Divorce and Adolescence Research Paper


In analyzing the literature on divorce and adolescence, this paper will dwell on four major themes: first, the impact of divorce on adolescents; two the impact of divorce on adolescents’ adjustment into early adulthood; three, the impact of divorce on relationships in adolescents; and fourth, the impact of parental divorce on adolescents’ cognitive development. There are various forms of families that exist in the contemporary society. These forms of families include stepfamilies, single families, non-intact and intact families, and many other forms of families. However, in considering these various other forms of families, there is usually a single incident, which can induce a lot of change in the structure of the family. This incident is divorce, which is usually an unplanned incident that may come in due course of the life of a family. Divorce simply means failure of the original family to survive as a viable entity. In fact, many children and adolescents regard divorce as the death of the family. Divorce is an incident so powerful that whenever it occurs, it affects every member of the family in different ways and at different times. According to the findings of Farrell (2006), approximately half of all marriage unions are likely to end up in divorce and this would subject more than one million children to dealing with divorce process every year. In the context of the United States; for instance, the same finding of Farrell (2006) indicate that rates of divorce began rising during the time of the civil war, they reduced slightly during the great depression and recording the highest peak in 1980, they have since remained at the rate of 50 percent.

Parental divorce as well as its effects on adolescents has, for the last two decades, been the main issue in the context of social science research. This is because of its significant ramifications and relevance on society, culture and policy (Hair & Moore, 2009). The extensive social science research has led to the emergence of literature that explores the effects that divorce has on children and especially on adolescents. On average, this literature indicates that there is a substantial level of negative impact that divorce has on the psychological well-being of adults. In spite of all these attempts, a large portion of research has not yet recognized the fit of families inside the complex social contexts that shape individuals and control the impact that life events may bring. Therefore, accounting for various community characteristics including socioeconomic status can offer a comprehensive picture of the relationship that exists between parental divorce and the psychosocial well-being of dependents (Hair & Moore, 2009). Divorce damages society through consumption of human and social capital whereby, it leads to substantial cost to the taxpayer substantially while decreasing the portion of the society that pays taxes. Besides, most researchers concur that divorce affects the future competence of children in all institutions or major tasks of the society: government, marketplace, religion, school and family. It was only a few years ago; for instance, when the American culture condemned divorce and referred to it as scandalous. In the modern era; however, it is evident that culture, behavior, and law embrace and rejoice it.

Literature Review

In regard to the effects of divorce on adolescents, it is clear according to the findings of Hair and Moore (2009) that divorce is a painful experience for parents, children, family and close friends. People in these circle respond to pain in different ways depending on who they are as well their stages in life. The most essential thing to consider is that adolescents are not immune to divorce and that every teenager or adolescent and each family is unique. It is because of these reasons that dynamics of each divorce are different. This means that it is not easy to prescribe or predict the manner in which adolescents will respond to divorce or separation between their parents. The studies by Fagan and Churchill (2012) indicate that there are a number of risk factors that adolescents are left to deal with following their parental divorce. In comparing with adolescents who did not come from families that are divorced, the research found that adolescents from divorced families: are usually more aggressive, tend to have higher rates of school dropout, are more anxious, tend to have higher delinquency rates, tend to become sexually active at inappropriately earlier age, and tend to have higher rates of alcohol and drug addiction. It is; however, significant to note that the findings do not indicate that all adolescents from families that  are divorced will experience all these issues that have just been mentioned in the preceding sections of this paper. The research only indicates that adolescents whose parents are divorce are predisposed to most of the earlier mentioned risks.

In building on the same study i.e. the effects of divorce on adolescents, Lansford (2009) found that divorce interrupts adolescent process. As teens undergo adolescence, they require gaining a sense of autonomy, which is an identity that makes them become less dependent on their parents. In other words, adolescence is the process that requires separating teens from their parents. However, the occurrence of divorce during this process makes teenagers develop an impression that their parents are separating from them. Even as the adolescent process tries to separate teenagers from their parents, they are still vulnerable enough to the extent of needing the relational safety from healthy and secure relationship that only their parents can provide. During divorce, self-destruction or absorption reigns on parents thereby making them reduce the attention they need to give to their children. As a result, adolescents become insecure about their relationship with parents making them feel anxious or isolated.

In investigating the effect of divorce adolescent adjustment into adulthood, Hair and Moore (2009) conducted a study, which involved 168 participants. The participants were 22 males and 146 female students from a huge metropolitan high school. The age range was between 11 and 17 years where the mean age was 14 years. 12 males and 64 females came from divorced families while 10 males and 64 females came from intact families. The materials that were included in the study included inter-parental conflict, level of satisfaction, and intimacy with parents, self-description, depression, stress and anxiety. The study showed that the young adolescents had poor adjustments in regard to: same sex relations, anxiety, and life satisfaction. This finding receives a lot support from a different literature that emerged from the findings of Fagan and Churchill (2012), which reported differences for the three mentioned adjustment domains.

Hair and Moore (2009) further insist that divorce makes adolescents feel the guilt thinking that it is their fault that their parents have divorced. Naturally, it is hard for children to blame their parents whom they care so much care about for doing something hurtful or wrong. Consequently, most adolescents take the blame upon themselves for the behavior of their parents. As an emotional way of dealing with the situation between their parents, adolescents begin developing beliefs or ideas regarding the manner in which their behavior could be the reason for divorce between their parents. Such ideas or beliefs can influence adolescents to become angry at themselves and in the process become extra helpful or compliant to either both or one of the parents as a way of correcting the mistakes they believe they may have caused.

The findings of other researchers such as Farrell (2006) and Ottaway (2010) indicate that divorce forcefully influences adolescents to grow up quickly. These findings contend that divorce makes teenagers and adolescents feel that the time they need in order to grow up has been shortened. To support this philosophy of accelerated growth among adolescents, Ottaway (2010) developed a number of reasons to explain this. These include:

  • Adolescents being expected to begin performing extra adult tasks in the home as a result of losing one of the parents such taking care of the siblings.
  • Parents making use of their adolescent children as confidants thereby exposing them to the adult world sooner than they expected.
  • Parents become incapacitated to offer the previous level of nurturing or support following fatigue or depression thereby leaving their adolescent children to navigate life on their own.

In this way, as emphasized by Farrell (2006), adolescents’ quality of life becomes disrupted following occurrence of divorce. It should be clear that divorce initiates new costs in many different ways. For instance, the moment a household becomes split into two, it raises the cost of living, which usually leads to reduced standards of living for all the people that are involved. Regarding the financial aspect, parents will no longer enjoy the disposable income they may have been having. Mostly, either both parents or one of them may experience the financial pressure thereby resulting into longer hours of work, little time with their children, and an increase in the levels of stress. These are some of the effects that result into teenagers noticing a significant interference in their living standard, which may leave them feeling angry and resentful.

Research by Kristjansson, Sigfusdottir, Allegrante and Helgason (2009) shows that parental divorce may initiate negative changes among adolescents. Just like there are many impacts of divorce that are common, there are several behavioral traits that are likely to emerge. Adolescents whose parents are undergoing divorce are likely portray a number of behavioral traits that include:

  • Being frequently angry and critical of the decisions of their parents. In most cases, there is a noticeable verbal expression of this anger, which can either be directed at both or one of the parents.
  • Adolescents undergo depression and become withdrawn from of the parents as a way of punishing them. This may, also, be exhibited by some adolescents remaining in support of one of the parents.
  • Adolescents experience the desire to spend much of their time with peers. There will, also, be a noticeable tendency to become aggressive or argumentative whenever they are prevented from staying with their peers.
  • Due to depression and withdrawal from their parents, adolescents increasingly spend their time away from their homes or even remain locked in their rooms.
  • There is a noticeable increase in risk taking behavioral traits such as sexual promiscuity, illicit drug use, and binge drinking.
  • Adolescents will portray a drop in academic performance, which may include increasingly disruptive behavioral traits at school i.e. lack of interest in school work.
  • Adolescents may, also, in a surprising manner, become exceedingly well-behaved. By employing this strategy, they hope that they can save the collapsing marriage of their parents.

In considering the impact of parental divorce on parental relationship and the kinds of relationships that adolescents are likely to develop amongst themselves, studies conducted by Lansford (2009) indicate that parental divorce can put adolescents in situations that can result in a form of triangulation among members of the family. These findings further indicated that formation of alliances between one of the parents against the other parent, or the parent to child and parent to parent relationships become unclear. In a similar study conducted by Hair and Moore (2009), it became clear that such a form of relationship subjects the adolescents to active conflicts, tension and parent negotiation thereby impacting negatively on their relationships. The manner in which the two parents interact can influence adolescents to develop mixed feeling regarding which one of the two parents they require siding with. This is the theory of triangulation and as asserted by Farrell (2006), it is, also, referred to as the family systems theory and it is a theory that has proved to be of much significance in considering the various forms of relationships that develop thereafter parental divorce. The way parents relate with their children, especially adolescents is representative of the way such children perceive relationships, not only limited to their friends, but with their romantic partners. It should; however be clear that the impact that parental divorce may have on adolescent relationships is influenced by a number of factors. It is easy for adolescents to recall the anger, loneliness, unhappiness, and shock that are influenced by divorce.

Building on the research conducted by Hair and Moore (2009), Fagan and Churchill (2012), also, introduced a much more advanced perspective of divorce. In his studies he equated divorce to a life transforming experience for adolescents to navigate into adulthood. The experiences that are brought by divorce influence adolescents to develop their own perspectives regarding future relationships, marriage and divorce. In his research, Lansford (2009) revealed that adolescents whose parents are divorced tend to have more marital discord, lower marital satisfaction, and more thoughts of divorce and have high tendencies of getting a divorce later in life. In more advanced studies conducted by Fagan and Churchill (2012), similar results were found indicating lower satisfaction in relationships, hesitancy toward commitment, earlier involvement in relationships, poor interpretation skills, and increased likelihood of accepting divorce.

In considering the impact of divorce on cognitive development of adolescents, multiple studies have emphasized the difficulties that relate to the endogeneity of parental divorce. Kristjansson et al. (2009) in their study presented and interpreted the various estimates relating to the effect that family structure has on high school graduation. These estimates were obtained under varying assumptions regarding the process from which family structure is generated and high school outcomes. Fagan and Churchill (2012), in their empirical study tried to demonstrate the way parental divorce possibly correlates with unnoticed family characteristics that may have immense influence on the outcomes of children. In their research Fagan and Churchill (2012) utilized a difference-in-differences model, which relies on observing the outcomes of children before and after divorce. The findings that resulted from this research indicated that cognitive development of teenagers and adolescents is not adversely affected by parental divorce. The findings clarified that adolescents who came from divorced families tended to perform poorer than their counterparts who came from intact families before the actual divorce occurred.

Future Research

The present front-line research on the issue of divorce and its effects on various social aspects has been stemming from new or current research questions and, also, from the utilization of new data, viewpoints, and techniques to respond to old questions. The current and the near future studies should be more interested in clarifying the effects of premarital cohabitation on the later marital stability. In this regard, the future research requires addressing the causes and consequences of various family transitions, particularly regarding the ambiguous situation of not being married and the same time not divorced (Ottaway, 2010). In this regard, there is need for more research in order to increase clarity about diversity that exists in responses to parental divorce or separation. Besides, future research requires addressing the enormous gaps that exist in the present research, especially interventions for separating or divorcing couples. In this regard, it would be essential for future research to transform the current social science research regarding the causes and effects of divorce into interventions that are empirically supported and, which can alleviate the social, academic and psychological impairments associated with parental divorce.

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