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What are the psychological effects of divorce on children?

The psychological effects of divorce on children have been shown in studies to be profound and often far-reaching. Why is this? Parents are the most important people in a childs life and naturally they will look to them and learn from them. They're the most influential people in our lives and consequently their actions are also.

Parents are a kind of benchmark from which we are forever comparing ourselves. Our parents are the "normal" in our eyes and so their behavior and actions are what we (either consciously or subconsciously) try to copy in our own lives. We will try and duplicate them unless something else intervenes that shows us we should do otherwise.

Considering this, I’d like to look at the following effects of divorce on children.

So how are they affected?

  1. Relationship standards: One of the biggest effects of divorce on children there is is how they will view future relationships in their life. Children will naturally relate to their future partners in a similar way to how their parents related to one another. If their parents just gave up when the going got though, children can grow up with the mindset that giving up is normal when obstacles are encountered in a relationship. The fact the childs parents got divorced, can also cause them to grow up distrusting love. In this way they might find it hard to open up to people fully and let a healthy, loving relationship take hold.

  2. Self-confidence: When couples are divorcing, naturally the topic of child custody and visitation rights will play a big part. The problem is that if parents argue over visitation rights, the children will naturally find it hard to remove themselves from the process. The fact that their custody is brought up as part of the divorce discussion can make them feel as though they are in some way a cause of the divorce. They can also feel as though they are just objects that the parents have to try to divide up between them. As a result of a lost self-confidence, these children can become withdrawn from the crowd and would rather be alone ...creating a self-imposed isolation from friends and family.

  3. Sense of security: A childs whole life is his or her parents. Any thing that damages this security will have a negative impact on the childs psychology. Death of a parent is probably the biggest threat to this security. Divorce is next on the list, as it throws the whole dynamics of their family life up in the air. It's particularly difficult if their parents are fighting in the lead up to the divorce as all it shows is that there's no such thing as a safe, comfortable, loving environment that can last. If you're currently fighting with your spouse, be aware that the more you argue, the more damaging the effect this has on the children.

  4. Increased vulnerability: One of the effects of divorce on children is that they can feel as though their world is built on moving sand. Therefore any person who can offer stability to their life at a time when it's falling apart has the power to become a big influence in their lives. This makes them particularly susceptible to gangs or cults or anyone who can purport to be on their side and make them feel worthy. These people can often introduce them to vices that will later take a toll on their lives like alcohol, cigarettes and drugs. Considering this, it's important that your children always feel as though they can talk to you. Even if the family dynamic has been disrupted, they should always be able to count on you being there for them.

  5. Lowered performance: Studies have shown that children of divorced parents tend to be less successful in life. While this is largely a generalization, it is something to be aware of. Logic would dictate that the more disruptive a divorce is to the life of a child, the harder it would become to do well in school. And naturally the poorer a childs results are in school, the less likely they are to get the higher-up jobs in life.

  6. Respect for authority: The main authority figures in any child’s life are his or her parents. When the authority figures in their life can't respect one another other and just argue all the time, the children will naturally find it hard to respect any other authority figure they come across in life. The authority of teachers and police officers will naturally be lowered in their eyes and this can cause them to get into trouble in later life. It's not always easy to be civil with your partner, but you should know that the more respect you can show each other, the more beneficial it will be to the children.

  7. Rage towards others and towards self: Children that are products of a broken family develop a kind of hate that goes back from the time when mom and dad fought everyday in front of them. Children can become so protective of themselves, that trusting others becomes hard. This hatred is essentially a form of a defense mechanism. It is a wall that divides and protects them from other people whom they think could hurt them. Sometimes children also blame themselves for the things that go on in their families and that includes blaming themselves for the divorce.

  8. Suicidal tendencies: The divorce, if not properly understood by children, can result in a feeling of hopelessness. Suicide is then seen as a means of escape from the problems they are facing that came along with their parents’ failed marriage. They can feel that quitting life is a solution to all the problems in their life.

  9. Early sexual activities: Many children find sex as an escape from the problems at home. They feel unloved by their parents’ divorce and will start looking for love from other people. Many will fall into a trap of the wrong kind of love where they are introduced to sex at an early age and are only sexually exploited.

What do children of divorced parents worry about?

Most children of divorced parents will have a hard time dealing with the changes that come along with their parents’ decision. Divorce can bring many beginnings to the children’s lives in terms of

  • Grief
  • Mixed emotions
  • Of divided loyalties
  • And of responsibilities

With these new beginnings come questions that they may voice out or silently keep in their hearts. These questions need answers – answers that will pierce their hearts for it will overwhelm them with great intensity of pain. Questions like:

  • Where will I stay?
  • How often will I get to see Mom/Dad?
  • Will my parents get together again?
  • How can I get my parents back?
  • Will Dad marry his new girlfriend?
  • Will Mom go out and date other men?

How much do these things REALLY affect a child?

Parents would like to think that their children will be able to get through the effects of divorce quickly and get back to their normal selves fast. As it is, children do get back to their normal lives and continue with their stuff like school, friends, computer games, sports and others.

But children have a way of hiding their grief you hardly know it’s there. And grief that is not dealt with at the time will have its way of cropping up later in the children’s lives. If it is not properly dealt with, it can lead to any one (or a combination) of the above 9 points. 

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