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Divorce and the Effects on Children

A debate over how harmful divorce is to children has been raging for several decades. Before divorce rates began climbing rapidly in the in the 1970s, it was assumed that children from “broken” homes suffered serious emotional harm. That view changed as more divorce brought more research, most of it concluding that although divorce did have some negative impact on children, they were worse off growing up in an unhappy and conflict-ridden environment. Unhappily married couples were assured that a divorce, handled civilly and with the children always foremost in everyone’s thoughts, would be the best solution for everyone involved, including those children.

Divorce and the Effects on Children

But there has always been dissent from researchers who said that divorce was harming children much more than researchers realized and that couples needed to realize just how much even the most civil divorce would harm their children. Staying together for the sake of the children was not an unreasonable proposition after all, these dissenters said. And the recent work of some New York psychiatrists is backing up the dissenters’ assertion that divorce hurts children much more than society has been willing to admit.

Those who argue that the damage divorce does to children had been overestimated generally say that to blame the problems of children of divorce on the divorce itself is an oversimplification. The issue is far more complicated, they say. One point frequently noted by those who claim that children are indeed seriously harmed by divorce is that children from divorced homes have more academic and behavioral problems than do children from “intact” families. But the research showed that many of those problems had been present four to 12 years before the parents’ divorce.

Another factor that the majority of researchers pointed out was that marital conflict had serious negative effects that were being underestimated as the effects of divorce were overestimated. “Intense, overtly hostile parental conflict occurring frequently within a marriage predicts childhood psychological problems more strongly than either divorce itself or post-divorce conflict. A high degree of marital conflict undermines the parent-child relationship and impairs effective discipline, thereby indirectly affecting child development. When marital conflict escalates to violence between parents, the negative impact on children is pervasive and persistent.”

An author writes that although divorce can be devastating to some children, others do remarkably well in its aftermath and even seem to learn from it how to do better than their parents did. “Reconcilers actively strove to learn from their parents' problems and thus had more successful subsequent relationships. … Divorce can strengthen kids' ability to sustain successful relationships, but only if their parents stay supportive throughout the ordeal – and afterward.

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