Volume 94, Issue 40

Thursday, November 9, 2000


What breaks a marriage can break a family - reasoning behind the breakup

The impact of divorce on kids

The impact of divorce on kids

By Molly Duignan
Gazette Staff

The impact of divorce can leave a huge amount of debris in its wake.

Family, as a modern institution, is no longer confined to the classic definition of a biological union complete with two married, loving, committed parents. When the union between a couple is broken, the lives of any children involved can be drastically changed.

Harold Minden, an professor Emeritus at York University, said the implications of divorce are different for children depending on age and gender.

"It seems that early in life, boys seem to have difficulty and become aggressive and difficult, because boys don't talk or share much. In adolescence, however, girls [of divorced parents] have difficulty relating to the opposite sex and end up pregnant earlier than girls from intact families."

"My speculation is that [divorce] puts the child into a context they're not ready for. They are having to understand the situation of their parents at an age when often they cannot understand that it is the parent who needs help. This puts them into an older time frame [than that of their age]," said Rod Beaujot, professor of sociology at Western.

"[Divorce] becomes a real problem for university students too, having all sorts of pressures surrounding them," Minden noted. It affects their academic functioning and stress levels. These cases prove how disastrous it can be for people whose parents "stay together for the kids."

Citing a 1994 General Social Survey, Beaujot said people aged 20 to 24 were asked whether at age 15 they were living with a single parent, two biological parents or a "blended" family to determine what proportion of these demographics graduated from high school.

"Seventy-one per cent of kids living with a single parent graduated, 69 per cent of those living with a blended family graduated, and 82 per cent of those kids living with their two biological parents graduated," he confirmed.

"I think the stability of divorce levels lately is due to the fact that there are fewer relationships involving marriage," Beaujot explained.

Minden agreed divorce actually appears to be decreasing because the number of marriages has gone down significantly. "People just don't have to get married anymore," he said.

"It bothers me a lot that the notion of independence is seen as a mature state. Interdependence, the ability to learn to support another person, is maturity," he explained. "Perhaps people need to take into consideration how compatible they are before they get married. People don't even try to fix things anymore."

Dan Ashborn, a psychologist at the London Family Court Clinic, heads up a program called "In the Middle," an educational program for parents and kids involved in a divorce. He identified the importance of continued communication among family members.

"It is important for children to have regular contact and involvement with both parents. Ongoing conflict is going to create difficulties for the children and will impact their adjustment following the separation," he said.

"Children often talk about getting caught in the middle, being asked questions regarding each parent's life, asked to act as messengers between the feuding parents," Minden empathized.

"The impact of separation and divorce will play out in different ways, depending on the age of the children," Ashborn speculated. The majority of the children who take part in the program are age six to twelve.

"Seventy-five per cent of adolescents charged with murder come from broken homes. Children from broken homes are three times more likely to fail at school, experience emotional problems and commit suicide; they are 40 times more likely to experience child abuse," Minden said.

"There is a high relation between kids of divorced parents to dysfunctional behavior, early pregnancies and future failed marriages," Minden explained. One of the biggest concerns in society is beginning to accept all of these breakups as the norm.

"The media doesn't promote happy families – they promote dysfunctional ones. Happy families don't sell. I think the media has a responsibility to talk about some of the types of relationships that are going to make it," he stated

"There are psychological, emotional, economical and physical costs related to these separations. Children living in these environments really don't learn much about harmony and what it takes to make a happy, successful relationship," Minden said.

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