In the previous article, we discussed about the 10 Reasons Why You Need to Work on Your Marriage. One of the major reasons mentioned on the article is the Negative Impact of Divorce on Children. This article concentrates more on the negative effects that divorce can cause to children including the cost of child support and ongoing legal bills.
While divorce can leave married couples emotionally devastated and distrusting, the effects are more severe on the child/children. Most couples view divorce as dissolution of marriage. But for children, marriage is dissolution of family.
Below are some of the common effects of divorce on children. Though some of the effects are short-term, without parental care, guidance or counselling from an experienced family counsellor, these effects will result of long-term effects that could aggravate the negativity of a child as he/she grows up.
- Fear and Guilt
First direct effect of divorce on children happens even before divorce is filed by either one or both of the couples. Many children experience fear knowing that their family will be broken. After fear, guilt sets in. Some children blame themselves for their parents’ divorce. Children initially feel bad about themselves when they learn that their parents are constantly fighting. Though some parents don’t directly blame their children for their fights, the children assume that it’s all about them. As a result, children will feel responsible for what happens to their parents’ marriage.
- Anger and Hate
Initially, a child will feel angry at the parent who initiated the divorce regardless of the reason. A child will then show sympathy to the other parent. But as the child grows up and learns about the reasons for the divorce, especially when both parents are at fault, anger may persist and lead to long-term hate against his/her parents.
Children of divorce oftentimes become victims of bullying. Many children from non-divorced parents make fun of children who come from broken families or divorced parents. Since many children of divorce lose self-esteem, they become victims of intimidation, alienation, dominance, and harassment from other children. In other cases, children of divorce become the bullies themselves. It can be associated with the fact that children of divorce experience anger and guilt towards their parents’ separation that they find bullying as a way to vent out frustrations and stress.
- Poor Brain Development
Many children of divorce experience stress early in life upon the divorce of their parents. They exhibit the feeling of neglect, emotional trauma over their parents’ separation, and depression. These factors negatively affect the development of the brain in social, emotional, and academic aspects. In a study conducted by The University of Wisconsin-Madison, researchers found out that:
“…chronic toxic stress experienced early in life have lasting negative impacts on a child.”
- Sexual Promiscuity
Various American studies have noted that children, majority are girls, from divorced parents are more likely to engage in early sexual behavior that those from non-divorced parents. A groundbreaking research of E. Mavis Hetherington published in her book Effects of Father Absence on Personality Development in Adolescent Daughters suggested that:
“Daughters of divorced parents sought more attention from men and engage in sexual intercourse at younger ages compared to other girls.”
Another study conducted by Billingham, R. E., Sauer, A. K. & Pillion, L. A. in 1989, Family structure in childhood and sexual attitudes and behaviors during late adolescence. showed that:
“People, whose parents were divorced, were more sexually active, had a greater number of sexual partners, had trouble in establishing long-term relationships and had shorter and more numerous love affairs than those who had married parents.” (F. H. JoÂnsson et al.)
- Sexual Abuse
Divorce contributes much to the number of child sexual abuse in Canada and the United States. Children, mostly girls, whose parents are divorced are in greater risk of sexual abuse by men, not their father, living in their home. Based in the previous effect, the need for male-attention of daughters of divorced parents makes them vulnerable to sexual abuse by their stepfathers. A random survey conducted by Diana Russell in 1984 showed that:
“Girls living in non-traditional families have been found to be sexually abused by their ‘stepfathers,’ either the married, cohabiting or casual partner of a divorced or single mother, at six to seven times the rate girls are sexually abused by their natural fathers in intact families.”
She surveyed 930 adult women in San Francisco and found out that:
“7% or one of approximately every six women who had a stepfather as a principal figure in her childhood years, was sexually abused by him. The comparable figures for biological fathers were 2% or one out of approximately 40 women.”
- Smoke, Alcohol, and Drug Abuse
The emotional trauma brought about by losing the family structure because of divorce can take a great toll on the children. Without parental guidance, children resort to what they see fit as a solution or escape from depression. According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse or NIDA:
“Risk of drug abuse increases greatly during times of transition, such as changing schools, moving, or divorce.”
The overwhelming pressure of stress associated with the change motivates children of divorce to engage in substance abuse.
- Discontent in Life
One of the major triggers of divorce is the dissatisfaction by one or both of the married couples in various aspects of their marriage: sexual, emotional, financial, social, etc. The children, however, experience far worse dissatisfaction than the parents who got divorced. The short-term effects, like fear and guilt, that children first experience when their parents divorce became long-term effects and lingered even as they grow up and have families of their own. In a divorce study conducted by Wallerstein in 1985, children of divorced parents were interviewed to determine how they felt when the marriage of their parents was dissolved.After 5 years, Wallerstein made a follow up and found the following results:
- Persistence of anger at the parent who had initiated the divorce.
- Intensity of longing for the absent or erratically visiting parent.
- Persistence of youngster’s wish to reconstitute the pre-divorce family.
- Moderate to severe clinical depression in over one-third of the original sample.
Another follow-up was made after 10 years with the same children and gathered the following quotes:
- “My life would have been happier if my parents hadn’t divorced.”
- “Divorce was better for them but not for me. I lost my family.”
- “I lost the experience of growing up in a family unit.”
- “I wish my mom and dad had not divorced. It would have been easier to be a regular family.”
- “I was really hurt. The hardest thing was watching my family break up.”
- “It was only when I was a student in an AFS family abroad that I got to see parents who quarrel and [positively] resolve the argument.”
- Greater Chance of Divorce
Children of divorce have two choices to make. Either take on their parents’ example or make their own marriage better than their parents’. Mostly it’s the former. Children of divorce have a hard time coping up with their parents’ separation that they are able to bring the hatred and frustration until they grow up and have a family of their own. Most of the time, the hatred and frustration manifest during fights with the other spouse regarding money, suspicions of infidelity, child-discipline issues, or vices. Most of these fights could escalate into physical confrontation which then could lead to divorce.
Children, whose parents got divorce or on the process of dissolving their marriage, experience extreme emotional stress during and after divorce. They may experience short-term emotional effects but if left untreated would lead to more serious long-term emotional trauma and depression that would be harder to cure. Children who experience these stresses should be counselled by a professional child counsellor who will help these children cope up with their parents’ divorce.
Many people considering divorce or so distraught, upset and lost in their own feelings they do not truly realize the deep implication on the kids.
Things WILL NOT remain the same and they WILL BE affected. All avenues to keep things together need to be used up and looked into. However, if divorce is inevitable it is important that the parents get help and direction as well as the children. Getting this done early will help prevent many issues later.
Body and Mind Natural Health in Windsor, Ontario is a leading expert in child counselling. Body and Mind director Rick Saruna is a professional experienced specialist in dealing with emotional issues for all ages for stress, anxiety, depression and trauma.
You can also visit the health food store in the Body and Mind clinic for your nutritional needs – there are many supplements that help with the stress response – Please ask if you need any information.
You can call the office at 519-948-0078 Body and Mind in Windsor, Ontario to book your appointment or to get more information.