In today’s society, there are an increasing number of social ills and stigmas that follow the family unit. One of the most prevailing detriments to the family structure is that of parental divorce. Divorce can be one of the most difficult transitions for any family to go through; it can have lasting effects on both parents, as well as children in the teenage years. However, one of the greatest impairments can be to school aged children. In the Bahamian society, this fact of divorce has not changed. Most couples who are married and starting families can run into problems that can be irreconcilable; and in that case, divorce may seem like the only option for the couple.
Constance Ahrons states, “… the reality is that 43 percent of first marriages will end in divorce” (pg. 7). This may leave children to become adjusted to seeing their parents be with other people and with a lot of unanswered questions. In most cases, parents may choose to re-marry and this could spawn contention between the kids and the step-parents. Most times, kids who have parents who are going through a divorce may have to deal with coping to new changes, behavioural issues, and academic problems.
First, one of the reasons that divorce can be extremely hard on children is because it may force them to deal with many sudden changes in their lives. Depending on the situation, these changes can range from alterations in living arrangements to changing schools. One of the most common changes that can happen after parents are divorced is that they can begin to have hostility towards one another and the children get caught between the fighting; in this scenario, the child is put at risk. Kendra Randall Jolivet states, “More specifically inter-parental conflicts concerning child-related issues, such as custody, child support, and child rearing practices have been closely associated with child adjustment problems” (pg. 175).
Continually, she states that divorces with a lot of infighting between parents “doubles the rate of behavioural and emotional adjustment problems” (pg. 176). Another problematic scenario that can rise from divorce is the matter of children constantly having to move from household to household to spend time with each respective parent. In some instances, this can be very manageable and as a result, the child may adjust to the constant movement rather quickly; however, if this is not the case and one or both parents decides upon taking sole custody of the child, this can lead to other problems. In her book, We’re Still Family, Constance Ahrons quotes a child who having gone through that particular situation said that:
Although sometimes the going back and forth was a hassle, what really upset me was how my parents kept fighting about whether I spent more time with one of them than the other one. It made me feel like it wasn’t really the time with me that mattered, it was only whether one of them won the tug of war. (pg. 67)
Situations like these can have adverse effects on children and cause them to be at greater risk of having lasting after effects. Furthermore, some effects may not end in childhood but can also be taken into adulthood. Sandford M. Portnoy states, “Evidence suggested that these negative effects lasted into adulthood” (pg. 126). In the attempt to cope with the changes in their family structure being unsuccessful, some kids may be at risk of “lower measures of academic success, conduct, psychological adjustment, social competence, and health” (Portnoy, pg. 126). This can also result in children having negative views of social concepts such as love, family and marriage.
Second, for most children, parental divorce can be a very traumatic experience; one which even after resolved can have emotional and behavioural side effects. Molepo, Sodi and Maunganidze states, “Younger children show a greater sense of self-blame, acting-out behaviours and regression. They may express more feelings of rejection and abandonment” (pg. 251). In many cases, the age of the child at the time of divorce can play a very critical role in how children deal with the stress of divorce. Molepo et al. states, “Older children express intense anger towards the parent perceived to carry the responsibility for the divorce” (pg. 251).
Continually, children may not only act out at home but also at school with their teachers and peers as well. Steven R. Rose states that, “Children of divorce are more likely than other children to be engaged in conflict in school systems” (pg. 89). Furthermore, the effects of the divorce may differ based on the sex of the child. For instance, boy may be prone to aggression, violence, criminal tendencies and delinquency whereas girls may be prone to skipping school, ducking classes, sexual promiscuity, running away and acting out (Jolivet, pg. 177). Jolivet also states that children may also have:
A tendency toward lower rates of education, early marriage, living together before marriage, and a group of behaviours which can be described as: lower commitment to marriage, infidelity, problems with anger management, feelings of insecurity, neediness, demandingness, denial and blame, contempt, and poor conflict resolution skills, higher levels of depression, and more problems with peers. (pg. 177)
Children who do not cope with their parent’s divorce properly can be affected so much that they can take these same problems into their adult life. Children who struggle with feelings such as these may grow up to be adults in society who have marriage problems as well and have to go through a divorce themselves. Furthermore, children who do not cope properly with divorce can mature into teenagers or adolescents who are violent and aggressive and increase the crime rate in the country or who increase the rate of teen pregnancies and high school dropouts.
Third, children of divorce can be affected in the area of school work and academic studies. In some instances, children of divorced parents can be negatively affected in academic and social adjustments. Rose also states that, “Children of divorce have more school attendance difficulties and higher dropout rates, more difficulties in social interaction, classroom conduct that interferes with performance and have a greater number of learning disorders than other children” (pg. 88). Furthermore, because of family problems, children may end up becoming introverted and internalizing many of their problems and feelings; however, this can also be reversed whereas kids may decide to externalize their problems and act out or disrupt other students from learning.
Rose also states that, “Children and adolescents who are distracted from learning in school, because of their cognitive and emotional responses to family events, are less likely to achieve satisfactorily than other youngsters” (pg. 89). Children of divorce who have problems focusing on their studies or behaving in school can result in an increased number of students who fail national exams and are forced to repeat or students who grow up to be bullies. Moreover, it can increase the number of persons who drop out of school and don’t go to college or does not finish college.
Conclusively, in the Bahamian society, children who have gone through a situation of parental divorce or have been through a situation of parental divorce may have warped views of family, love and marriage. Furthermore, they may have problems coping with difficult or stressful situations, behavioural issues or academic problems. These kids can grow up to become members of society that join the percentage of failed marriages, or couples with domestic issues.
They may also develop or mature into young adults who could positively or negatively affect the statistics in the country concerning education, crime, teen pregnancy and other such sensitive social topics. Children of divorce are at an even higher risk for a plethora of social ills and can reproduce the same actions and behaviours in their own children if they are not careful. In most of these cases, the children are not directly involved in their parents’ divorce but due to circumstances and factors such as age, they can start to feel responsible for their parents’ actions and then blame themselves for splitting up the family. All of these possibilities may be the result of one simple action: divorce.