Divorce and Kids
Barbara Dafoe Whitehead
Divorce is transforming the lives of American children.In the past World War 2 generation, more than 80 percent of children grew up with both biological parents. Today only half will do so. Each year more than a million children experience family breakup: about as many are born out of wedlock.
At the same time, the problems associated with family disruption have grown. Overall child well-being has declined,despite historically high public spending. The teen suicide rate has almost tripled. Juvenile crime has increased and become more violent. School performance has been poor.
Given such a dramatic impact on children’s lives, one might expect today’s high divorce rate to be viewed more widely as a national crises. Yet, those who argue that it poses a serious threat are dismissed as being pessimistic or nostalgic, unwilling to accept the new facts of life. The dominant view in the popular culture is that the changes in family structure are, on balance, positive. And until recently there was little hard evidence to confirm or dispute this assumption.
A 1940s book on divorce asserted:” Children are entitled to the affection and association of two parents, not one.” In the 1950s most Americans believed parents should stay in an unhappy marriage to avoid damaging the children.
But by mid-1970s what had once been regarded as hostile to children’s best interests was considered essential to adults’ happiness. “A two-parent home is not the only emotional structure within which a child can be happy and healthy,” a popular divorce book of this era proclaimed. “The parents who take care of themselves will be best able to take care of their children.”
As this optimistic view took shape, many expects believed that the psychological impact of divorce on children was like a bad cold. There was a phase of acute discomfort, then a short recovery。 Kids would be back on their feet in no time, with no lasting harm.
By the early 1980s, however, nearly two decades had passed since the changes in family life had begun. During the intervening years a fuller body of empirical research had emerged: studies that used large samples, or followed families through time, or did both. Moreover, several of the studies offered a child’s-eye view of family disruption.
In 1971 Judith Wallerstein, a clinical psychologist, and her staff began interviewing middle-class children in the San Francisco area at the time their parents broke up. She discovered the children seemed to be doing worse. Five years after breakup, her research shows, more than a third of the children were experiencing moderate or severe depression. At ten years a significant number to be troubled, drifting, underachieving. At 15 years many, now adults, were struggling to establish strong love relationships of their own.
Five years after breakup, her research shows, more than a third of the children were experiencing moderate or severe depression. At ten years a significant number appeared to be troubled, drifting, underachieving. At 15 years many, now adults, were struggling to establish strong love relationships of their own.
Research shows that girls in single-parent families are at greater risk for teenage marriage, nonmarital birth, and divorce than girls in two-parent families---and that this is true regardless of race or income. Also, children in disrupted families are nearly twice as likely to drop out of high school. Boys are at greater risk of dropping out than girls and are more prone to aggressive behavior.
研究表明，单亲家庭女孩的冒险性大于双亲家庭的女孩：性早熟，十几岁结婚，少年怀孕，非婚生育，离婚 —— 而且不分种族、肤色和收入，都是如此。再者，家庭分裂的孩子中学退学率几乎要高出一倍。男孩比女孩更容易退学，更好寻衅闹事。
Scholars also find significant difference in educational attainment. According to a 1980 study by the National Association of Elementary School Principals, 30 parent of Two-parent elementary students ranks as high achievers, as compared with 17 percent of single-parent of single-parent students. The children in single-parent families were also more likely to be truant or receive disciplinary action.
Since most children live with their mothers after divorce, one might expect that the mother-child bond would even be strengthened. Yet research shows that only half the children whose mothers were protective before a divorce. Moreover, the mother-child relationships deteriorated over time.
Family disruption has been suggested as a central cause of many vexing social problems, as well.
Nationally, over 70 percent of juveniles in state reform institutions come from homes without both parents present. Family breakup is thought to be an important source of high crime rates in the nation’s cities. And, according to one study, its influence is independent of race or income.
Nowhere has the impact of family breakup been more profound than in our schools. Across the nation, principals report a dramatic rise in the aggressive, acting-out behavior characteristic of children living in single-parent families.
Over the past 25 years Americans have been conducting a vast natural experiment in family life. The results are becoming clear. Adults have benefited from the changes, but not children. Indeed, this may be the first generation to do worse psychologically and socially than their parents.
The novelist Pat Conroy has observed that"each divorce is the death of a small civilization. "No one feels this more acutely than children.