Today, I’m going to be talking about the ever-unpleasant subject of divorce. Divorce rates have been decreasing over the past few years but approximately half of marriages still end in divorce so the effects of divorce on children is indeed an important and often controversial question. The consensus amongst most people is that divorce is detrimental to children and you would be hard pressed to find someone who entirely disagreed with that idea. The question then, is not so much “Does divorce negatively impact children,” so much as it is “How much does divorce negatively affect children?” In order to answer this question, I will be examining both sides of the argument regarding the effects of divorce on children.
First, I am going to lay out the reasons given by those who suggest that divorce is extremely detrimental to children, not only during the immediate proceedings of the divorce, but also for the rest of their lives. Most people who support this argument believe that, in the short-term, divorce has a myriad of detrimental effects on children depending on their age. Young children from 5-9 will often react with fear, anxiety, temper tantrums, and increased dependency on the parent that they live with. Preteens and teenagers will often react with anger, aggressive independence, isolation, and rebellion. These things, however, aren’t really disputed by anyone. What sets this argument apart is the idea that divorce can cause long lasting effects much later in life such as difficulty creating healthy, meaningful relationships, lack of trust, difficulty parenting, and lasting damage to the affected children’s relationship with their parents. People on this side of the argument will point to studies such as the one conducted by Judith Wallerstein in her book, “The Unexpected Legacy of Divorce: A 25 Year Landmark Study,” to say that children of divorce can suffer from various forms of mental illness such as depression in adulthood. This claim is dubious at best because this was a group of a little over a hundred case studies so the findings, while interesting, can not be applied to the general population. Furthermore, only approximately a quarter of the those involved in the studied suffered from long term mental illness. The two sources I used to in my perusal of this argument were “Divorce Hurts Children, Even Grown Ones,” by Jann Gumbiner and “The Effects of Divorce on Children,” from Divorce Source Inc. Gumbiner certainly seems to have done her research and is a licensed psychologist and professor specializing in adolescent and child development so I would say that she is credible. The only issue that I have with her article is that she seems to have a strong bias based on her own personal experience. These experiences should not be discounted but further evidence would be appreciated. Divorce Source Inc. is a website that is organized for the purpose of providing information and resources to those who are considering a divorce. I chose to use it as a source for this argument, despite its sole purpose being to assist those considering divorce, because it strongly encourages other options whenever children are involved unless extreme conflict or domestic abuse are involved.
People who oppose this view generally concede that divorce is indeed harmful at first, but within two years most children are able to bounce back fairly quickly. Typically, people of this persuasion think that any long-term problems that arise from divorce are not so much a result of the divorce itself so much as they are a symptom of improper handling of proceedings during and after the divorce. Otherwise, they agree with that there are usually negative behavioral changes in children following a divorce but that they fade with time and these people can go on to life regular lives. The sources I used for this side of the argument were “Is Divorce Bad for Children?” by Hal Arkowitz and Scott O. Lilienfeld and “The Impact of Divorce on Young Children and Adolescents,” by Carl E. Pickhardt. I found both sources to be credible because they were written by professors of psychology and the gave information that was backed by other studies.
I personally am a child of two divorces and to be quite honest, I haven’t ever felt particularly strong about either of them. I still have an amicable relationship with both of my biological parents and I wasn’t sad to see my ex-stepfather leave. I do understand, however, that not everyone has such a smooth experience and so I think that divorce should be something of a last resort when children are involved but not so much that you put your own health, mental or physical.
Links to the articles I read in preparation for this post: