Children of Divorce and How They Can Be Helped Essay

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Divorce on Children

Children of divorce can be negatively impacted by the separation of parents and the concomitant stress associated with the parents' relationship. These negative effects can range from mild cases to extreme, and can differ according to gender and age (i.e., development level of the child). External factors also play a part in the degree of the effect of the divorce, such as socioeconomic conditions of the family, integration in the community/society, the social behavior of the child, interaction with siblings/peers, and the level of continued involvement of the parents in the life of the child. Children of divorce can be assisted through various types of therapy, such as Art Therapy and Play Therapy, both of which help to facilitate cognitive and emotional skills within the child, as the two sides of the child's brain develop (the logical and the emotional side). Narratives are particularly helpful in that they can be repeated and thus assist the repetitive nature of the developmental process through which children go. From a Biblical standpoint, divorce is roundly discouraged, and the importance of protecting children is underscored by the Apostles. Adults are encouraged to allow children to go to Christ in the Bible and adults who stand in the way of a child's positive development are viewed as agents of malevolence, who are better off being cast aside entirely. Overall, children of divorce can suffer long-lasting negative effects, but these effects can be reduced if various conditions are met -- including the direct and consistent involvement of parents, positive relationships, guidance, and interaction, and proper educative methods that promote whole-brain development of the child, allowing for proper coping mechanisms to be effected over time.


As Joshi, Connelly and Rosenberg (2014) note, families consist of a social structure that depends upon consistency, stability, and principled foundations in order for the growth and development of the family members to occur. When the family unit is disrupted, normative development becomes an issue. In the case of divorce, the infrastructure provided by a two-parent household is diminished as one spouse separates his or herself from the rest of the family. This is typically the outcome of an extremely stressful relationship between spouses in the household, and in some ways the stress and events leading up to the divorce are just as impactful on children in the household as the divorce itself (Strohschein, 2012). Taken as a whole, the subject of divorce and its effect on children will be discussed in this paper, with a biblical perspective being utilized to provide a Christian context for the issue and how various forms of therapy can help children of divorce overcome developmental challenges.


There is no one single way in which children across the board are impacted by divorce. Every case of divorce, just like every family and every child, is unique. Socioeconomic conditions of the family, roles, values, beliefs, and customs as well as expectations are all factors that play a part in the way that divorce affects the child's development. As Siegel and Bryson (2012) observe, "our brain has many different parts with different jobs" and, when it comes to children, their brains are still in the developmental stage -- and everything they encounter in their environment has a say in that development process (p. 6). Thus, the amount of stress that a child undergoes will naturally have a consequence on the child's psychosocial growth (Sandstrom, Huerta, 2013).

These findings are consistent with older research as well. For instance, Wallerstein (1991) shows that divorce can have long-term negative effects on children. The effects are noticed not only in psychological terms (ranging from insecurity to self-loathing) but also in social terms (such as withdrawal, anti-social behavior, etc.). And Amato and Bruce (1991) indicate the same with their study from the same period. Likewise, the study performed by Hetherington, Cox and Cox (1985) shows that the negative effects of divorce are long-lasting (their study followed subjects for up to six years post-divorce) and that certain negative impacts are specific to gender (boys are affected more negatively by divorce than girls -- however, boys are better at stabilizing externally, while girls are better at stabilizing internally). What these older studies show is that today's recent research is in line with similar findings from the previous decades. In other words, little has changed in the way of our understanding of how divorce impacts children: the ramifications are still clearly negative overall. However, what does differ between the subjects of decades ago and today's subjects is that divorce is more common, and the extenuating circumstances surrounding divorce are amplified and of equal if not more importance, according to today's researchers (Sandstrom, Huerta, 2013).

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One highlighted case of the extreme effects of divorce has been noted in the case of Adam Lanza, the 20-year-old Newtown shooter, whose parents had divorced when he was a child; Shapiro and Noe (2015) point out the "long-term effects of their divorce" on Adam, compounded by poor judgment in the handling of his deteriorating mental and social condition, which led to an elementary school massacre (p. 12). This is, of course, not the typical outcome for children of divorce, but it does draw attention to extreme possibilities, especially in the case of children who already exhibit elements of psychological distress -- as Adam did prior to his parents' separation.

One of the main issues that impacted Adam's psychosocial development was the isolation that he experienced in the wake of his parents' separation: without brothers or sisters and with minimal contact with the outside world, Adam was mainly raised by his mother, who felt increasingly "at her wit's end," uncertain about how to "protect" him from both the outside world and from his more frequent fits of hysteria whenever it came time to leave his room (Stone, 2015; Wachtel, Shorter, 2013). The fact that Adam had essentially been denied a dual-parenting familial system only served to exacerbate his condition: as Rice and Hoffman (2014) note, such violent outbursts by "post-adolescent young manles must be understood from a developmental perspective...such killings occur as the result of the adolescent's frustrated effort to progress along normative development" (p. 183). In other words, the trauma related to his parents' stressful relationship and ultimate divorce, which Adam experienced throughout his childhood, played a major role in the stymieing of his developmental process -- leading, tragically, to an explosive outcome.

The study by Farrell, Mays, Henry and Schoeny (2011) indicates that parents are essential role players in the positive development of children -- especially during the adolescent phase, when children's environments are expanding and new obstacles, feelings, and experiences being encountered by the child. The child's body and mind are changing during this phase, and parents can act as moderators -- i.e., as helpers to the child during the transition. This help can come in the form of parental love, guidance, advice, expectations, discipline, admonition, motivation, support, shelter, friendship and education (Farrell et al., 2011). Essentially, a dual-parent familial system provides a gender-based context for the child, with examples of outcomes of the maturation process being demonstrated daily by the parents themselves to the child. In a family that has not suffered divorce, the parental unit is whole and balanced; in a family that has suffered divorce, the evidence exists to show that in such a situation, the child is more likely to demonstrate lower well-being across various factors, from sociality to self-confidence to emotional and cognitive control (Amato, Bruce, 1991).

Still, this is not to suggest that all divorces are the same; extreme cases such as that of Adam Lanza are few and far between. Moreover, there are external factors that play as much a role in the development of the child as the stress that comes with divorcing parents. For instance, socioeconomic status, school situation, peers, involvement in activities outside the home, integration with the family, and relationships between the child and the parents are all elements that impact the child's development (Amato, Bruce, 1991). Added to this is the argument of Siegel and Bryson (2012) that a child is never solely overwhelmed or handicapped by a single, isolated event; on the contrary, a "child's brain is constantly being wired and rewired" by experience (p. 7). In short, it is the sum of experience that impacts a child's development; and the repetition of events and the reinforcing of negative (stressful) or positive (loving) environments is really what goes into shaping a child's development overall.

As Tartari (2015) observes, the cognitive achievement of children tends to suffer when their parents divorce. The cause for this correlation (divorce and declining cognitive skills in children) is one in which Tartari (2015) views the parents as becoming less invested in the lives of their children as their own lives now pull them in different directions. For divorcing parents, the literal separation from the home creates a physical barrier to investment (in terms of time, care, proximity, guidance). Children who split time between parents are….....

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References Amato, P., Bruce, K. (1991). Parental divorce and the well-being of children: A meta-analysis. Psychological Bulletin, 110(1): 2-46. Drake, E. (1979). Helping the school cope with children of divorce. Journal of Divorce, 3(1): 69-75. Ealry, B. (1993). The healing magic of myth: Allegorical tales and the treatment of children of divorce. Child and Adolescent Social Work Journal, 10(2): 97-106. Farrell, A., Mays, S., Henry, D., Schoeny, M. (2011). Parents as moderators of the impact of school norms and peer influences on aggression in middle school students. Child Development, 82(1): 146-161. Harpaz, R. (2014). Narrative Knowing: Narrative and storytelling resources in art therapy. Narrative Matters 2014: Narrative Knowing/Recit et Savoir, Paris, France. Hetherington, E., Cox, M., Cox, R. (1985). Long-term effects of divorce and remarriage on the adjustment of children. Journal of the American Academy of Child Psychiatry, 24(5): 518-530. Joshi, H., Connelly, R., Rosenberg, R. (2014). Family Structure and Stability. In: Millennium Cohort Study Initial Findings from the Age 11 Survey. London: Centre for Longitudinal Studies, Institute of Education. Mahalle, S., Zakaria, G., Nawi, A. (2014). Moral education through play therapy. International Education Studies, 7(3): 78-87. Rice, T., Hoffman, L. (2014). Adolescent mass shootings: developmental considerations in light of the Sandy Hook shooting. International Journal of Adolescent Medicine and Health, 27(2): 183-187. Sandstrom, H., Huerta, S. (2013). The negative effects of instability on child development: A research synthesis. Urban Institute. Shapiro, D., Noe, A. (2015). Origins. In Risk Assessment. NY: Springer International. Siegel, D., Bryson, T. (2012). The Whole-Brain Child. NY: Bantam. Stone, M. (2015). Mass Murder, Mental Illness, and Men. Violence and Gender, 2(1): 51-86. Tartari, M. (2015). Divorce and the cognitive achievement of children. International Economic Review, 56(2): 597-645. Wachtel, L., Shorter, E. (2013). Autism plus psychosis: A 'one-two punch' risk for tragic violence? Medical Hypotheses, 81(3): 404-409. Watts, S., Oburu, P., Lah, S., Hunt, C., Rhodes, P. (2016). Psychosocial stimulation: A qualitative study on Kenyan mother's motives and challenges to promote children's development. Journal of Child and Family Studies, 25(6): 1840-1847.

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