The Long-Term Impact of Divorce on Adolescent Emotional Adjustment and Well-Being
California State University, Los Angeles
Child Development 3500- Section 2
Dr. Robin Davidson
April 30, 2018
The Long-Term Impact of Divorce on Adolescent Emotional Adjustment and Well-Being
About 40% to 45% of children before the ages of 18 are impacted by parental divorce in the United States (Shoen & Canudas-Romo, 2006). Parental disconnection is also related to negative emotions and poor self-concept in adolescence (Yárnoz-Yaben & Garmendia, 2015). Moreover, youth of divorced parents are at greater risk for having behavior problems during adolescence (Modecki & Hagan, 2015). Because of the evidence regarding adolescent well-being following parental separation, researchers focused on understanding the range of factors that influence adolescents long-term adjustment following divorce. Marital detachment may affect adolescent well-being in different ways such as having parent-child communication complications, psychological problems, and raised marital instability after the parental separation (Fergusson, 2014; Mustonen, 2011). Family dynamics that include overpowering levels of parental conflict, poor child-parent relationship, and poor coping strategies after parental divorce have been found to negatively shape adolescent emotional adjustment and well-being (Yárnoz-Yaben & Garmendia, 2015).
This paper examines modern research on the long-term consequences of parental disunity on adolescent emotional adjustment and well-being, while also discussing parental impact on the adolescent. It provides a review of recent studies on this specific topic and considers their limitations. Furthermore, this paper provides recommendations for future research and implications for parents, adolescents, and policies. For the intentions of this paper, emotional adjustment refers to the divorce-stress-adjustment and well-being is referred to life satisfaction (positive or negative) and the pleasant/unpleasant emotions, moods, and feelings.
Over the last ten years, there have been few studies that focused on the long-term impacts of divorce on adolescent emotional adjustment and well-being. From the research that was found, they provided strong significance of divorce on adolescent well-being. The investigations called attention to the level of parental conflict, father-child engagement, and the quality of the parent-child relationship following marital separation. Research demonstrated that fathers may help influence the well-being of the adolescent by remaining in contact and staying involved in their lives post divorce. Additionally, research discovered that elevated levels of parental conflict, deficient parent-child communication, and poor coping strategies convinced adolescent well-being negatively after divorce (Modecki, Hagan, Sandler, & Wolchick, 2015; Roubunov, & Luecken, 2013; Sodermans, Botterman, Havermans, & Mtthijs, 2015; Yárnoz-Yaben, & Garmendia, 2016).
The examinations on adolescent emotional well-being will be discussed through two major themes pointed out in the paper. The first theme is the role on father engagement. This applies to the father-child relationship post divorce, including the father involvement that encompassed face-to-face interaction, telephone calls, and letters. The second theme of this review is the role on conflict between the parents on adolescent emotional well-being. Researchers have been especially interested in how excessive levels of parental conflict can potentially lead to depressive symptoms in adolescents.
Researchers have put a considerable amount of focus to the role on father involvement in adolescent adjustment and well-being after parental divorce. In connection to Bronfenbrenner’s ecological systems perspective, the father is directly involved in the microsystem, which is
composed of a system of interrelated influences that affect the child’s development (Clarke-Stewart & Park, 2014). The contributions of father-child contact and the event of divorce are significant, making father engagement after divorce worthy of attention. To go on further, there are far fewer studies of father-child relationship than with mother-chid relationship. From the few studies found on father involvement, they gravitated to the amount of contact and the quality of the relationship between the father and adolescent. Findings tended to show that father engagement can reinforce adolescent emotional well-being positively or negatively by remaining in contact and staying involved in their lives after divorce (Kume, 2015; Modecki, Hagan, & Wolchik, 2015; Sodermans, Botterman, Havermans, & Matthijs, 2015). By remaining close in the life of the adolescent, fathers can influence adolescent well-being.
A longitudinal study that was conducted by Modecki, Hagan, and Wolchik (2013), examined 156 adolescent reports of the amount of contact with the father, quality of father-adolescent relationship, adolescent exposure to conflict between the parents six to eight years post divorce; and internalizing/externalizing problems and the level of academic achievement nine years afterwards in young adulthood. The participants were categorized based on the degree of father involvement and conflict in the family. From these categories, results indicated that the Moderate Involvement/Low Conflict father profile was the most preventative for the long-term psychosocial functioning of the adolescent. The study demonstrated that fathers who were
moderately involved and displayed lowed conflict with their previous partner had young adults who showed greater academic achievement and fewer externalizing problems compared to young adults who had no in-person contact with their fathers.
Similarly, in a correlational study conducted by Kume (2015), she examined 244 university students in the United States between the ages 18-29, and father involvement in childcare and its effect on children’s psychological development after they reached adolescence. To do this, Kume asked the students to complete surveys that measured the relationship with their fathers, their self-esteem, satisfaction with life, and perceived stress. Kume used five different scales to assess father involvement and self-esteem. The results reported that there were significant positive correlations between father involvement and adolescent self esteem, life satisfaction, and lower stress. These results showed that father involvement and closeness in parenting had a positive effect on adolescent self-esteem, making father involvement significant and influential for adolescent well-being.
In contrast, a correlational study conducted by Sodermans, Botterman, Havermans, and Matthijs (2015) investigated how the well-being of divorced parents are affected by their custody status through examining parental involvement. Although this study revealed parental emotional states after divorce, findings showed that for divorced fathers, more parental involvement was negatively associated with more problems in father-child communication. Fathers who were highly involved in the lives of the adolescent brought an extended amount of parenting time, which lead to communication troubles. The divorce-stress-adjustment on the adolescents were caused by problems communicating with their fathers. This suggests that father involvement, after divorce, can make a negative impact on the adjustment and well-being of the adolescent.
Research on how father involvement may influence the emotional state of adolescents after divorce generally exhibits that father engagement is a significant factor. On account of the father being directly involved in the microsystem, according to Bronfenbrenner’s ecological systems perspective, these studies help evidence that father-child contact, and the event of divorce powerfully influence the emotional state and development of the adolescent (Clarke-Stewart & Park, 2014). Findings concluded that fathers may assist adolescent emotional well-being, positively or negatively, by remaining in contact and staying involved in their lives after divorce (Kume, 2015; Modecki, Hagan, & Wolchik, 2015; Sodermans, Botterman, Havermans, & Matthijs, 2015). Moreover, researchers have been focused on how parental disagreements may impact adolescent emotional well-being, which will be discussed in the next section.
Role on Parental Conflict
The family environment provides powerful influence and a background for adolescent development. For this reason, researchers have put attention to parental conflict and how that influences the well-being of the adolescent. From the observed studies, they support the result that parents with prominent levels of friction place their children at an increased risk for maladjustment and young adulthood depressive symptoms later in development (Roubinov & Luecken, 2013; Rowe, Zimmer-Gembeck, & Hood, 2016; Yárnoz-Yaben & Garmendia, 2016).
In a correlational study administered by Roubinov and Luecken (2013), they examined the relationship between family conflict and depressive symptoms in young adulthood, while evaluating engagement and disengagement coping. Participants were from college classes and were recruited after completing a large screening survey. To measure family conflict and depressive symptoms, differing scales were used. To assess engagement and disengagement coping strategies, participants completed a questionnaire. Results found that higher amounts of family disputes were linked with depressive symptoms among individuals who experienced parental divorce during childhood or adolescence (Roubinov & Luecken, 2013). Raised levels of clashes between the family during childhood or adolescence were connected with depressive symptoms in young adults.
Likewise, in a correlational study by Rowe, Zimmer-Gembeck, and Hood (2016), investigated the family sociodemographic, parental dissolution, and adolescent perceptions to disputes following parental separation. To do this, the participants were 24 early adolescents who completed online questionnaires that measured adolescent functioning, mental health, and sociodemographic features. On top of that, adolescents finished a five-day diary to document their daily moods, feelings, and stress reports. Adolescents who felt lured into parental conflict displayed more behavioral difficulties, suggesting that parents aid in the well-being of the adolescent.
Furthermore, Yárnoz-Yaben and Garmendia (2016), reached similar findings in a causation study that analyzed the effects of parental dissolution and divorce-related factors that may
have consequences on the well-being of emerging adults from divorced families. The 125 young adults completed surveys and assessed scales that measured the well-being of themselves. Results conveyed that those who were caught in the middle of parental conflict demonstrated internalizing problems, which appeared to be most notable in adolescence. Therefore, recognizing conflict between parents in youth may have negative outcomes on adolescent well-being later in life.
Analysis on how parental conflict following divorce may affect adolescent emotional well-being support the argument that parents with exceptional levels of conflict position their children at a larger risk for internalizing problems and young adulthood depressive symptoms (Roubinov & Luecken, 2013; Rowe, Zimmer-Gembeck, & Hood, 2016; Yárnoz-Yaben & Garmendia, 2016). Some researchers have explained these findings to point out that adolescents who are pulled into parental arguments may feel strained to take sides. In all, the research stands to underline the critical role of inter-parental conflict and its relation to poor adjustment of adolescent emotional well-being following divorce (Modecki, Hagan, & Wolchik, 2015; Roubinov & Luecken, 2013; Rowe, Zimmer-Gembeck, & Hood, 2016; Yárnoz-Yaben & Garmendia, 2016).
Limitations and Future Research
Although the studies examined in this review displayed how fathers can significantly affect adolescent emotional adjustment and well-being following divorce, the sample numbers of the participants were relatively small. To go on, most of the studies coordinated were collected from young adults in college, and the conclusions might not be generalized to other young adults in lowed socioeconomic status environments who cannot attend college due to financial difficulties. Moreover, the measures were completed either solely by the parent or only by the adolescent, which caused a response bias when reporting in the study.
Despite these given limitations, certain recommendations can be taken by researchers to progress the matter forward. For example, replication with larger samples sizes is needed and should be considered to measure adolescents of divorced families from all sociodemographic statuses. It would be interesting to see the results of the participants who were from divorced families and who were not in college. Also, Modecki, Hagan, and Wolchik (2015) suggested that longitudinal research is needed with more frequent assessments using multiple time points to determine the contact between the father and adolescent. A related recommendation by Modecki, Hagan, and Wolchik (2015) is that future research should gather outcomes reported by other family members to validate the information given by the parent and adolescent.
Studies reviewed in this paper uncovered that fathers may help influence adolescent emotional well-being by staying in contact after divorce. Bronfenbrenner’s ecological systems perspective theory supports the argument that father-child contact, and the event of divorce powerfully influence adolescent emotional well-being (Clarke-Stewart ; Park, 2014). Research also indicated that parents with projecting levels of conflict place their offspring at an increased risk for internalizing problems and young adulthood depressive symptoms.
The research on the long-term impacts of divorce on adolescent emotional adjustment and well-being has implications for policy and prevention practices. To begin, parental visitations following divorce are essential and necessary for their children to remain in close contact with their fathers following the marital split. Additionally, intervention programs should be created to focus on reducing inter-parental conflict after divorce, promote positive parenting, communication skills, and minimize problems that have to do with children being caught in the middle of parental conflict. By doing this, it would be beneficial in maximizing resilience. The investigations on this topic suggests that there is a need for more longitudinal studies that link father engagement and adolescent well-being post divorce. It further implies the need for divorce mediation and psychosocial support for children and adolescents who come from divorced families to help improve their emotional well-being.
Modecki, K. L., Hagan, M. J., Sandler, I., ; Wolchik, S. A. (2015). Latent profiles of nonresidential father engagement six years after divorce predict long-term offspring outcomes. Journal Of Clinical Child And Adolescent Psychology, 44(1), 123-136. Doi:10.1080/15374416.2013.865193
Roubinov, D. S., ; Luecken, L. J. (2013). Family conflict in childhood and adolescence and depressive symptoms in emerging adulthood: Mediation by disengagement coping. Journal Of Divorce ; Remarriage, 54(7), 576-595. Doi:10.1080/10502556.2013.828988
Rowe, S. L., Zimmer-Gembeck, M. J., ; Hood, M. (2016). Community, family, and individual factors associated with adolescents’ vulnerability, daily stress, and well-being following family separation. Journal Of Divorce & Remarriage, 57(2), 87-111. Doi:10.1080/10502556.2015.1127875
Sodermans, A. K., Botterman, S., Havermans, N., & Matthijs, K. (2015). Involved fathers, liberated mothers? Joint physical custody, and the subjective well-being of divorced parents. Social Indicators Research, 122(1), 257-277. Doi:10.1007/s11205-014-0676-9
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Yárnoz-Yaben, S., & Garmendia, A. (2016). Parental Divorce and Emerging Adults’ Subjective Well-Being: The Role of ‘Carrying Messages’. Journal Of Child ; Family Studies, 25(2), 638-646. Doi:10.1007/s10826-015-0229-0