Divorce has varying effects on preadolescent children. Each child also reacts to this happening in different ways. However, through research studies, we know that divorce commonly affects their dependence on their parents, their behavioral progression, their psychological well-being, and their gender-role orientation.
When the parents of a preadolescent child get divorced, the dependency they usually feel for his or her guardians becomes more intense. This shake-up in the life of the child results in searching for ways to reclaim a lost sense of security. Unfortunately, it is difficult to convince a child of this age that his or her parents are truly separated and will not get back together. This results in a stronger search for methods to return to the previous state of complete dependency. With two households, the child’s feeling of separation equates to not being sure of how much he or she can depend on his or her parents (Pickhardt, Carl E.).
One of the worst effects of divorce on children is behavioral regression. According to the University of Minnesota, “Following divorce or a parent’s remarriage, some children might revert to problem behaviors they had when they were younger. These include bed-wetting and thumb-sucking (“How Age Affects Children’s Adjustment to Stepfamilies”). They might even start whining, lashing out, fake crying, and more. This is a sign that they want the attention of their parents. Due to the divorce, the sense of separation results in the child yearning to feel the same amount of attention that he or she had before. It is a natural process and commonly fades within a few years—usually when they become adolescents.
There is a wide range of psychological symptoms that preadolescent children might acquire after the divorce of their parents. These detriments to the mental well-being of children is even more pronounced when an emotional divorce happens rather than simply a legal one. Based on a study by the Islamic Azad University, “Children of emotionally divorced parents showed significantly higher levels of emotional and behavioral problems than counterparts from legally divorced parents. They reported more depression, anxiety, stress, and aggression. Additionally, moderate, severe, and extremely severe levels of emotional and behavioral problems were more common among emotional divorce children than legal divorce ones” (Hashemi, Ladan, and Halleh Homayuni). But in general, the separation of parents affects a child’s mental state negatively by giving them increased anxiety and depression (Hoyt, Lynne A., et al.).
With the absence of a mother or father or a lack of attention from either, children can develop varying gender qualities. According to the article “The Impact of Divorce on Children” in the Journal of Marriage and the Family, “Most of the evidence indicates that boys without adult male role models demonstrate more feminine behavior (Biller, 1976; Herzog and Sudia, 1973; Lamb, 1977a), except in lower-class families (Biller, 1981b). A variety of studies have shown that fathers influence children’s gender role development to be more traditional because, compared to mothers, they more routinely differentiate between masculine and feminine behaviors and encourage greater conformity to conventional gender roles (Biller, 1981a; Biller and Davids, 1973; Bronfenbrenner, 1961; Heilbrun, 1965; Lamb, 1977b; Noller, 1978)” (Demo, David H., and Alan C. Acock). The issue is worsened by the fact that matriacal families that are separated often give the impression to the children that fathers are less masculine than if they were not divorced. This brings about confusion about what masculinity is, and also denigrates the sense of femininity in the process since mothers in these types of families have to pull more weight than the fathers.
Divorce is not only painful for the parents but also the children in a family. In the case of preadolescent childen, this type of separation affects the dependence on their parents, their behavioral progression, their psychological well-being, and their gender-role orientation. It is advised early on that these victims attend counseling to clarify their issues and to resolve them in the most appropriate way.
Pickhardt, Carl E. “The Impact of Divorce on Young Children and Adolescents.” Psychology Today, Sussex Publishers, www.psychologytoday.com/intl/blog/surviving-your-childs-adolescence/201112/the-impact-divorce-young-children-and-adolescents.
“How Age Affects Children’s Adjustment to Stepfamilies.” UMN Extension, extension.umn.edu/divorce-and-other-family-transitions/how-age-affects-childrens-adjustment-stepfamilies.
Hashemi, Ladan, and Halleh Homayuni. “Emotional Divorce: Child’s Well-Being.” Journal of Divorce & Remarriage, vol. 58, no. 8, 2017, pp. 631–644., doi:10.1080/10502556.2016.1160483.
Hoyt, Lynne A., et al. “Anxiety and Depression in Young Children of Divorce.” Journal of Clinical Child Psychology, vol. 19, no. 1, 1990, pp. 26–32., doi:10.1207/s15374424jccp1901_4.
Demo, David H., and Alan C. Acock. “The Impact of Divorce on Children.” Journal of Marriage and the Family, vol. 50, no. 3, 1988, p. 619., doi:10.2307/352634.