By Jenny Hope
2nd June 2011
Children struggle with maths and making friends when their parents divorce, a study has found.
They often fall behind classmates whose parents stay married, suffering from anxiety, loneliness and feeling sad – and may never catch up academically.
Contrary to some previous research, children through primary school did not show any negative effects before the parents decided to split, the U.S. study found.
But as soon as the divorce process started, the children suffered a range of problems that persisted, a report in the American Sociological Review said.
The five-year study compared emotional and academic development of children of divorce with those whose parents stayed together, by following 3,585 children from around the age of four.
‘Children of divorce experience setbacks in maths test scores and show problems with interpersonal skills and internalising behaviour,’ lead researcher Hyun Sik Kim, of the University of Wisconsin-Madison, said.
‘They are more prone to feelings of anxiety, loneliness, low self-esteem and sadness.’
This stabilised after the divorce, he said, ‘but the children remain behind their peers from intact families’.
‘My original prediction was that children of divorce would experience negative impacts even before formal divorce processes began. But the study finds this is not the case.’
Possible causes for the setbacks include stress the children experience as result of seeing their parents blaming each other for the divorce or arguing about custody.
An unstable living situation in which children are shuttled between parents can also disrupt social networks, he said.
Other problems include economic hardship due to a sudden drop in family income or a parent suffering depression as a result of the divorce.
The study adds to a wealth of data showing children suffer badly from parental break-up.
British research showed children of broken families are five times more likely to suffer damaging mental troubles than those whose parents stay together.