physical health of teenagers, weaken their relations with family members as well as lead to a high level of delinquency.
Divorce also affects the mental health of teenagers from twelve to eighteen years old. Zeratsion et al. report that parental divorce increases the probability of risk behavior by raising the level of mental health problems in adolescents (61). Children are affected emotionally as they “deeply resent the strains and difficulties which arise in long-held family celebrations, traditions, daily rituals, and special times, and rate these changes as major losses” (Fagan and Churchill 9). Moreover, children from divorced households face a decrease in pride, motivation towards academic achievement, and encouragement of personal maturity (Fagan and Churchill 3). Parental divorce may have a long-term effect on the child’s familial solidarity and result in the development of depressive symptoms (Uphold-Carrier and Utz 247). The survey conducted by Uphold-Carrier and Utz revealed that participants who underwent parental separation were more likely to acquire depression than those whose parents remained living together (249). Those members who faced parental divorce in childhood had lower family solidarity than those whose parents were married. The score reached the level −0.13 for the former and 0.001 for the latter (Uphold-Carrier and Utz 250). Teenager’s antisocial conduct also increases after dissolution of marriages in highly dysfunctional families (Fagan and Churchill 12). The higher is the level of family dysfunction before divorce, the greater is the increase in child’s antisocial behavior after parental separation (Fagan and Churchill 12). As a result, parental divorce may make children feel vulnerable and isolated. Apart from affecting physical and mental health, parental separation also causes weakened relations between children and divorced parents.
One of the major effects of divorce is weakening of relationships between caregivers and children. Fagan and Churchill emphasize the fact that teenagers in separated families receive a low level of financial assistance, practical aid as well as emotional support from their parents (3). Parental separation contributes to weaken relations between a mother and child. Children of divorced mothers have much poorer and less stimulating home environment than those of married couples (Fagan and Churchill 4). Additionally, despite their best efforts, divorced women are less able to provide emotional support to their vulnerable children than married ones (Fagan and Churchill 4). Unlike married females, divorced mothers tend to be less communicative and affectionate towards their children (Fagan and Churchill 4). Thus, divorced women discipline them more inconsistently and harshly, especially during first years after divorce (Fagan and Churchill 4). Spousal separation also affects father-child relationships as it is usually difficult for nonresidential partners, 90% of whom are males, to keep contact with their children (Fagan and Churchill 5). For instance, teenagers spend significantly more time with their mothers than their fathers (Fagan and Churchill 5). As a result, adolescents’ relations with their parents substantially worsen after divorce. Marital disruption increases distance between parents and children as well as creates conflicts among family members because of teenagers’ delinquency.
Apart from affecting mental well-being of teenagers and weakening relations between family members, late parental separation may also increase the rate of delinquency among teenagers. Conflicts make parents less responsive and affectionate towards their children as well as more inclined to punish them (Fagan and Churchill 13). Such an attitude towards children makes them feel emotionally insecure, which ultimately leads to abnormal behavior. Delinquency is engagement in illegal conduct or behavior against law, including skipping school, theft, smoking as well as drug and alcohol abuse (Esmaeili et al. 41). Teenagers with a high level of delinquency are also more likely to exhibit mental health problems or commit suicide (Esmaeili et al. 41). Fagan and Churchill argue that “Children who engage in fighting and stealing at school are far more likely to come from broken homes than are well-behaved children” (13). Zeratsion et al. claim that individuals who face parental separation in adolescence are more likely to smoke cigarettes than their peers living with married parents (59). Their survey revealed that youngsters who lived with both caregivers smoked fewer cigarettes and consumed less alcohol than their peers who lived with one parent (Zeratsion et al. 59). Relations with family members also contribute to delinquency. Esmaeili et al. argue that poor relations with mothers lead to the development of high delinquency among teenagers of divorced parents while positive relationship with caregivers causes low level of delinquent behavior among such children (46). As a result, parental separation is directly linked to adolescent delinquency. Thus, parents should take measures aimed at helping their children.
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Helping teenagers to cope with the problem
Parents should pay close attention to the developmental stage of their children to minimize the adverse effect of their divorcement. As youngsters might have difficulty in accepting divorce by blaming themselves for it, it is essential to help them cope with the problem. Kleinsorge and Covitz argue that “The best way to increase the likelihood of positive adjustment is to avoid exposing the child to parental conflict and to engage in cooperative coparenting” (152). Teachers should also be skilled enough to provide not only academic support but also physical, emotional, and social assistance to their children to undergo significant difficulties in their lives (Bojuwoy and Akpan 80). A high number of children traumatized by parental divorce might also need specialist’s attention. Therefore, schools should have such support service providers as school psychologists and counselors who will pay their attention to vulnerable teenagers (Bojuwoy and Akpan 80). Moreover, teenagers with substantial emotional and behavioral concerns might visit group or individual therapies or even support groups (Kleinsorge and Covitz 152). In response to high divorce rates, many nations have developed mandatory educational programs for couples at the time they file for divorce (Kleinsorge and Covitz 152). Such programs are usually didactic and brief, focusing on how to help children “cope during and immediately after the divorce process” (Kleinsorge and Covitz 152). However, it does not mean that schools, therapies, and specially designed programs completely take over home responsibilities for children who have undergone separation of their parents. Parents hold the greatest responsibility for establishing the normal development of a teenager.
Taking into consideration the findings of the study, one may conclude that the problem of divorcement is significantly prevalent in the United States. Annually, more and more children suffer from parental disruptions. Parental divorce weakens the relations between parents and adolescences aged from twelve to eighteen years. It also changes their emotional and physical well-being and impacts their reaction to the separation of parents. One of the most negative aspects of divorcement is a substantial increase in the level of delinquency among teenagers. As a result, the problem requires divorced parents to pay attention to their children as well as provide them with emotional and physical support. As teenagers from divorced families experience the challenges of stress and deprivation of affection and basic needs, federal and local governments should also develop special programs aimed at helping such children to cope with the problem.