When things fall apart in a marriage, apart from the partners it can be particularly hard on the children who will invariably face its aftermath for all of their adult life. A reality so well portrayed in the 1979 film Kramer Vs Kramer that had Meryll Streep and Dustin Hoffman in the lead. However, with more and more Indian couples realising that the old adage of “staying together for kids” in an unhappy marriage is not the best solution, they are opting to split up. But one needs to be aware of the negative effects of divorce on children and how to deal with it.
At 1.4 %, India has among the lowest divorce rates in the world compared to many other nations, but it is a phenomenon that is fast making inroads into the Indian modern society and marriage. As per estimates with divorce rates increasing globally, around 48% of kids in American and British homes live in divorced single-parent homes by the age of 16.
While the effects of divorce on children statistics in India are few, a few studies on kids and divorce and the cause and effects of divorce on children abroad, have proved that divorce is bad for children. One finding made by the United States Census Board was that 35% of children with separated parents had no contact with the non-custodial parent. Altogether children do bear the brunt of a divorce.
8 negative effects of divorce on children
How you are dealing with a divorce are the biggest contributors to how kids may deal with divorce. Children have amazing coping mechanisms. If they are taught these tools and cared for during this time they will sail through it all.
1. A new normal
A divorce is usually a time filled with anxiety, confusion, frustration and multiple changes for children. Couples are faced with both the ramifications of young children and divorce and struggle to cope.
Many “adjustment behaviours” are seen among kids as they accept this new normal and transition. While many rebel against the idea of having two separate homes and initially having just one parent around.
They worry if their other parent may stop loving them just as they have their spouse, many even feel if it is their fault and concede that something they did has led to the divorce.
Sometimes they may blame or resent one parent for the upheaval in their lives.
2. Dealing with one parent
More often children who may have grown up with a set of parents find it hard to adjust and cope with single parent/custodial parent post the divorce. As they adjust to the new normal, they have fractured relationships with the custodial parent mostly mothers and it puts a strain on this relationship. Sometimes this parent, who is going through a divorce, may not be in a mental frame of mind to parent the kids effectively. In such cases, discipline becomes less consistent and less effective.
The physical effects of divorce on a child include kids becoming moody, aggressive, anxious, mood swings, intense sadness, disillusion and distress, secretive, vengeful and breaking rules.
These are short-term negative effects of divorce which can hamper a child’s psychological and physiological growth.
3. A major stressor
Divorce also tends to trigger stress among children as it has led to multiple changes and adjustments in their lives. With one custodial parent and another living away, the child comes to view divorce as a stressor that changes his or her life irrevocably.
Sometimes it could be changing cities, schools and losing contact with one parent, moving to a new home, making new friends, new neighbourhoods, dealing with just one parent on a day-to-day basis are some of the hard facts which make divorce something of a bad deal for kids.
There is also remarriage and the stress of having step-siblings and adjusting to a new person coming into the family fold that can be additional stressors if remarriage is involved.
4. Spike in behaviour problems
Conduct disorders, grades slipping in school, impulsive or rash behaviour, delinquency and conflict with peers and with siblings or parent at home. Sometimes when kids notice that only one parent is in charge and the other is not, they tend to break rules assuming no one is in charge in such a situation.
5. Risky Behaviour
Children with divorced parents are more likely to engage in risky behaviour like substance abuse, early sexual activity, use of alcohol and drugs, committing crimes etc. They are also at high-risk group likely to engage in sexual activity before age 16.
6. Can affect grades
As a divorce spells adjustment among parents and kids, for kids, it is an unusually confusing and frustrating time. This could affect their grades and study time as they try to make sense of what is going on at home and put their studies on the back burner.
Many a time while parents are involved in divorce litigation or the adjustment post-divorce, they tend to slip up and not monitor the children’s studies or help with their studies.
This is when their grades start slipping and a downward spiral happens which could take time to correct.
7. High risk of mental illnesses
Studies have shown that children of divorced parents encounter psychological problems and adjustment problems, notwithstanding their age, gender and culture. They also find that anxiety and depression rates are higher among children who have parents who are divorced.
8. Problem adults
For many children who have grown up seeing their parents split, remarry or stay a single parent, there are many who carry the undesirable behavioural problems right up to adulthood and beyond. While many have psychiatric issues, affecting mental health and leading to substance abuse. However, the spiral effect of divorce can be seen not only in academics but also their work and romantic relationships and marriages.
What the expert says
Cognitive therapist and Psychiatrist Dr Shefali Batra breaks down effects of divorce on children’s behaviour that parents can scope out and tend to during a divorce
What children sense after divorce
- Lose their autonomy
- Guilt as if they caused it
- Regression (acting like a smaller kid)
What divorce does to adolescents
- Academic issues
- Antisocial acts
- Get into casual dating
- Sexual promiscuity
- Become aggressive
- Are more Irresponsible
- Could face sluggishness
- Face identity crisis
If parents are more aware of the effects of divorce on children they can help them cope better with the situation, overcome the negative feelings and build a positive future together accepting the changes that have happened in their life.