What Are the Impacts on Children of Losing a Parent to Divorce or Death? Term Paper

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¶ … children of losing a parent due to divorce or death?

What are the effects on children losing a parent due to death or divorce?

The impact of the loss of a parent due to divorce or death is often devastating to the child and can create a host of problems that can lead to serious emotional and developmental problems. In the first instance, divorce and death can result in a deep and traumatic existential sense of loss for the child. Childhood is a time of immaturity and vulnerability and it is often noted in research that children are less able to process and deal with a severe sense of loss.

For example, divorce, while often seen as less traumatic than death, can lead to a sense of abandonment in the child, which can have subsequent long-term psychological implications.

The literature on this subject shows that there is a growing concern among many researchers and therapists that the effect on children of divorce is increasing. The statistics relating the number of children who live in a home where there has been a divorce is on the rise. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, in 1970 approximately 85% of children under 18 lived with two parents. (SELF TYPES & THEIR DIFFERENCES ACROSS GENERATIONS AND THE LIFE-CYCLE)

However the modern picture is very different. "Two decades later only 72% did, with divorce causing 37% of the one-parent situations. In one-third of the one-parent homes the parent has never been married." (SELF TYPES & THEIR DIFFERENCES ACROSS GENERATIONS AND THE LIFE-CYCLE)

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Studies also show that that number of children who experience loss as a result of to death or divorce is increasing. For example, one study states that of the 68.7% of American Youth are living in non-traditional families "...23.3% live with biological mother...and...4.4% live with biological father..." while 30% are living in stepfamilies...." (A Generation At Risk)

TOPIC: Term Paper on What Are the Impacts on Children of Losing a Parent to Divorce or Death? Assignment

Children are often affected negatively by divorce or death in the family due to the fact that they cannot assimilate or express their feelings.. "Children are most vulnerable to hurt and scars caused by conflicts, separations or deaths of their parents and they feel the losses much more deeply than they can expresses." (Understanding Losses of Stepchildren)

The question that many researchers ask is why children are generally more negatively affected by divorce and death than older people? Part of answer, as one study points out, is the level of immaturity in children and a lack of coping skills. "While adults have maturity and coping skills to survive these bad times, children are much raw and have a much tender heart..." (Understanding Losses of Stepchildren) Children are therefore particularly affected by the impact of loss due to divorce or death.

One of the central aspects noted in the research is that the child feels a loss of control and direction due to the absence of a parent. In many cases, "... Parental death or divorce often means that children lose all control over their lives and do not usually have say in any of the changes that they have to undergo during this transition phase." (Understanding Losses of Stepchildren) Furthermore children who experience parental loss as a result of a divorce or death often find that their secure environment and their sense of stability is disrupted. This applies particularly in the case of a divorce. "They lose contact with parents, grandparents and siblings and may have to undergo changes in living arrangements and routines. First, they have to adjust to a single-parent family and then to a stepfamily." (Understanding Losses of Stepchildren)

While it is also true that many divorces do not necessarily have a negative effect on the children involved, in many cases it has been shown to be a factor in various childhood and adolescent learning and developmental areas. As one study indicates, children for divorced homes "... are more likely to experience problems with concentration, communication, and health. " (A Generation At Risk) The effects on a child can also be extended to the psychological problems that may ensure when the bond between parent and child id broken as a result of divorce. "...the parent-child bond is broken, resulting in the child's emotional, social and behavioral development being negatively affected. (Dueck)

The possible long-term impact of divorce can be seen in recent figures which show that children from broken homes are often more prone to drug addiction and the dependency on chemicals. A study by the Center for Disease Control in Atlanta states that, "... 75% of children/adolescents in chemical dependency hospitals are from single-parent families." (A Generation At Risk) The reason for chemical dependency among children from divorced homes can also be linked to the development of behavioral problems that can result for the effect of the loss of a parent. As a finding for the National Center for Health Statistics states: "1 out of 5 children have a learning, emotional, or behavioral problem due to the family system changing." (A Generation At Risk)

In another study on the long-term effects of parental divorce it was found that "...on eight indicators of psychological well-being (e.g., happiness, health, and satisfactions with life activities)...female children of divorce scored as adults significantly lower on six measures and males lower on three. " This would suggest that the initial trauma of divorce for the child can have enduring consequences. (SELF TYPES & THEIR DIFFERENCES ACROSS GENERATIONS AND THE LIFE-CYCLE)

The results of disturbed home backgrounds and a sense of loss and disruption can, in some cases, lead to crime and incarceration. "More than one half of all youths incarcerated for criminal acts lived in one-parent families when they were children." (A Generation At Risk)

The experience of loss and trauma due to the death of a parent can in many cases create complex reactions in the young child. Statistics indicate the following figures with regard to children suffering from the death of a parent. "...1.2 million children will lose a parent to death before age 15... Currently, 1.9 million youngsters under age 18 (or more than 2% of American children) have lost one or both parents." (A Generation At Risk)

The death of a parent often has a profound and very traumatic effect on the child. The experience of a parental death is usually followed by various symptoms of trauma. "After losing a parent, 85% of children exhibit such symptoms as difficulty sleeping, angry outbursts, worry, depression, bed-wetting, and thumb-sucking. After a year, more regressive behaviors may fade, but other problems, such as lack of confidence and preoccupation with illness, are likely to continue. " (A Generation At Risk) Invariably the reality of death is very difficult for young children to come to terms with. This is due to the fact that very often the child has "...not yet grasped a full understanding of death." (McDowell U. And Futris T.)

Death of a parent is one of the most traumatic life stressors and "...most children are unable to handle the intense emotions that accompany the death of a parent for long periods of time." (McDowell U. And Futris T.)

This factor is one of the reasons given for the suppression of feeling that many therapists see in children who have experienced the death of a parent. The experience of a parent's death can also lead to a deep sense of sadness within the child ands a withdrawal for social activities. Other aspect that may manifest themselves in the child as symptoms of the depth felt grief and possible denial, are attention seeking, as well as a decline in school performance. The rebellion against authority and guilt have also been noted as symptomatic of inner turmoil in the child, as well as a "...preoccupation with thoughts about mom or dad." (McDowell U. And Futris T.)

There are a number of studies which put forward the view that "Losing a parent to divorce, in essence, produces greater risks for a child than having a parent die. " (Dueck) This view is based on the assumption that the trauma of divorce is in some ways more complex and has wider developmental and psychological ramifications than the experience of death and can affect the child in adverse ways. This view refers to the fact that, "The changes a child must go through during and after a divorce are staggering..." (Dueck)

These include aspects such as;

dramatic declines in their economic circumstances, abandonment (or the fear of abandonment) by one or both parents, the diminished capacity of both parents to attend meaningfully and constructively to their children's needs (because they are preoccupied with their own psychological, social and economic distress as well as stresses related to the legal divorce).


Other factors which impact on the child in a divorce includes the loss or reduction of support systems in both a psychological and social sense; as well as possible changes in family living conditions and environment. As a result,."..the experience of divorce is a psychosocial stressor and significant life… [END OF PREVIEW] . . . READ MORE

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