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When you put these things together, it amounts to a potent combination of stressors that are capable of producing any number of serious outcomes in children who experience parental divorce:

  1. Parental divorce results in both episodic and persistent depression among children. (Pelkonenet al., 2008)
  1. Children who experience divorce develop mental health problems at a rate double that of their peers. (Hetherington, Bridges & Insabel 1998)
  1. They remain at risk for clinically significant mental health difficulties well into adulthood. (Chase-Lansdale et al., 1995; Zill et al., 1993)
  1. During a divorce, children have more suicidal thoughts and engage in more attempts to commit suicide. (Garnefski & Diekstra, 1997)
  1. Children from divorced homes function more poorly across a variety of domains, including academic achievement, social relations and conduct with others. (Amato, 2001)
  1. Stress or anxiety disorders may emerge as a result of the divorce.
  1. Children going through a divorce usually show numerous behavioral problems, which can endure for quite some time, even indefinitely. (Hetherington, 1992)
  1. Children who endure divorce have higher rates of delinquency and antisocial behavior. (Burt, 1929; McCord, McCord & Thurber, 1962)
  1. Divorce can bring about a variety of physical problems, such as headaches, loss of energy or somatic complaints in children. It’s also been associated with future high blood pressure, susceptibility to disease, and overall poorer physical health. (Mechanic & Hansell, 1989; Luecken, 1998; Russek, Schwartz, Bell & Baldwin, 1998)
  1. Children whose parents divorce have a shorter life expectancy than those who grow up in two-parent families. (Tucker et al., 1997)
  1. Girls from divorced homes display promiscuous sexuality at earlier ages and engage in attention seeking behavior towards males. (Hetherington, 1972) They also have significantly higher rates (7-8 times) of teenage pregnancy and birth. (Kiernan & Hobcraft, 1997)
  1. Children from divorced families have lower academic achievement than non-divorced peers. (Wolchik, 2002)
  1. It is twice as likely for a child from a divorced family to drop out of high school than a child from a non-divorced family. Children from divorced families are also less likely to attend college. (Rodgers & Rose, 2001)
  1. Children of divorce have a much higher risk of substance abuse compared to peers from intact families, and they remain at around double the risk even after controlling for genetic and environmental factors. (D’Onofrio et al., 2007)
  1. Violence by children against their parents is higher in divorced families. (Pagani et al., 2000)
  1. Children can carry a lasting negative burden years after the divorce in terms of mental health and interpersonal relationships. (Glenn, 2001; Popenoe, 1993; 2003; Wallerstein, Lewis & Blakeslee, 2000)
  1. Children who experience divorce are twice as likely to have their own marriage end in divorce, largely because of the example it sets in terms of relationship patterns and expectations about marriage. (Amato & DeBoer, 2001) If they marry someone whose parents also divorced, the risks are exacerbated even further. (Hetherington & Elmore, 2004)
  1. Divorce increases a child’s odds of future out-of-wedlock birth by a factor of three. (Cherlin, Kiernan & Chase-Lansdale, 2011)
  1. Those kids from divorced families are 5-times more likely to leave home early because of conflict or other negative reasons. (ibid)
  1. A full 25% of those whose parents divorce have serious long-term social, emotional, or psychological problems in adulthood, compared with 10% of individuals whose parents have stayed together. (Hetherington & Kelly, 2002)

Understanding the risk from divorce without going into despair

We point this out not so that you’ll run off into a corner somewhere and cry, but so that it sinks in that divorce is a serious issue with potentially serious consequences whenever children are involved. Kids of every age are impacted by divorce, though their individual reactions to it will vary from child to child. (Wallerstein & Kelly, 1980)

The good news is that your children can survive it. Although every divorce by its very nature will bring about stress and pain for parents and children alike, those parents who handle the situation calmly, intelligently, and with continued love and support can minimize the harm that occurs and keep that stress from translating into lasting injury. So don’t get overly stressed out or feel as though all is lost. In fact, remember that children need to experience some adversity in their lives so that they grow up to be competent adults who stand strong against life’s stressors. You and your former spouse just need to do all you can to ensure that this disruption is handled in a way that makes it the temporary, character-building type of adversity, rather than the disabling, life-damaging type of pain that far too many kids experience.

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