Tuesday, January 13, 2009

The Effects of Divorce on Children and Adolescence

Approximately 45% of all marriages in the U.S. end in divorce. Each year, over 1 million American children suffer the divorce of their parents and half of all children born to married parents this year will experience the divorce of their parents before they reach their 18th birthday (Pagan & Rector, 2000). This should cause anyone who works with children and youth to stop and really understand that statistic.

Yesterday I met with a family that was having some severe issues with obedience, respect, and rebellion (you are probably thinking "uhhh..doesn't every mom and teen have this problem?")...Yes, rebellion and disobedience are common issues when dealing with any teenager. However, this families experience was highly escalated. As they began telling the background of their 'story' things began to get even more complicated. Their 'story' consisted of divorce, verbal abuse, remarriage, rebellious siblings, and lots of drama! As I heard these young girls talk I could hear the severe effects that divorce had played on their behavior. Was it an excuse - absolutly not. However, I cannot be ignored as a major factor in a teens life!

I came across a great study conducted by Fagan and Rector entitled The Effects of Divorce on America, it is increasingly clear that divorce affects the well-being of children and leads to 3 significant changes in behavior:

* Increased behavioral, emotional, and psychiatric burdens
* Increased rates of suicide
* Increased risks for health problems.

In this study it is said that upon the breakup of their family, children experience a range of emotions from anger, fear, sadness, depression, worry, rejection, lowered self-confidence, anxiety, suicidal thoughts, and even attempted suicide. Wow!!! Divorce is wrecking the stability and emotions of children all across America.

In this study they found that adolescent children living through the breakup of their family frequently withdraw from home life and seek intimacy away from home. I see this everday as I counsel and hangout with teenage girls. Although divorce may have become 'commonplace' in society, it's effects are massive and cannot be ignored!

If divorce occurs in mid-childhood (between ages 6-8): * These children experience persistent feelings of sadness and a need for constant reassurance about their performance in many of life's tasks.
* Anxieties run very high about their relationships with the opposite sex, personal commitments later in life (particularly during the late high school years), and marriage.
* Young adults are most acutely concerned about betrayal in romantic relationships, both present and future;
* They also are concerned about being hurt or abandoned by a fiancé or spouse. Other studies have found the same pattern of "attachment insecurities" and low self-esteem among college students with divorced parents.

If divorce occurs when the children are teenagers (12 to 15 years of age), they tend to react in two very different ways:
* By attempting to avoid growing up
* By attempting to "speed through" adolescence.
* They also experience increased aggression, loss of self-confidence, and particularly a sense of loneliness.
* Boys are much more likely to be depressed than girls.
* Early sexual activity, substance abuse or dependence, hostile behavior, and depression also are more likely following a divorce.

If you work with children or youth in any way, or if your family is living through a divorce, you must be aware of these signs and affects of divorce upon your children and teenagers. You cannot accurately help, lead, love, and counsel any teenager until you understand what they are feeling and how they are reacting to these huge issues in their life! It broke my heart to see the anger, loneliness, and depression in their voices...but God's love trumps that and I am excited to be a part of His Story!


JG said...

Excellent entry, Kate. Having worked with several parents over the years trying to understand how their divorce impacts their kids, I believe most people, particularly in the church, underestimate the truths contained in your research. Thanks for posting this material.

The Real Gal said...

Thank you Kate for posting this. I am a child of divorce parents, so I know what the ramifications are in a family that is broken apart.

Aimee said...

Thank you for posting this. I am working on a book (devotional) for teen girls in divorced homes, and you providing information that will be very helpful as I write. Since I grew up with divorced parents myself, I can definitely identify with the huge negative impact of living in a split family.