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Divorce Plagues Young Kids Socially, Academically For at Least Two Years: Study

By Meredith Carroll |


No matter the reason for the divorce, chances are it'll be hard on the kids

There are lots of schools of thought on divorce. There are some people who think their marriage vows are sacred, and nothing but death will do them part from their spouse. Then there are those who believe that circumstances and feelings can change, and that sadly, sometimes divorce is the only course of action for the sake of their emotional, and even physical well being.

I’m blessed with a happy marriage, but I also believe that things can change and sometimes divorce happens. In the instances where couples have kids, I often think it’s better for the kids not to witness an unhealthy relationship just for the sake of their parents staying together.

Still, it’s hard to think divorce is ever an easy or 100 percent right decision for all parties involved, and confirming that is a new study that says young kids whose parents divorce suffer with math, social skills and anxiety and depression for at least two years post-split. It’s the first long-term study to break down the dissolution of a marriage by predivorce, during-divorce and postdivorce stages.

The study, published in the June issue of American Sociological Review, found that parents’ predivorce marital problems didn’t influence the success of their kids at school and socially, but with the onset of the divorce proceedings the kids fell behind and couldn’t catch up for at least two years.

This isn’t the first study that has revealed that divorce can weigh heavily on kids, but this one directly addresses how kids internalize behavior problems that “manifest themselves by way of sadness, loneliness, anxiety and depressions.”

Divorce and postdivorce phases are tougher due to the potential of custody battles, the relocation of one or both parents and a new schedule that divides time between each parent — all of which can affect a child’s ability to see friends and put the pedal to the metal of schoolwork.

Do the findings of this study surprise you, or do they seem about right?

Image: Creative Commons

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About Meredith Carroll


Meredith Carroll

Meredith C. Carroll is an award-winning columnist and writer based in Aspen, Colorado. She can be found regularly on the Op-Ed page of The Denver Post. From 2005-2012 her other column, "Meredith Pro Tem" ran in several newspapers, as well as occasionally on The Huffington Post since 2009. Read more about her (or don’t, whatever) at her website. Read bio and latest posts → Read Meredith's latest posts →

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0 thoughts on “Divorce Plagues Young Kids Socially, Academically For at Least Two Years: Study

  1. Angela says:

    Of course such a major change is going to impact kids but I would be interested to see if the research took into account how the divorce was handled. It’s only common sense that an amicable split where the parents set aside their differences to meet the needs of the kids would be far less traumatic than a nasty battle where the kids are stuck in the middle. Unfortunately the latter seems a lot more common though…

  2. Piggeldy says:

    It IS better for a child not to witness their parents’ unhappy relationship. I still thank my mom every day that she didn’t stay with my father “because of me”. When I look at my cousins (now 19 and 24), I can see how much more that can hurt a child.

    My parents finally split when I was 2.
    I had taught myself to read at age 3, loved kindergarten, was a social butterfly, had friends, did sports… I didn’t start struggeling with math until 10th grade, I do have decent social skills (if I want to – just that I am awkward around male authority figures), anxiety and depression didn’t come until my late 20s and I am fairly certain that those had different reasons than my parents’ divorce.
    I was a straight A student all through school, hold a master’s degree and finally a decent job, I am happily married and am still kind of working on my Ph.D. – hey, I even passed my statistics exam on the first try (though I still have no idea how that might have happened).

    Do I find the results of that study surprising? Well, no.
    Is divorce easy or for all parties involved? Haha… no.
    Did my parents divorce influence my life? Sure did.
    Do I think that children of parents who just stay together “for the children” will likely also suffer? Oh yes.
    Maybe more than those of divorced parents? Looking at my cousins… yes, some at least.

  3. ChiLaura says:

    My problem with the argument that “parents shouldn’t stay in an unhappy marriage just for the kids” is that the definition of “unhappy” is so broad. Nowadays, unhappy only seems to mean that one of the parties “isn’t being fulfilled.” *Most* marriages aren’t abusive, and most don’t need to end in divorce. People are way too willing to just give up on their current marriage, imagining the grass to be greener on the other side, without working at their marriage or even just making up their mind to be happy and love their spouse. Yes, the marriage might need to change some for the partners to be happy (let’s just say that Mom needs more alone time, Dad needs to not be pestered that he’s not doing things right with the kids), but change doesn’t need to mean divorce. Besides that, I rarely see studies that show the fact that most people *aren’t* in fact much happier after divorce, that they’re worse off financially, and that they’re often just as unhappy in their second or third marriages (because the “problem” most of the time was not the now-ex-spouse but personal issues). Short of abuse or unrepentant infidelity, I am a firm believer in making a marriage work. And anyone who thinks that a divorce doesn’t shake the very foundation of a child’s sense of well-being and entire worldview is full of it.

  4. Meredith Carroll says:

    @Chilaura — Thanks for the comment. Sounds reasonable to me.

  5. Merrick says:

    Eh, my parents were very unhappy (still are) and I think it was still better for me that they stayed together. Children are fundamentally selfish. They don’t care about YOUR happiness. They care about their own. And my parents staying together meant more money to send us both to college. Of course, that doesn’t mean you have to stay together; your life isn’t just about being a slave for what’s best for your children.

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