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Divorce: How Does It Affect Children?

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Divorce: How does it affect children?

Over 60 percent of couples seeking a divorce have children still living at home. ( 6) What some parents don't realize when they file for a divorce is the damage and effect that it will have on their kids. Divorce affects children in many ways. It affects kids emotionally and causes them to experience painful feelings such as fear, loss, anger and confusion. Divorce also hurts a child's academic achievement. Children whose parents divorce generally have poorer scores on tests and a higher dropout rate. (3)

Children react differently yet similarly in divorce. Every child caught up in the distress of divorce has a hard time coping with it and imagining their life without a parent. Their anxiety levels peak as they feel they are going to be abandoned. They experience feelings of loneliness due to the loss of the other parent. Different children go through these emotions at different levels and at different times depending on the child's age. How bad or how well children handle the divorce depends on how the situation is handled. It can throw the child's entire life into a whirlwind.

Young children, up to age five or six, are the most confused and the most disoriented by their parents' separation. They often fear they are going to be abandoned by their parents, which causes great anxiety. The loss of a parent is extremely sad to a child of this age because they feel that their needs are not going to be attended to as well as they had before, when their needs are not going to be attended to as well as they had before, when their family was together. Many of the children in this group are worried that they will be left without a family or their parents might have money troubles and they will be deprived of food and toys. These thoughts that children of this age have cause them to have feelings of guilt, being unloved and fear of being alone. Some children will be extremely sad and show signs of depression and even sleeplessness. They might feel rejected by the parent who left and think that it is all their fault, that they weren't good children and their parents stopped loving them. They also sometimes have increased tantrums, or may cry more easily than usual. Children at this age may develop physical complaints, like headaches, or stomachaches due to this depressing situation and time they are going through.

Psychologists Judith Wallerstine and Kelly interviewed and studied children of different ages whose parents were divorced, to see the impact divorce had caused these kids. "They blame themselves for their parents' breakup" exclaimed Wallerstine "one child felt that her play had been too noisy, while another thought that daddy didn't like her dog". ( 4)

School age children experience some of the same problems as younger children, but they usually display more signs of anger, worry or sadness. Some children of this age group act like "they don't care" about the fact that their parents are getting a divorce and others will simply deny that their parents are getting a divorce. Others will choose sides and blame the divorce on only one parent. They start expressing more anger toward the

" bad " parent, meaning the one they accuse for ruining things.

In this age group, half of the children that were studied by Wallerstine and Kelly reported feeling rejected by one or both parents, and in general, almost all children received less attention because their parents were worried about their own problems during this difficult time. (4) All of this, from the rejection of the parent to the anger and the stress within the child,causes a significant disruption in the child's ability to participate freely in the learning process. Anxiety, restlessness, inability to concentrate and disturbing thoughts about the separation all contribute to this disruption and lead to a drop in school performance. Like the younger group, these children will also become more irritable and have more problems getting along with their peers. Feelings of sadness, loneliness, guilt, low self esteem, are also common in this age group. While some children might express their anguish outwardly by crying, others struggle to hold their emotions inside. The children that do not have open expressions of grief are the ones that are more likely to sometimes overeat and have rebellious behavior patterns.

Some children even feel embarrassed or ashamed about their family's situation. The older children in this group, usually ages between nine to twelve deny having anything to do with their parents' divorce, but the younger ones ages six to eight, still feel a sense of responsibility. Older children in this age group often show examples of lying, stealing, and have troubles with authority figures including the law due to lack of a parent, usually a father figure, to correct their awful behavior. (1) Fatherless children are three times more likely to fail school, require psychiatric treatment and commit suicide as adolescents.

Adolescents display many of the effects of the middle childhood but to a higher degree. Divorce affects teenagers in a strong and painful way because it reverses the normal maturation of the adolescent years. Adolescents and teenagers fear the breakup of the family. This usually causes them to become very angry with their parents, usually the parent they blame for starting the divorce. They may yell at people or even react with physical violence in situations that remind them of their parents' breakup and the awful times that they went through. Their anger comes from the grief they are experiencing but it is also directed at their parent's "selfishness " for breaking up the family at the time that they needed it most. Also, the dating of a parent in a new relationship causes them much trouble and anger, which they experienced as competition with their own emerging sexuality.(2) To get by, a teenager may seem to withdraw from the parent and the family crisis, spending more time with their friends or getting involved in more school activities. The grades may drop, as the teenager is spending more time away from home or is engaged in inappropriate activities after school with friends. A teenager who feels betrayed by the parent may react with delinquent or inappropriate behavior, including premature sexual activity, alcohol and drugs. These activities have consequences later in life. Alcohol and drugs use lead to physical and health problems. Teens who drink alcohol and use drugs are likely to become addicted and will keep these bad habits with them for the rest of their lives. Drugs and alcohol also impair a teen's judgment and usually lead to premature



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