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Lessen the Impact of Divorce

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LESSEN THE IMPACT OF DIVORCE
Michael Jennings
DeVry University

Lessen the Impact of Divorce
Charlie is 9 years old and lives in a single parent home where the parent works to support the family, where not much time is spent with Charlie, who must figure certain things out on his own. Where does Charlie go after school? If no one is home having Charlie home alone is not a very good option. If siblings or friends are there but, no adult is present during the after school hours, home is still not a very good option.
The term “latch-key” kid is one who has their own key to their home and is expected to be home with minimal supervision. Once a child reaches a certain responsible age, being a latch-key kid often makes sense. Charlie must get home safe from school, stay out of trouble, and complete his homework, with little to no adult supervision. After-school activities should be available to Charlie because he may not be responsible enough or his parents may not trust him to be home alone yet.
Everyone is affected by the consequences of parental divorce, especially the children involved. In any society, the children are the future. In the United States alone, 40 to 50% of first marriages end in divorce, according to the American Psychological Association. As citizens of the United States, we are all stakeholders of our future and should care about the well-being of all our children, especially those of disadvantaged environments such as parental divorce. Additional resources should be made available to both parents and children to lessen the impact of parental divorce because it will help to reduce the effects of worry, aloneness, negative views of self, and depression, while improving math test scores and mental competencies, and also reducing the internalization of behavioral problems.
Scientific American authors Scott O. Lilienfeld and Hal Arkowitz published an article in February 2013 titled “Is Divorce Bad for Children?” In the article, Lilienfeld and Arkowitz make the argument that research indicates only a minimal number of children of divorce undergo grave issues post-divorce or beyond, as they age and into adulthood. With 40 to 50% of first marriages ending in divorce, the statements from Lilienfeld and Arkowitz are difficult to fathom. At the University of Virginia, Psychologist E. Mavis Hetherington and graduate student Anne Mitchell Elmore found most adverse consequences from divorce affecting children including anxiety, anger, shock, and disbelief, occur initially post-divorce but, usually lessen or go away within this two year period as cited in Lilienfeld & Arkowitz (2013). And most children recover quite nicely after the two years of divorce, while a minimal number of children experience lifelong consequences.
In 2001, Pennsylvania State University sociologist Paul R. Amato performed a quantitative study regarding possible consequences affecting kids several years beyond post-divorce, as cited in Lilienfeld & Arkowitz (2013). Amato’s review contrasted kids whose parents were still joined in union versus kids of divorce of all ages studying the later throughout youth and adolescence, academic progress, emotional and conduct issues, interpersonal alliances, along with self-concept. Again, taking the mean average in totality, Amato found minimal variation contrasting kids of divorced parents versus kids whose parents were still joined in union, concluding that the overall majority of kids undergo divorce suitably. However, unlike Amato, Hetherington, Mitchell, Lilienfeld, and Arkowitz, University of Wisconsin professor and researcher Hyun Sik Kim published a study in the American Sociological Review titled, “Consequences of Parental Divorce for Child Development” which makes the argument that the fallout on children is both phase and realm specific. Kim discovered setbacks among the children in the following areas, math test scores both in- and post-divorce, an adverse in-divorce outcome regarding inter-personal competencies and adverse combined consequences amid the in- and post-divorce date ranges, along with a clear in-divorce fallout regarding the embodiment of behavioral aspects (H.S. Kim 2011). As Kim points out, “For instance, math scores for children of divorce were on average, lower than the counterfactual scores these children would have attained had their parents remained married” (p. 12). In addition, as kids of divorced parents dealt with the new family dynamic, they tended to display negative outcomes regarding inter-personal competencies, when contrasted with kids of parents who were still joined in union. Throughout the in-divorce phase, kids of divorce were more apt to display a relative decline in creating and keeping bonds with friends, along with conveying emotions, thoughts, and personal views in a positive manner (H.S. Kim 2011). Kim goes on to point out that kids of divorced parents were more apt to exhibit difficulties with worry, aloneness, negative views of self, and depression during the in-divorce phase (H.S. Kim 2011). Also, amidst the post-divorce phase, the aformentioned traits of worry, aloneness, negative views of self, and depression did not vanish nor did they necessarily get worse. As you can see, Kim definitely found there were indeed issues for kids of divorced parents, where some issues extended beyond youth and adolescence.
Other studies have looked at divorce intervention programs and their effectiveness which can be used as a possible solution. Sean E. Brotherson (Department of Human Development and Family Science, North Dakota State University, Fargo, North Dakota, USA), Joseph White (Institute for Research and Evaluation, Salt Lake City, Utah, USA), and Christina Masich (Department of Human Development and Family Science, North Dakota State University, Fargo, North Dakota, USA), conducted a study titled, “Parents Forever: An Assessment of the Perceived Value of a Brief Divorce Education Program” in which they looked at the benefits of providing a 4-hour divorce intervention program for parents in a Midwestern state. Counseling the parents pre-, in-, and post-divorce is one way to mitigate the parental separation impact for families. During hard times, parental education can help fortify the family, enabling them to push through difficulties. These programs work well when concise and intensive, partnered with community and judicial officials who can help parents plan, and minimize family impact. They work simply by increasing the parents’ knowledge and outlook regarding divorce, linking together those experiencing similar challenges, and providing additional resources. However, these interventions may not impact one’s long term view of self, and success depends largely upon convincing the parents and community of its merits. In addition, greater success is achieved when the parents’ perception is skewed toward the positive rather than the negative. In other words, facilitators should work with community and judicial leaders to help persuade the parents that a program of this nature is beneficial.
While more needs to be done to show value of such intervention programs, maintaining statistics on the success of the program, or those similar, would go a long way in convincing parents. Facilitators should perhaps study their own programs and others like it to produce data for potential parents. As the authors note, “Specific divorce education programs, especially if participation is generally voluntary, are not likely to sustain support without being perceived as valuable by participants.” (p. 3). Developed by the University of Minnesota Extension Service, the intervention program was titled Parents Forever: Education for Families in Divorce Transition and was conducted over several sessions totaling 12 hours, consisting of training across the state of North Dakota to facilitate smaller 4 hour sessions in several locations throughout the state. Today, the program is available “regionally through the North Dakota State University (NDSU) Extension Service and is regularly delivered in 4-hour educational sessions to divorcing or never-married parents” (p. 7). Several handouts were passed out to 342 adults (53% female, 47% male) participating between January and December 2008. As S.E. Brotherson et al. indicate, “Participants in the single-session Parents Forever class offered in North Dakota receive instruction and discuss grief and loss issues for children, child responses to divorce based on developmental levels, parental communication concerns, helpful parental responses to child concerns, and strategies for managing conflict and improving communication between parents” (p. 8). Participants were surveyed, 90.5% felt the program was worth their while, and 98% would suggest the program to others. 87% of community members agreed the program was worth their time, while 97% thought all divorcing parents would benefit from the program. While there is currently no law mandating the program, almost 40% of the participants are ordered by a judge to attend, while 60% attend on their own free will. Of course, the voluntary participants rate the program much higher than the involuntary participants.
This study by Brotherson, White, and Masich, indicates concise intensive parental educational programs are beneficial in the short term by improving knowledge and resources but, question the long term viabilities like improving one’s outlook of self. One can certainly see how these programs would be beneficial by increasing parent’s understanding and resources regarding divorce, thereby improving the outcomes of all involved parties. For example, understanding how the level of conflict between the parents affects the children involved can help make the overall divorce process much smoother than it might otherwise have been. The ideas expressed in this most excellent study are further proof to support the argument that additional resources are needed to support families of divorce by increasing the family’s coping mechanisms.
Another study published by Wiley-Blackwell in 1980 in the Journal of Child Psychology & Psychiatry titled “Children In Divorce, Custody and Access Situations: The Contribution of the Mental Health Professional” by Stuart Fine (Emeritus Professor at the University of British Columbia’s Department of Psychiatry) details ways those in the mental health profession could help with children of divorce, custody, and access situations. While this study is over 30 years old, Fine explains that not much emphasis is given to child-rearing in high school curriculum, and conflict resolution is not learned unless one seeks it out themselves or is forced to take in college. Educating individuals and couples in high school, pre-marriage, pre-and post-divorce, custody conflicts, and those experiencing shifts in societal and educational pursuits, can help to prevent bad marriages in the first place, assist those in good marriages to remain married, and point parents to divorce and custody resources such as the Association of Family and Conciliation Courts.
Fine notes several studies indicating pre-separation conflict was the largest factor of whether the children of divorced parents experienced behavioral issues like ”conduct disorders” and “juvenile delinquency” (p. 1). Most of the adolescents in the study discussed “concerns about their own potential as marriage partners” (p. 2). Generally, younger children, while coping varied on their own “developmental stage,” were more susceptible to the effects of divorce, especially when the parent they were in the custody of, experienced depression and anger (p. 2). Educating people via mental health professionals beginning in high school and throughout all major events in life seems like a viable approach in my opinion, and one that Fine strongly expresses in his study. In closing, Fine argues his case that “the contribution of the mental health professional” regarding the “well-being of children” of divorce should start prior to the actual divorce itself taking place.
The study conducted by Fine et al is certainly correct in their assessment that people need counseling at key points in their lives not just when something bad happens. We should educate the children early in life to prevent bad marriages from happening in the first place. Where are the community leaders and judicial facilitators setting up intervention programs like the one outlined by S.E. Brotherson et al titled Parents Forever: Education for Families in Divorce Transition? The research gathered in this paper underscores the need to provide additional resources to both the parents and children to lessen the impact of parental divorce because it will help to reduce the effects of worry, aloneness, negative views of self, and depression, while improving math test scores and mental competencies, and also reducing the internalization of behavioral problems. Kids like Charlie need additional resources if they are to be successful in life, and as U.S. citizens and taxpayers, we should all care to make this happen. Labeling the children “latch key” kids while providing no after-school programs and indicating the effects of divorce typically wither after two years are not a solutions.
Naysayers will argue who will pay for all these ‘additional resources’, which is a valid argument however, if we can show the value of the programs and interventions, as many have already done, it should be relatively easy to correlate them to reducing teen pregnancies, reducing substance abuse, reducing domestic violence, reducing incarceration on a massive scale in these United States. Who knows, we may even save money in the process of implementing the solutions proposed by Fine et al and S.E. Brotherson et al. We clearly see from H.S. Kim that there are declines in math test scores along with other behavioral issues as a result of divorce on children. Currently we save money on the front end by ignoring these issues or fighting over whose paying for them, meanwhile the U.S. taxpayer foots the bill for school detention, vandalism, extra police officers, larger prison populations via the pipeline from pre-school to prison, etc. Does our society really care about our future? After researching the topic, one might question whether the citizens of this country truly care or not. Noted shortcomings in my research are costs, tying prison population and crime reductions into my conclusion, as additional research would be required to truly make this connection. Lastly, it would have been interesting to see if the outcomes for divorced children are different depending on the socio-economic status of the communities involved.

References

Arkowitz, H., & Lilienfeld, S. (n.d.). Is Divorce Bad for Children? Retrieved November 17, 2014, from http://www.scientificamerican.com/article/is-divorce-bad-for-children/
Borden, L. (n.d.). Suicide and Divorce. Retrieved December 10, 2014, from http://www.divorceinfo.com/suicide.htm
Brotherson, S., White, J., & Masich, C. (2010). Parents Forever: An Assessment of the Perceived Value of a Brief Divorce Education Program. Journal of Divorce & Remarriage, 51(8), 465-490.
Fine, S. (1980). CHILDREN IN DIVORCE, CUSTODY AND ACCESS SITUATIONS: THE CONTRIBUTION OF THE MENTAL HEALTH PROFESSIONAL. Journal of Child Psychology & Psychiatry, 21(4), 353-361. Kim, H. S. (2011). Consequences of parental divorce for child development. American
Sociological Review, 76(3), 487–511. doi:10.1177/0003122411407748
Marriage and Divorce. (n.d.). Retrieved December 16, 2014, from http://www.apa.org/topics/divorce/ http://www.afccnet.org/About/About-AFCC

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