Social Paradigm: Children of Divorce Children who are faced with the separation of their parents through divorceface a special set of difficulties. They will experience the loss of a parent, geographical relocation, and possible socio-economic changes. Pre-teen children who deal with these issues may exhibit negative behavioral reactions to these events and may react differently than those children in the age group 13-18. Understanding the child’s perception of these traumatic events can help us cope with and improve the mental health of the children of divorce.
There is a higher than usual rate of anti-social behavior exhibited by children in homes that end in divorce. The rate of anti-social behavior is most marked in males, younger children, and children from a middle income family (Strohschein 1293). This may be caused by the lack of parental involvement following divorce. According to Wood, Repetti, and Roesch, "From a child’s perspective, having a sad, self-oriented, and withdrawn mother may evoke a sense of isolation and rejection, particularly if the mother is the primary caregiver. The child may attempt to re-engage the mother by making bids for ‘negative attention’" (125). This negative attention manifests itself as anti-social behavior.
In teenage children who are impacted by divorce, there are higher levels of alcohol, drug, and tobacco use (Andres and Gilman 3). Among adolescent girls there are increased rates of behavioral problems, lower self-esteem, and an increase in depression (Andres and Gilman 3). There is also an increase of early exit from the home environment, unplanned pregnancy, teenage marriage, and subsequent divorce (Lye 4-8). Lye further states that these actions are heavily influenced by the degree of post-divorce parental involvement, income, neighborhood, and parental conflict (4-8, 4-9).
Younger children will be most affected by the upheaval in the family living arrangements. They may be geographically isolated from one parent, and the primary caretaker may also be suffering from a mental disorder. They may experience frequent moves, loss of friends, a change of teachers, and a reduction in family income. According to Wood, Repetti, and Roesch, "…acting out behavior may represent an attempt on the part of preadolescents from divorced families to re-engage mothers who are preoccupied with their own stressors" (136). These forces will manifest themselves as anti-social behavior as the child seeks the attention that has been lost due to divorce.
Older children, especially girls, may turn to delinquency due to reduced supervision after the divorce event. This will be complicated when there is a high degree of parental conflict. Lye has noted that, "…joint physical custody and frequent child-nonresidential parent contact have adverse consequences for children in high-conflict situations" (4-21). Teenagers may exploit this parental conflict to escape discipline as parents direct their energies to the divorced partner instead of the child.
In conclusion, the age of the child at the time of divorce will have a substantial impact on how the child deals with the event. Younger children will act out through anti-social behavior. Older children, especially female, will seek ways to escape into adulthood through sexual activity, pregnancy, and marriage.
Andres, E A., and David Gilman. "Attitudinal Differences Concerning Teenage Sexuality: The Impact of Gender and Divorce." Indiana University Research Report (1999): 1-22. ERIC. 8 Apr. 2007.
Lye, Diane N. "What the Experts Say: Scholarly Research on Post-Divorce Parenting and Child Well-Being." Report to the Washington State Gender and Justice Commission (1999): 4-1-4-39. EBSCO. 8 Apr. 2007.
Strohschein, Lisa. "Parental Divorce and Child Mental Health Trajectories." Journal of Marriage and Family 67 (2005): 1286-300. EBSCO. 8 Apr. 2007.
Wood, Jeffrey J., Rena L. Repetti, and Scott C. Roesch. "Divorce and Children’s Adjustment Problems at Home and School: The Role of Depressive/Withdrawn Parenting." Child Psychiatry and Human Development 35.2 (2004): 121-42. Springer. 8 Apr. 2007.