The Effect of a Broken Family on Development

by R.A. Anderson Google

    The University of New Hampshire Cooperative Extension explains that the effects of a broken family on a child’s development depends on numerous factors, including her age when her parents separation, and on her personality and family relationships. Although infants and young children may experience few negative developmental effects, older children and teenagers may experience some problems in their social, emotional and educational functioning.

    Emotional

    After a divorce, children from pre-school through late adolescence can experience deficits in emotional development. Children of all ages may seem tearful or depressed, which is a state that can last several years after a child’s parents’ have separated, explains psychologist Lori Rappaport. Additionally, some older children may show very little emotional reaction to their parents’ divorce. Rappaport explains that this may not be developmentally beneficial. Some children who show little emotional response are actually bottling up their negative feelings. This emotional suppression makes it difficult for parents, teachers and therapists to help the child process her feelings in developmentally appropriate ways.

    Educational

    Slowed academic development is another common way that divorce affects children. The emotional stress of a divorce alone can be enough to stunt your child’s academic progress, but the lifestyle changes and instability of a broken family can contribute to poor educational outcomes. This poor academic progress can stem from a number of factors, including instability in the home environment, inadequate financial resources and inconsistent routines.

    Social

    Divorce affects children’s social relationships for several ways. First, some children act out their distress about their broken family by acting aggressive and by engaging in bullying behavior, both of which can negatively affect peer relationships. Other children may experience anxiety, which can make it difficult for them to seek positive social interactions and engage in developmentally beneficial activities such as teen sports. Teens from broken families might develop a cynical attitude toward relationships and harbor feelings of mistrust, both toward their parents and potential romantic partners, explains psychologist Carl Pickhardt in the article, ''Parental Divorce and adolescents'' published in Psychology Today.

    Family Dynamics

    By its very nature, divorce, changes not only the structure of the family but also its dynamics. Even if you and your spouse have an amicable divorce, simply creating two new households permanently alters family interactions and roles. Based on the new living arrangements, your children may need to perform more chores and assume additional roles in the new household's basic functioning. Additionally, in some broken families, older children may take on a parental-type role when interacting with younger siblings because of their parents’ work schedules or inability to be present in the way that the parents were before the divorce.

    About the Author

    R.A. Anderson spent seven years as a self-employed legal writer before becoming a therapist for children and adolescents. After earning degrees in political science and English, she attended law school and then pursued a degree in mental health counseling. In addition to her writing work, she is the founder of a nonprofit mental health group.

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