Sue Scheff: Parenting, Divorce and Teens

familyfeudI know there are many parents that can relate to this.  Personally, I grew up in a time when the divorce was almost unheard of, however once my siblings and I were all over 18, our parents divorced.  What a relief!  In many ways –  it is my opinion, if you you know the marriage it over, and you have exhausted every avenue to keep it alive – and it is obvious that the union is over, in many ways divorce can be a better route for the kids – rather than living with the feuding and constant tension and confliction within the family unit.  This is only my experience, take time to review these great tips from Connect with Kids.  I am in no way promoting divorce, I am only saying as mature adults we need to do what is best for all involved.  Of course, each family and their dynamics are different – requiring different solutions and results.

Source: Connect with Kids

“It’s very hard, and it takes a lot for me to trust somebody. I don’t trust people very openly, very freely.”

– Katherine Yarberry, 14 years old

Katherine Yarberry’s parents got along well until she was about 4 years old.

“We all had a lot of fun together, that’s all I can remember,” says Katherine, who is now 14.

But those good times with her mom and dad didn’t last long.  Soon, the arguing began, creating moments in time she will never forget.

“I was in the other room, and I heard something break, and my dad had thrown a plate against the wall,” she says.  “They were having a fight.”

When children grow up in households where their parents often fight and the prevailing emotion is anger, it’s easy to imagine why they would be unhappy.  And that unhappiness can last a lifetime.

“It’s very hard, and it takes a lot for me to trust somebody.  I don’t trust people very openly, very freely,” Katherine says.

The Journal of the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry reports that kids who witness constant fighting are at greater risk for depression, drug dependence and low self-esteem.

What’s more, their future relationships with their spouse or their children are also at risk.

“I think parents don’t understand, and they get involved in their own issues [so] they don’t get the perspective that they need to that they are role modeling for their children and children are probably going to copy them in some way or another,” says Dr. John Lochridge, a psychiatrist.

Experts say parents need to remember that every time they fight, they are influencing their children’s behavior patterns.

The good news, Lochridge says, is that if angry parents teach their kids anger, then they can also teach them conflict resolution.  And it’s never too late to begin.

“I think you can change your relationship to make it much more appropriate for the kids,” Lochridge says. “In fact, you can even role model conflict resolution.”

Tips for Parents

Several studies suggest that children of divorced parents are at an “increased risk” for later problems – namely divorce – in their own marriages.  One study, published in the Journal of Marriage and Family,followed 2,000 married people and 335 of their children over a 17-year period. 

“Children who grow up with divorced parents tend to reach adulthood with a relatively weak commitment to the norm of lifelong marriage,” says study author Dr. Paul R. Amato of Pennsylvania State University.  “When their own marriages become troubled, they tend to leave the relationship rather than stick it out or work on it.”

He says adult children of divorce have a tendency to jettison relationships that may be salvageable. Among the findings in Dr. Amato’s study:

  • Children of divorce are twice as likely to see their own marriages end in divorce.
  • Children of “maritally distressed parents” who remain continuously married did not have an elevated risk of divorce.
  • The risk of divorce was more likely among children whose parents reported a low, rather than high, level of discord prior to divorce.

The American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry (AACAP) says that during the difficult period of divorce, parents may be preoccupied with their own problems but continue to be the most important people in their children’s lives.  Children will cope best if they know their mother and father will still be their parents and remain involved with them even though the marriage is ending and their parents won’t live together.  The AACAP says research shows that it is best for children of divorce when their parents can cooperate on behalf of their children.
The authors of Making Divorce Easier on Your Child:  50 Effective Ways to Help Children Adjust give the following advice to parents to help minimize the negative effects of divorce on their children:

  • Subject children to as few changes as possible as a result of the divorce.  For example, try to have the children attend the same schools, continue to live in the same home, etc.
  • Don’t argue or fight with your ex-spouse in your children’s presence.  The amount of parental conflict that your children witness following divorce is directly related to their level of adjustment.
  • Consistent discipline is very important.  Both parents should use similar, age-appropriate discipline techniques with their children.
  • Don’t use children as messengers in parental communications.  Children should never be asked to relay messages, such as “Tell your dad that he is late with the child support payment.” 
  • Don’t use children as spies.
  • Don’t use children as allies in parental battles.
  • Don’t demean the other parent in front of children.  Remember that your ex-spouse is still your children’s parent.
  • Don’t burden children with personal fears and concerns.
  • It is usually in your children’s best interest to have a consistent pattern of frequent visits with the non-custodial parent.
  • If major problems develop for children and/or parents, seek professional assistance.

References

  • American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry
  • Journal of Marriage and Family
  • Making Divorce Easier on Your Child:  50 Effective Ways to Help Children Adjust, by Nicholas Long and Rex Forehand
  • Pennsylvania State University
  • Simmons College
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