The Effects of Divorce on the Mind and Personality of Children

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In today’s world divorce has become more of a norm. Divorce is “the action or an instance of legally dissolving a marriage”1. Divorce rates are increasing every year, with the US having the highest divorce rate in the world. Moreover, every year almost 1 million children become members of single-parent family (Ellington C, 2003). It is said: “Children are always the losers in divorce” Divorce changes a person’s life drastically with children being the worst sufferers. They are not only affected emotionally but also psychologically, socially and may have relationship problems as the years go by.

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Divorce is the most stressful and traumatic experience for children. Different children react differently to divorce. While some may develop problems with anger, frustration, disobedience and rule violation, for others it might be just prolonged sadness. Some more troubled children may suffer other major psychological problems such as anxiety, depression and other chronic disorders such as Parental Alienation Syndrome and Divorce Related Malicious Mother Syndrome that will be discussed later in this essay.

The effects of divorce on the mind and personality of children are wide ranging from short term to long term, from mild to severe, from outwardly small to overtly significant. (Patrick F. Fagan and Aaron Churchill, 2012). Overall it affects a child’s development and disturbs them to the core. Life turns upside-down when children, who are used to their routine, seeing two parents at home, land up in a split situation being moved from one home to another.

The Psychological Effects of Divorce on Children (Michael Shaffran).

Effects on different age groups

I. Toddlers and less than 5 years: While children at this age are mostly attached to their mother, separation at this point of time can leave their little worlds shattered. It is very hard for them to accept that their parents, who belong to them, are no longer living together and actually one parent is living apart. (Dr. Gail Gross, 2015) Toddlers have limited cognitive ability and often less understanding of divorce that leaves them most vulnerable to its negative impacts.

The key reactions include guilt and self-blame. As young children mostly learn the rules they must abide by by the adults in their lives, every time they make a mistake they have to face some consequences that give rise unpleasant feelings. So when a divorce occurs children believe that it is their fault because during their learning years all their unpleasant experiences were their fault. (Stacia Garland). These feelings can mess with their mind and personality in the long run, and parents often remain oblivious of these lasting effects. These feelings lead to lower self-esteem that can clobber with their social and school life.

For toddlers one of the major reactions is sleep disturbances due to detachment from parents especially mothers. They may show an increased need to cling to parents that is an indication that they are trying to handle issues that are beyond their understanding. (Cindy R. Strasheim and Tonia R. Durden )

6 to 12 years: Children in this category have a more developed ability to think and understand. However complex circumstances such as divorce are still not very easy for them to understand. (JOHN HOFFMAN, 2018). Considering that they are still children and their world is a more dependent one and they are still connected to their parents. Divorce shakes their dependency on their parents who now behave in an undependable way that lands the children in a confusing setting and crushes their trust on their parents. Such a child’s reaction to divorce can be an anxious one. Life suddenly becomes unpredictable and mind is filled with all sorts of scary questions that reflect confusion. “What will happen of me, who will take care of me?” “What if I am left all alone?” “Do mom and dad still love me?” Answering such questions can be fearsome and a child’s response can be regressive. (Carl E Pickhardt, 2011). Children feel hurt and cheated and insecure. Such feelings give rises to anger to some extend leading to confusion (because they are often unaware where this anger is coming from) and conflicts within self.

II. Adolescents: Adolescence is the time when a lot is going within the body and inside the mind. It is the developmental stage and the brain changes fastest in this stage. Time management, organization and association, short-term memory are some of the skills that are controlled by the pre frontal cortex. (This is the region of the brain that is involved in complex cognitive processes, personality expression, decision-making and social behavioral skills.) (Matthew Dahlitz, 2017). Because of development in the pre frontal cortex, an individual experiences changes in three main areas: social, cognitive and physical.

In adolescence an individual is more independent and value relationship of peers over family. However, stressful life events just as parental divorce during adolescence can have negative impacts on brain functioning and personality development. When adolescents are exposed to such stresses, it leaves them vulnerable to mental health problems and risky behaviors. Adolescents might turn to substance abuse and alcoholism to cope up with the stress of divorce and other related stresses. (Mandalyn K Magner). Research suggests that teens from divorced families are 12% more likely to engage in Marijuana use by the age of 18. (Arkes, 2013).

Divorce may also trigger mental issues such as anxiety and depression in adolescents. “Anxiety is a heightened physical and mental state in which the individual is always anticipating a potential threat.3” (Ginsburg & Kinsman, 2014) And experiencing the trauma of divorce leaves them vulnerable to stressful stimuli causing long-term anxiety problems. Also, adolescents from disrupted families are more likely to be diagnosed with depression. In a study by Wallerstein and Kelly, five-years after the divorce approximately one-third of children were suffering from moderate to severe depression. Depression in the long run can lead to personality problems such as lower self-esteem and social withdrawal. The worst part about it is that, children have to cope with this stressful time without the support and comfort of their parents. (Hines, 1997).

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