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Divorce: How Its Effects
on Children Affect Society

Developmental Tasks for all Children

The Light Keeps Shining in the Dark!

After divorce, all children learn different tasks as they go through developmental stages and Pfeffer (1981) has stated that a period of grief by the child can be expected. She also said that after separation and divorce, the growth of the child's personality may be promoted when the parents become more proficient role models and ego supporters of the child. Hirsch (1983) suggested that there are books written for children of divorce and if read with the child by parents, teachers, or other grown-ups, they would encourage open discussions by the children. Following is a short summary of Wong's (1995) six developmental tasks that the younger children must learn: 1)to understand the immediate changes and the differences in fantasy and reality, 2) to control their fears of abandonment or being put in a foster home and never seeing their other parent again, 3) to show their interest in and provide help to parents and siblings, 4) to get focused on something besides the divorce and getting back to their own interests, pleasures, and relationships, 5)to deal with rejection and blame for the divorce, and 6) to deal with the loss of the intact family and the absent parent. She said that the fifth task is made easier if good relationships remain with both parents. The sixth task is the most difficult task, according to her studies, because those two things are the most valuable to the child.

I think that death and divorce are nearly synonymous in the eyes of a child. The only thing that will ever overcome death and divorce is believing in the Light that keeps shining in the dark. Pheffer (1981) has stated that children view divorce in three different ways; permanent, total, or partial separation from at least one parent. Wong (1995) has also given seven psychological developmental tasks for children after divorce and the first two, which must be dealt with at the beginning of the divorce proceeding, are understanding the divorce and not letting it be the main focus for young children and adolescents. She said the next five tasks which must be dealt with within the first few months for both young children and adolescents are dealing with loss, dealing with anger, working out guilt, accepting the permanence of divorce, and taking a chance on love.

Social Development

Kelly (1981) said that positive adjustment and social relations, especially in boys, comes from the frequent availability of the father, unless the father is immature or extremely poorly adjusted or the child is exposed to post-divorce conflicts between the parents. Ongoing family conflict, according to Wong (1995), is related to problems of social development, emotional stability, and cognitive skills for the child. Forgatch, Patterson, and Skinner (1988, p. 141) have said that it is assumed by society that the process of socializing the child starts in the home because "pro-social [behavior] and inadvertently, deviant behavior" are included in the basic training by parents and both occur during the child's development. These researchers have studied family processes over two decades, focusing on families with antisocial children and "have conducted treatment studies" by teaching parents "four family management skills", such as "monitoring, positive parenting, discipline, and problem solving," which accomplishes change in the child's behavior (p. 141). Also, a "key mechanism determining" the child's "antisocial behavior" is discipline (p. 141).

The Light Keeps Shining in the Dark!

Wong (1995) said that many studies have shown that divorce has profound effects on children and the long-term studies show that they "suffer for years from psychological and social difficulties associated with continuing and/or new stresses in the post-divorce family," which causes them greater anxiety when they are forming lasting relationships as young adults (pp. 93-94). She reported also that more recent studies have shown that children of all age groups have major disruptions in their lives due to divorce, which is contrary to earlier studies that claimed that younger children were impacted more than older children. Roman and Haddad (1978) have said that in social and cognitive development there will be a wide range of disruptions in children. They also said that children do not function well when they are bounced back and forth like a yo-yo because it is confusing to them having cloths, toys, and books left at the other parent's house.

Positive Effects of Divorce on Children

The report of Pfeffer (1981) noted that there could be positive benefits for the child after divorce, if the child is freed from a violent atmosphere present when the parents were together. Wong (1995) has commented that most studies stressed the negative effects of divorce on youngsters but there are some positive outcomes of divorce to be reported as well. She said, too, that a few positive outcomes are an increase in maturity and independence, as well as the increased commitment to maintaining relationships. She noted that studies have shown that post-divorce families and single parent or reconstructed families can be successful in improving the quality of life for both adults and children by reducing an environment of conflict.

Doob (1994) has said that after being removed from a disturbing parent the children prefer the time after the divorce to the time within the intact family before the divorce, because they said that it is a relief to have no more fighting. The space provided by the separation of the parents enables the older adolescents to develop an emotional detachment from the family and to begin the normal development tasks for an adolescent which is individualization (Wong, 1995). Hirsch (1983) agreed that there is a time of "emotional divorce during the period preceding the divorce and [she] feels that divorce will improve rather than worsen a difficult situation for children" (p.72). Continuing to support the positive effects of divorce on children Hirsch said that divorce is a preferred alternative to an unhappy marriage. The Light Keeps Shining in the Dark! Anderson and Anderson (1981) have stated that children can grow healthy in many types of situations if the three following conditions are met: first, the basic needs for the children must be met, such as, love and physical care, understanding, discipline and safety; second, the children need a sense of belonging or being able to say, this is my own family where I am an important and special person; and finally, they also need role models of both sexes in their lives to help them determine their proper male or female roles.


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