Q&A – Do Kids Bounce Back Quickly from Divorce?

Question: I know that divorce is tough on kids when it happens. But what are the long-term implications of a family breakup? Don't children quickly "get over" it?

Dr. Dobson Answer: I wish I could say that children quickly bounce back after their parents separate, but research tells us otherwise. It is indisputable now that emotional development in children is directly related to the presence of warm, nurturing, sustained, and continuous interaction with both parents. Anything that interferes with the vital relationship with either parent can have lasting consequences for the child. For example, one landmark study revealed that 90 percent of children from divorced homes suffered from an acute sense of shock when the separation occurred, including profound grieving and irrational fears. Fifty percent reported feeling rejected and abandoned. And indeed, half the fathers never came to see their children three years after the divorce. One-third of the boys and girls feared abandonment by the remaining parent, and 66 percent experienced yearning for the absent parent, with an intensity that researchers described as "overwhelming." Most significant, 37 percent of the children were even more unhappy and dissatisfied five years after the divorce than they had been at eighteen months. In other words, time did not heal their wounds.

The above statistics came from the research findings of Dr. Judith Wallerstein, the foremost authority on the subject of children of divorce. She began studying boys and girls twenty-five years ago and has followed them to this time. Her recent book revealed that 40 percent of her subjects never married, compared with 16 percent of children from intact families. Children of divorce, she found, had less chance at college, were more likely to use drugs and alcohol before age fourteen, and displayed less social competence. Girls whose parents divorced had earlier sexual experiences. Clearly, the impact of family breakups is a lifelong affair.

There is one more factor that will be of interest. Recent studies have shown that divorce is related to promiscuous behavior during adolescence. Researchers from the Oregon Social Learning Center tracked the behavior of two hundred junior high and high school boys who lived in higher-crime areas. They found that the boys who had sexual intercourse at an early age tended to be those who had experienced two or more parental transitions—divorce, remarriage, repartnering, and so on. Only 18 percent of those promiscuous boys came from intact families. By contrast, 57 percent of the virgins came from homes where divorce had not occurred. A similar study found that a strong correlation existed between young women who bore babies out of wedlock and those who had been through a change in family structure when growing up. It was concluded that the stresses of divorce and remarriage on children directly impacted out-of-wedlock childbearing.

Again, we are seeing now that divorce, single parenting, and family disruption are terribly hard on children. This is not to criticize those who find themselves in these difficult circumstances, but neither can we deny that intact, two-parent families are the most healthy for kids and that they contribute directly to a stable society.

Book: Bringing Up Boys

By Dr. James Dobson

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