Does divorce cause low self esteem in children

According to statistics, half of all American children will witness the divorce (Finley & Schwartz, 2007). Of all children born to married parents this year, 50% will experience the divorce of their parents before they reach their 18th birthday. The parents’ divorce marks a turning point in a child’s life. Parents usually divorce when they feel they can no longer live together because of fighting and anger or their love for each other has changed.

Sometimes it is due to serious problems such as drinking, spousal abuse, or gambling addiction. Parental divorce is a very stressful event for all children and many of them are not prepared for it. Consequently, divorce can have an important life changing impact on the well-being and development of children. One important effect that divorce has is the increased risk of emotional and behavioral problems in children. Children from divorced families are likely to experience loneliness and insecurity.

For instance, they may feel abandoned or rejected by their parents. Furthermore, children who have seen their parents’ divorce may also struggle with low self-esteem. Those children believe that they are the cause of their parents’ divorce and they build up a deep sense of guilt and shame. Even though it is clearly not their fault, they will keep blaming themselves for something that they have done or said (Ross & Wyne, 2010). So I ask, does divorce cause low self-esteem in children and that continues into adulthood?

In the first article “Parental Depression and Divorce and Adult Children’s Well-Being: The Role of Family Unpredictability” by Lisa Thomson Ross and Stacie Wyne research had shown that children of divorce had experienced anxiety and depression. For example, Ross and Wyne found adolescents with negative interpretations of their parents’ divorce reported more disruptive behavior than their peers from divorced homes who reported more positive divorce perceptions.

According to research, positive perceptions of divorce showed parents sharing custody, getting along for the sake of the child, and still sharing mutual respects on how to raise their child. In the second article reviewed, “Father Involvement and Long-Term Young Adult Outcomes: The Differential Contributions of Divorce and Gender” by Gordon Finley and Seth Schwartz (2007) it is discussed that paternal involvement and the father-child relationship significantly predict child and adolescent adjustment.

Finely and Schwartz (2007) go on to mention how in custody disputes among parents courts almost always favor, approximately 85% of divorces, the mother for sole custody over the father. Such arrangements assign the father the role of visiting parent, and can have the potential to marginalize and sever the father-child relationship. The desired fathering indication, meaning the desire to have a father figure, may also tap into “missed opportunities” or “emotional longing” for a father-child relationship leading to divorce-related distress.

The third article reviewed was “Parents’ Discord and Divorce, Parent-Child Relationships and Subjective Well-Being in Early Adulthood: Is Feeling Close to Two Parents Always Better than Feeling Close to One? ” by Doctor Juliana Sobolewski and Doctor Paul Amato both of the Pennsylvania State University. Sobolewski and Amato discuss three decades of studies showing children with divorced parents having an elevated risk of experiencing a variety of problems in early adulthood.

Similar studies suggest that exposure to chronic, overt, unresolved conflict between parents increases the risk of long-term problems for children. The final article reviewed, “Joint Physical Custody and Communication with Parents: A Cross-National Study of Children in 36 Western Countries” by Doctor Thoroddur Bjarnason and Doctor Arsaell Arnarsson of the University of Akureyri in Iceland, analyzed children of divorced parents in western societies who live with their mothers and visit their fathers who did not reside in the same home, on a regular or irregular basis.

Also discussed were divorced parents who found it difficult to adequately supervise their children, discipline them appropriately, and give them sufficient warmth and affection. The degree of closeness between adolescent and parent explained most of the variations in adolescent distress related to divorce. Since there is so much discussion on the effects of divorce on children, I want to begin by addressing whether there are any differences between children who live in divorced families and children who live in married two-parent or “intact” families.

In 2007 Amato and Sobolewski examined the results of 92 studies involving 13,000 children ranging from preschool to young adulthood. The overall results of this analysis were that children from divorced families are, on average, somewhat worse off than children who have lived in intact families. These children have more difficulty in school, more behavior problems, more negative self-concepts, more problems with peers, and more trouble getting along with their parents. A newer study shows that this pattern is still continuing. The actual differences between the two groups are relatively small (Amato & Sobolewski, 2007).

Research suggests that a child’s mental health is influenced by parental psychopathology and divorce (Ross & Wyne, 2010). It was found that children of depressed parents had more emotional disturbances and more affective disorders. Although depression has a genetic basis, when a parent is depressed the family environment likely has an influence as well. For example, depressed parents tend to be hostile and withdrawn, which can lead to anxiety and depression in their children. Children that witness arguments between their parents, such as financial struggles, were more likely to express the same actions with peers.

Children are highly impressionable and will often mimic their parents, leading children to believe an everyday argument between parents is normal for future relationships. Sole custody by mothers was the standard up until the 1970s. The authority and responsibility for making important decisions about the lives of children has increasingly become shared by both parents in joint legal custody (Bjarnason & Arnarsson, 2009). Joint legal custody ensures both parents the right to provide their children with love, guidance, and support.

Nevertheless, the possibilities of exercising such rights many non-residential fathers tend to gradually disengage from the lives of their children as time goes on. With an absent father figure, children may begin to blame and punish themselves for their family falling apart. Studies strongly suggest that parents willing to share custody and put aside their differences do not need to fear a negative impact on relationships with their children. As mentioned before children are highly impressionable and if they see their parents acting civil with one another they will learn to be civil with others as well.

Difficulties communicating with parents were found to vary substantially across countries, gender, different family structures, and between children ages 11 through 15 (Bjarnason & Arnarsson, 2009). Boys and girls overall found to be equally likely to experience difficulties communicating with their parents. Boys had more difficulties than girls communicating with mothers in some countries. In contrast, girls were more than twice as likely as boys to experience difficulties communicating with their fathers. Another issue found by Bjarnason and Arnarsson was the presence of a stepmother or father.

It was found that some children felt as though they were being replaced by stepparents. Also those children feeling abandoned by their non-residential parent, happily welcomed a stepparent. In some cases, children may feel unable to express their feelings of the divorce with their parents. Leaving them to hold back emotion and begin to bottle up feelings, which could cause major psychological issues as adolescents and adults. Adolescents may begin to act out at home or school. Some studies showed teenagers engaging in destructive activities such as violence, drugs, and unprotected.

Young adults showed poor judgment when picking a partner and had relationship issues resulting from past experiences involving their parents’ divorce. In conclusion, the articles discussed had two very important topics, shared custody and how it affects children. It’s easy to see that in almost all cases, children will suffer from some type of emotional setback due to a divorce. Often you will see children of divorced parents having later in life issues as a result. In divorces, if parents could refrain from worrying about their personal differences and focus on what is best for their children, I see no reason for long term issues.

Divorce is not only traumatic for spouses but also for children if not handled correctly.


Bjarnason, D. T. , & Arnarsson, D. A. (2009). Joint Physical Custody and Communication with Parents: A Cross-National Study of Children in 36 Western Countries. Journal of Comparative Family Studies, n/a, 872-889. Retrieved May 14, 2012, from the Ebscohost database. Finley, G. E. , & Schwartz, S. J. (2007). Father Involvement and Long-term Young Adult Outcomes: The Differential Contributions of Divorce and Gender. Family Court Review, 45(4), 573-587. Retrieved May 14, 2012, from the Ebscohost database.

Ross, L. T. , & Wyne, S. (2010). Parental Depression and Divorce and Adult Children’s Well-Being: The Role of Family Unpredicatability. Springer Science+ Business Media, 7(19), 757-761. Retrieved May 14, 2012, from the Ebscohost database. Soblewski, D. J. , & Amato, D. P. (2007). Parents’ Discord and Divorce, Parent-Child Relationships and Subjective Well-Being in Early Adulthood: Is Feeling Close to Two Parents Always Better than Feeling Close to One?. The University of North Carolina Press, 85(3), 1105-1124. Retrieved May 14, 2012, from the Ebscohost database.

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