Discuss the impact of parental divorce on their children, using empirical evidence to support your arguments
In 2009 over 128,534 couples got divorced this is the lowest figure since 1976 where 126,694 couples got divorced in the UK and more than half of these couples have a child that is sixteen years old or less (Guardian 2008). Although these figures are low now, it is estimated that there will be a significant increase of divorce during the Christmas period due to the current financial situation putting more strain on couple's relationships therefore having an effect on many more children's lives (Independent 2009). Nearly half of all children have experienced their parents going through a divorce and this can become a very difficult time in the child's life. Children may struggle with a number of things such as betrayal and lack of attention due to their parents going through the process of a divorce; this can be a very hard time for children and can affect them in many different ways (Clarke-Stewart & Brentano 2006).
The question refers to the impact of parental divorce on their children. There are many impacts of divorce that can affect a child such as the environment which may be changed by moving house. Another impact could be the negative and positive effects of divorce such as having new family members in which they do not connect with or losing a parent which is abusive this could be a positive outcome of divorce. This essay will focus on the changes in behaviour of children of all ages and see if there are any behavioural differences between genders. This essay will also look at the short and long term effects that divorce has on children's behaviour in both boys and girls. The theories that will be used to try and help explain this is Bandura's social learning theory and Mary Ainsworth theory of attachment. This area will be able to help psychologists see if there is a behaviour difference between boys and girls during and after a divorce.
The impact of divorce on children can have different behavioural effects for both boys and girls; however boys seem to be more affected by parental divorce than girls. Ram and Hou (2005) study looked at the impact of having just one parent or gaining a step parent after divorce and how this affected the child's behaviour. They did not find much support that boys are more affected by girls when living with one parent but they did find that boys and girls express their frustration over divorce in different ways. Boys tend to act out more than girls through aggression or antisocial behaviour, while girls on the other hand control their behaviour but do show more indirect aggression for example emotional disruption where girls may show an increase in stress levels or show signs of depression. They also found very limited support that girls are more affected by having a new step parent than boys, highlighting the fact that the impact of parental divorce can have different behavioural affects on boys and girls.
A latent change model was used to look at the behavioural problems in children after their parents had been divorced; both genders were looked and found that girl's behaviours were not affected by their parents divorce. However on the other hand some boys did show an increase in behavioural problems during the year of divorce and these problems increased over the years to follow, while others showed a general decrease in behavioural problems. This study therefore suggests that boys are more affected by divorce than girls and it can have a major impact on their behaviour (Malone et al 2004).
However on the other hand Morrison, Ruane and Cherlin (1995) found in their research that parental divorce had little impact on boys and girls behaviour. Girls showed no behavioural problems when there parents got divorced, this could be due to the fact that girls may be able to handle the situation better or hide how they truly feel. Compared to other studies, they found that boy's behaviour was unchanged by the impact of parental divorce. Therefore divorce may not affect children in the same way; this could be the reason for the many mixed results found in this area.
Bandura's (1965, cited by Haith & Miller 2002) social learning theory may be able to help understand why children have behavioural problems after their parents have been divorced. The theory suggests that aggressive behaviour can be learned by observing a model such as their parents. If the parents have had a bad break up then they may show aggressive and violent behaviour towards each other in which the child has observed. Therefore the child then may imitate this behaviour and become aggressive themselves. This was demonstrated in the Bobo doll experiment where children observed an adult being aggressive towards a doll, one group saw the adult being punished while the others seen them being rewarded. The children who saw the models being rewarded where more likely to imitate the behaviour therefore children can learn aggressive behaviour through observation (Haith & Miller 2002).
This theory therefore suggest that a child will become more aggressive if they think they will receive a rewarded for it in that case a child may become aggressive after parental divorce to gain attention from the parents or to realise their stress about the new situation they have found themselves in. This could apply for both boys and girls as boys become more aggressive after divorce and girls can show disruption in their behaviour by becoming more stressed and anxious, both of these types of behaviour lead to attention from one or both of the parents. The social learning theory therefore shows that prenatal divorce can have an impact on the child's behaviour as the child may imitate the behaviour in order to gain attention which they may lack as the result as parental divorce.
Research has also shown that the impact of divorce on behaviour can have long and short term effects for both boys and girls. Both boys and girls are likely to be affected by divorce in the short term but this can have a much greater impact on boys than it does for girls, as girls tend to show more behavioural problems later on in their lives (Shaffer 1999). Hetherington, Cox and Cox (1982, cited by Eysenck 2004) conducted a study on children whose parents had just gone through a divorce and looked at the behavioural effects over a two year period. They found that boys of divorced parents become more aggressive during the crisis phase of divorce this is the first year after divorce where the child is still learning and trying to adapt to the new situation. After the first year of divorce, during the adjustment phase boys tend to return back to their normal behaviour. However some boys were more disobedient and showed more antisocial behaviour towards their mothers compared to boys whose parents who were not divorced, this highlighting the fact that boys mainly suffer from behavioural problems in the short term with some showing long term effects of parental divorce. This study looked at the impact of divorce on middle class children, it focuses on boys but it does not explain the results found on girls this could be due to the fact that it may contradicted what the researcher thinks therefore is ignored.
However compared to boys, girls tend to be more affected by divorce later on their lives compared to boys who show effects soon after divorce, therefore divorce can affect girls more, in the long term. O'Connor, Thorpe, Dun & Lundin (1999, cited by Ersenck 2004) found that women whose parents had divorced during their childhood were more likely to suffer from depression compared to women whose parents had not been divorced, therefore highlighting the fact that parental divorce can have an impact on women later on in their lives. Similar results were found by Oldehinkel et al (2008) who studied the effects of divorce and depression among girls and boys. They found that girls were more likely than boys to suffer from depression as they grew up; therefore girls show more internalising behaviour problems, having a great impact on them in later life.
However in contradiction to this, two longitudinal studies found that the effects of divorce have a much longer lasting effect on boys especially after the two year period where girls seem to have overcome the divorce and show improvements in their behaviour, whilst boys are still showing signs of aggressive behaviour in the long term (Wallerstein & Kelly, 1980, cited by Shaffer, D.R 1999). However this is a longitudinal study so it may be difficult to stay in contact with the family as due to divorce they may have moved, therefore this may affect the results and can become unrepresentative.
A theory which may be able to predict how a child will behave after divorce depending on their attachment styles was put forward by Mary Ainsworth (1978, cited by Clarke-Stewart & Brentano 2006) her theory of attachment put attachments in to different types such as secure and insecure attachment. Children who are secularly attached explore more freely and use their mother as a base these children can deal with and handle brief separations from their mother. However on the other hand children who are insecure can either be avoidant in which they avoid the mother or are ambivalent where the child is very clinger with the mother and then avoids her.
If a child of divorce is secularly attached then they are more likely to handle the divorce better as long as the parents still have a strong bond with them, therefore having no major behavioural impact on the child. On the other hand if the child is avoidant insecure then they may feel rejected by their parents after the divorce as parents do not have as much time to spend with the children, as they have to deal with the legal procedures, this could cause an increases in behavioural problems in the child. Also if the child is ambivalent insecure then it may become even clingier to the parents and act out through aggression or show signs of great distress when they do not get the appropriate attention that they want, therefore the type of attachment style can have an impact on how the child will behave after divorce (Sadock & Kaplan 2007).This theory may be able to help predict how a child will react after divorce depending on their attachment style.
In conclusion an impact that parental divorce can have on their children is behavioural problems and this can be different for both boys and girls in the long and short term. Boys tend to show much more behavioural problems in the short term such as aggression and antisocial behaviour while girls on the other hand may show depression symptoms in the long term. The social learning theory put forward by Bandura can help explain why children act in this way through observation of their parents. While Mary Ainsworth theory of attachment can help us predict how a child will react after divorce depending on their attachment style. Overall there are many impacts which parental divorce has on their children and these can affect boys more than girls however more research is needed to be done in this area to truly support these results as there is limited evidence for behavioural problems after divorce on boys and girls, as most research focus on the children and do not take into account their gender and behaviour.
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- The Guardian (2008) Divorce rate at its lowest in 26 years. David Batty. August 2008. Retrieved from http://www.guardian.co.uk/uk/2008/aug/29/4. On 12/10/09.
- The Independent (2009) Divorce rate to hit new peak. Robert Verkaik. January 2009.Retrieved from http://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/home-news/divorce-rate-to-hit-new-peak-1221108.html. On 12/10/09.