Here are some effects that divorce may have on children and teenagers:
Children whose parents have divorced are increasingly the victims of abuse and neglect. They exhibit more health problems, as well as behavioral and emotional problems, are involved more frequently in crime and drug abuse, and have higher rates of suicide.
Children of divorced parents more frequently demonstrate a diminished learning capacity, performing more poorly than their peers from intact two-parent families in reading, spelling, and math. They also are more likely to repeat a grade and to have higher dropout rates and lower rates of college graduation.
Divorce generally reduces the income of the child’s primary household. For families that were not poor before the divorce, the drop in income can be as much as 50 percent. Moreover, decline in income is intergenerational, since children whose parents divorce are likely to earn less as adults than children raised in intact families.
Religious worship, which has been linked to health and happiness as well as longer marriages and better family life, is less prevalent in divorced families.
Parents usually experience a lot of pain when divorced, and the most common ways of handling that pain are either to withdraw from their children or to become overprotective. Children are sensitive to their parents’ feelings and have many ways of dealing with this problem, either internally or externally. Children may respond with depression or guilt, believing that somehow the pain is entirely their fault. Most children have a never-ending hope that their parents will reconcile, even after one or both parents have remarried. Therefore, a sense of abandonment by one or both parents is very common for such children and may contribute to at-risk behavior during adolescence.
Assessing your Marriage
Parents of a teenager at risk need to ask themselves some very pointed questions to evaluate the quality of their marriage. Here are some questions:
Are you sensitive to your spouse’s needs? Do you argue in a fair manner? Do you resolve conflicts easily? When you talk to each other, do you feel you have been heard? If not, why not? Are you content with your emotional, social and physical intimacy? Do you have fun together? Do you joke about the bad times you may be having in a friendly way? Are you forgiving with each other? How do you handle the division of household responsibilities?
Spend a few minutes with your spouse, taking this quiz and evaluating how you are doing in your marriage. The first step you must take is acknowledging and accepting any trouble in your relationship. It is common for people to brush off an issue, expecting it will take care of itself and eventually go away. Nobody wants marital problems, but if you ignore them, you will only be giving them room to grow. Talk to your spouse about problems and work together for a solution with which you both agree and feel comfortable.
*Arlene F. Saluter and Terry A. Lugaila, “Marital Status and Living Arrangements: March 1996,” Population Division, U.S. Bureau of the Census, no. P20 496, March 1998, www.census.gov/prod/3/98pubs/p20-496.pdf.
Next week, Part 21, When to seek advice for marital issues
Rabbi Daniel Schonbuch, MA, is the Executive Director of Shalom Task Force and author of a “First Aid for Jewish Marriages.” To order a copy, visit www.JewishMarriageSupport.com. For more information about Shalom Task Force, please visit www.shalomtaskforce.org. You can e-mail questions to him at firstname.lastname@example.org.