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Social Sci LibreTexts

12.5E: Children of Divorce and Impact of Divorce

  • Page ID
    8320
  • Sociologists and psychologists have found that the effects of divorce heavily depend on the child’s age at the time the divorce occurs.

     

    LEARNING OBJECTIVES

     

    Compare and contrast the effects of divorce on infants and adolescents

     

    KEY TAKEAWAYS

    Key Points

     

    • Although infants may not understand the exact conflict, they do react to the difference in their parents’ mood and energy change.
    • Pre-school aged children often mistake the divorce as their own fault.
    • School-aged children have more of a difficult time adjusting to the parental divorce than younger or older children.
    • Teens experience some of the same feelings as school-aged children. They feel anger, fear, depression, loneliness, and guilt.
    • Sociologists believe that the rise in the number of older Americans who are not married is a result of factors such as longevity and economics.
    • Elder women are becoming more and more financially independent which allows them to feel more secure with being alone.

     

    Key Terms

     

    • longevity: The quality of being long-lasting, especially of life.

    Sociologists and psychologists have conducted research that shows the effects of divorce heavily depend on the child’s age at the time the divorce occurs. The child’s gender, personality, the amount of conflicts with the parents, and support of family and friends all contribute to the effects of divorce on a child.

     

    Infants and Pre-School Children

     

    Although infants may not understand the exact conflict, they do react to the difference in their parent’s mood and energy change. Some effects an infant may have include a loss of appetite and an increase in spit up. Pre-school children range from three to five years old and may often mistake the divorce as their own fault. Some of the effects for children at this age may include baby-like behavior such as old toys, a baby blanket, or even wetting the bed. They also may become depressed, uncooperative, or angry.

     

    School-Aged Children and Adolescents

     

    Children at this age have more of a difficult time adjusting to the parental divorce than younger or older children. At this age, children are able to understand the pain they feel due to the separation of their parents, but they are too young to control how they respond to the pain. Often children experience feelings of anger, grief, and embarrassment. In order to deal with the situation and cope, it is important that children become involved in activities with other kids. It is very common for children this age to hope that parents will eventually get back together.

    Teens experience some of the same feelings as school-aged children. They feel anger, fear, depression, loneliness, and guilt. Some teens feel as though they must take on new responsibilities such as new chores and taking care of siblings. Teens may also doubt his or her ability to get married or stay married.

    Children of divorced parents (those entirely from unhappy families) are reported to have a higher chance of behavioral problems than those of non-divorced parents (a mix of happy and unhappy families). Studies have also reported the former to be more likely to suffer abuse than children in intact families, and to have a greater chance of living in poverty. A 2002 article in Clinical Child and Family Psychology Review discusses a variety of health consequences for children of the unhappy couples that do divorce. Constance Ahron, who has published books suggesting there may be positive effects for children, interviewed ninety-eight divorced families’ children for We’re Still Family: What Grown Children Have to Say About Their Parents’ Divorce. Data from this study, in which she describes the binuclear family, is available at the Harvard Library and online.

    Although divorce may be beneficial in some instances, high-conflict divorce (especially during transition periods) is harmful to children. Children who are shuffled back and forth between households, and those who hear their parents bickering and fighting, are likely to suffer the most. The best practice to avoid problems for children is to spend more or equal time with them while minimizing the amount of transitions for the children.

     

    Divorced and Unmarried Elderly

     

    Sociologists believe that the rise in the number of older Americans who are not married is a result of factors such as longevity and economics. Women, especially, are becoming more and more financially independent which allows them to feel more secure with being alone. In previous generations, being divorced or single was seen differently than it is now. This has resulted in less pressure for baby boomers to marry or stay married. Demographers estimate that baby boomers who remain unmarried will face more financial struggles than those who are married.