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Chapter: Psychology: Development

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The Effects of Domestic Conflict and Divorce - Socioemotional Development in Infancy and Childhood

Another way that families differ is in the degree to which parents fight and, in some cases, whether they eventually divorce.

THE EFFECTS OF DOMESTIC CONFLICT AND DIVORCE

 

Another way that families differ is in the degree to which parents fight and, in some cases, whether they eventually divorce. There is no question that divorce can have negative effects on a child—but, happily, in many cases it does not. Thus, one study estimated that 20 to 25% of children of divorced families will experience significant problems (Hetherington, Bridges, & Insabella, 1998). This statistic is troubling—and is double the risk for children from intact families. Nonetheless, these same numbers tell us that 75 to 80% of children from divorced families do not experience significant problems.

 

What sorts of problems are associated with divorce? The list is long. Children whose parents have divorced are at greater risk for depression, have lower self-esteem, and tend to be less competent socially (Amato, 2001; Amato & Keith, 1991). Adolescents whose parents divorce are more likely to drop out of school and more likely to have unwanted early pregnancies (Hetherington, Bridges, & Insabella, 1998).

 

Can we predict which children will suffer from their parents’ divorce, and which will not? The outcome tends to be worse if the children are younger at the time of the divorce. The outcome also tends to be worse if the children experienced significant con-flict between their parents in the months (or years) leading up to the divorce (Cummings & Davies, 1994), although in such cases, it may be those pre-divorce ten-sions, and not the divorce itself, that are the source of the children’s later troubles. Finally, this is another place where attachment matters. Children with secure attach-ments seem to cope more easily with parental conflict than children with insecure attachments.

 

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