What Are the Psychological and Behavioral Effects Placed on Kids When Their Parents Divorce?

Published: 2021-08-11
1799 words
7 pages
15 min to read
Harvey Mudd College
Type of paper: 
Research paper
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Couples form matrimonial bonds with the intention of staying together for the rest of their lives. Some of these couples plan to have children as an icing on the marriage while others consider these to be a way to strengthen their bond further. Both of these childrens roles in the marriage are equally important, and it is unfortunate that they (children) suffer the most when such unions end in divorce. These children believe that the only correct family relationship is that where their parents live together and any other contrary scenario is a betrayal of their trust and beliefs. However decorated the vows pronounced in a marriage are, or the levels of commitment that a couple inputs to make their marriage last, statistics indicate that about 50% of marriages end in divorce (Matheson 79-80).

According to the U.S Census Bureau, 41% of first marriages end in divorce with this ratio increasing drastically to 73% for third unions (Matheson 79). It means that one out of two of every newly wedded couple is likely to divorce. Further, these statistics indicate that every 36 seconds, there is one divorce and this translates to about 100 divorces per hour. Men and women aged between 20-29 years are the most likely to get divorced (Matheson 79). It is important to note that women around this age are at the childbearing stage. It implies that couples that get married in this age group are highly likely to want to get children. Since these unions have a high probability of ending in divorce, it is evident that the children will be adversely affected. Accordingly, about 1 million children in America are likely to be dragged through the divorce process every year (Matheson 79-80). Based on these facts, it is necessary to discuss the psychological and behavioral effects placed on kids when their parents divorce using the family system theory, the emotional security theory, and the attachment theory. This paper demonstrates that kids whose parents divorce experience psychological torture and behavioral challenges.

Research indicates that most of the childrens psychological challenges that are displayed after their parents divorce commenced before the marital separation. Consequently, it is paramount to discuss the nature of events that surround a looming divorce to understand the conditions that children are subjected to beforehand. Before deciding to call it quits, the family must have lived for some time with marital problems (Kelly and Robert 353). These include communication, unfulfilled expectations, resentment, and emotional infidelity. The couples that ignore these matrimonial issues sow seeds of marital discord that give rise to a facade. One or both of the partners may end up withdrawing emotionally and may, therefore, see the need for extramarital affairs. Emotional torture creates an environment filled with spite and resentment, and this tense atmosphere is a fertile breeding ground for domestic violence.

According to Howe, the decision to leave is marked by shame, guilt, anxiety, and sorrow. In cases where the couple does not simultaneously and synchronously decide to divorce, a blame game ensues (414-415). One blames the other for wanting out. In different instances, an individual may provoke their partner into initiating the divorce by, for example, having an affair. These factors lead to the inevitable verbalization of the decision to divorce. Intense emotions accompany this arrangement, and in case of communication breakdown, fear and anger escalate, and the couple becomes reactive. Even though they may not acknowledge it, the couple has unresolved feelings of love and hate, and this leads to a state of confusion. The roles and rules of parenting start to deteriorate thanks to the reality of the impending repercussions of a physical separation (Howe 415). Understandably, a couple that finds themselves in this situation cannot adequately dedicate their time to their parental duties. Unavoidably, inter-parental conflict compels the kids to feel neglected and unloved. Those that witness domestic violence are emotionally and psychologically tortured (Kouros, Christine, and Mark).

Dr. Murray Bowen coined the family systems theorem which states that it is impossible to understand individuals in isolation from each other (Christian). Since the family is an emotional unit, individuals should be perceived as part of their family. The members of a family have a uniquely intense emotional connection to the extent that they are directly affected by each others thoughts, emotions, and feelings. Each member of a family has a unique and well-defined role depending on the relationship agreement. As such, the members of this system respond to each other by the position that they occupy therein. Since the connectedness and reactivity apply to a family unit, any change in a persons functioning will trigger a change in the operation of the other members.

Emotional interdependence in families is as advantageous as it is catastrophic. On the one hand, it promotes cohesiveness and the necessary dedication to the common cause of protection of its members. However, any elevated tensions that culminate in anxiety negatively affect the family (Cicchetti 199). This negative energy spreads infectiously among the members of the system rendering the emotional connection stressful. The members can no longer find any solace from each other, and they may feel submerged or out of control depending on the role that they play in the family. One may decide to detach themselves to ease any tension emotionally. Inherently, any change in the equilibrium of the family unit is likely to result in a dysfunction.

Children are intimately connected emotionally to their parents since these are their favored companions. They considerably rely on their parents for care and the family is the most significant determinant of their psychological and behavioral locus. In light of the family system theory, parents that subject their kids to the evils of divorce shatter the trust that these kids had entrusted to them (Christian). The children are cast into a state of constant emotional anxiety as they live with the hopes that their parents will one day get back together. In cases where the child is expected to transit back and forth between households in the name of visitation, they become an emotional wreck whenever it is time to leave one home for the other. When the child is creating a bond with one parent, they are likely to think that they are betraying the other parent. Children no longer find compassion from their parents since they are in a never-ending state of distress.

The negative thoughts, feelings, and emotions that mark the onset of a divorce weigh heavily on the psychological state of a child. Kids are subjected to dealing with many questions as they struggle to determine the parent that is at fault. Since these children are likely to be emotionally connected to both parents equally, demonizing any of the two is a tall order, and this weighs heavily on their emotions. When a parent who would not hurt a fly resorts to violence as a means of resolving conflict, the child is likely to replicate the same behavior (Kelly and Robert 353). Studies indicate that students from divorced families often choose violence as a means of handling conflict. Also, children from divorced families are likely to shout at, or physically assault their partners in their marriages. It is a behavior that is cultivated from their tender age due to the stressful emotional connection that they developed with their parents. Dividing the family into two households does little to address the behavioral effects of the divorce. Due to the unfamiliarity and the instability created, it is nearly impossible to discipline the children since separate rules apply to different households. The child grows in a lawless environment and can hardly differentiate between right and wrong (Kelly and Robert 354).

The emotional security theory suggests that the history of family interactions bears a long-term impact on a childs development. These interactions determine the kids ability to achieve safety and security in tightly-knit family relationships. A childs developmental outcome and their sensitivity and responsiveness to situations depend on the protection of the parent-child relationship. Accordingly, there exists a relationship between marital conflict and child development. Inter-parental relationships mediate childrens vulnerability to interpersonal discord (Laurent, Hyoun, and Deborah). Inter-parental conflicts disrupt a childs emotion regulation, control of exposure to family effect, and internal representations of family relationships.

The activation of a childs defense system compensates neurobiological, cognitive, and behavioral outputs that resulted from the natural selection to protect them from harm. If the social defense system is prolonged, then complex pathways and processes which require a significant amount of biopsychological resources are likely to heighten a childs mental health problems besides increasing risky behavior. This theory assumes that any difficulties in preserving felt security in inter-parental relationships generates variations in the thorough psychobiological resource allocation and homeostatic balance that spring back across several levels of functioning.

Correspondingly, childrens appraisal and interpretation of conflicts are determined by their patterns of cognitive processing and their understanding of threats. Their perceptions of situations vary depending on their concerns about security and the inter-parental relationship in the families to which they belong (Laurent, Hyoun, and Deborah). Children who are exposed to recurrent inter-parental conflicts are likely to have a reduced child-felt security innately leading them to create negative internal representations of inter-parental relationship conflict. This perception mainly affects a childs mental and physical health. Children strive to cultivate a secure emotional attachment with their parents to achieve some level of emotional security. Suitably, a conflict within parents relationship is likely to affect the relationship the parent-child relationships negatively.

When children learn of a loveless inter-parental relationship, they are emotionally destabilized since they keep thinking that their parents can cease loving them. The kids eventually feel insecure in the disconnected family, and they begin to regress in several developmental aspects. For instance, a child who was past bedwetting suddenly reverts to enuresis. Children may also start throwing tantrums, whining, and clinging in a desperate bid to compel parental attention. Also, the child no longer seeks emotional solace from their parents since their confidence in the secure familial base has been undermined by the inter-parental conflict.

According to Davies and Meredith, a divorce that is marked by physical and emotional violence makes the children fearful and anxious. Often, these children blame themselves thinking that some of their actions are the reason for the divorce. According to this theory, the behavioral effects of a tense inter-parental relationship include withdrawal and the anxiousness to please. Some children may choose to resort to violence and aggressive behavior as a means of self-expression. The frequency and intensity of the inter-parental conflict determine the level of emotional and behavioral difficulties that a child develops. Children who witness their parents violent outbursts are likely to suffer emotional and behavioral problems since they are often distressed.

John Bowlbys attachment theory defines attachment as that deep and persistent emotional bond that links one individual to another across time and s...

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