How Divorce Can Impact on Children
An individual’s physical and mental wellbeing can be influenced by several different factors that will impact on the individual’s growth, development and sense of self, either in a positive or negative way. The impact on the individual might be of a physical, emotional, socio-economic and environmental nature.
The therapist needs to know of these factors in order to understand the effect they have on the physical, intellectual, emotional and social development of the individual and how this has contributed to the individual’s self-concept and behaviour.
Parental separation has a significant impact on a child’s behaviour. However the way the child reacts may vary considerably, depending on the child’s age at the time of separation (Amato, 2000). Family dynamics connected to divorce, such as the extent of parental strife, modifications in parenting, the estrangement of a parent and changes in family finances contribute significantly to the child’s development and long-term adjustment. As Hetherington & Arasteh (1988) suggest parental separation changes the child’s positive view of the world.
The breakdown of the family unit and the subsequent re-structuring of family life instigated by divorce or a separation creates a process whereby modifications to a child’s lifestyle especially regarding primary attachment can be detrimental to the child’s development. Evidence suggests that the nature of the separation can impact negatively on a child’s educational, emotional, psychological and educational arenas. These outcomes can continue into adulthood. Research conducted by Ross and Mirokovsky (1999) indicates that individuals who had experienced divorce as a child had a much higher tendency to marry at a younger age, divorce or separate and marry again, experience long-term emotional problems associated to attachments and relationships. Evidence provided by Ross and Mirowsky also suggests that children of divorced parents tended to be less successful educationally, socioeconomically, and showed higher levels of depression.
It has been suggested that this may be the result of a delay in social development, associated to the emotional intensity of parental separation. Moreover children and teenagers of estranged parents are more likely to experience greater economic, social and health difficulties through childhood, their teenage years and early adulthood and have a higher tendency to use alcohol, tobacco and recreational drugs; become sexually active at a younger age and have unwanted pregnancies. Haiman (1994) has concluded “When children experience the separation or divorce of their parents, it is common for them to develop problems and lose behavioural gains […] Well-behaved children may show anger and aggression […] Children who used to think clearly and understand easily may become confused and find it hard to communicate rationally. Once happy children may become morose and depressed […] It is common for young children to manifest one or a combination of these problems in various degrees of severity in response to the separation and divorce of their parents.