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Adolescent Adjustment to Parental Divorce


There is an adjustment that occurs in adolescents as they experience parental separation and divorce. The adjustment is observed psychologically and in most cases affects their social-emotional skills. Changes could have a long-term or short-term effect, but generally, they are seen to take place. Consideration is done according to evidence seen in an adolescent’s external behavior, internal behavior, social character and academic achievement. Other aspects to be considered are the timing of divorce, adjustment capabilities of the adolescent before a divorce, demographic characteristics and ripple effects to be witnessed. There is also the aspect of parental conflicts and parenting roles that assist with adjustment. Lastly is the impact specific policies like child custody and support have on adolescent adjustments. The paper will elaborate on the above factors to understand adolescent adjustment after parental divorce.

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In the United States, above 50% of marriages always end up in divorce (Deater-Deckard, & Dunn, 2002). Such unions tend to have children involved, and therefore they experience divorce firsthand. Due to the large numbers of divorces in the country, it has brought about an interest of clinicians and scholars to research the issue to understand adolescent adjustment in such situations. There is always a standard dilemma in such marriages where parents contemplated staying together for the sake of children. They tend to have a fear of how their children would react to divorce, especially for those in adolescents (Deater-Deckard, & Dunn, 2002). Teenagers could be defined as children between the age of nine to eighteen or twenty-one (Vezzetti, 2016). They are known to be experiencing physical and psychological change that always makes their emotions unstable. Instability makes them sensitive to their exposure (Vezzetti, 2016). They may react differently to certain circumstances for they are at a delicate age in their lives. Thus, the thesis statement for the research could be formulated in the following way:

Adolescent adjustment in divorce depends on such factors as adolescent’s external behavior, internal behavior, social character, and academic achievement and contributes to particular changes in their behavior.

The primary research question in the paper below is what factors determine adolescents’ adjustment after they experience divorce and how it affects their socio-emotional skills (Kelly & Emery, 2003).

Theoretical Framework

According to research done by Amata in the 1990’s, 80% of children who are exposed to divorce by parents tend to experience adverse effects on adjustments with most not turning out positively (Amato, 2010). Separation seems to affect them during their adolescence, but those who overcome it eventually turn out well. The percentage of those who are successful in it is low, especially if parents do not work out a better plan on co-parenting (Amato, 2010). Parents play a critical role in the adjustment process for they are the primary support system of the child. In a situation where both parents quarrel without a common understanding, it tends to affect parenting and, in the end, both mother and father will not be able to provide the level of attention needed by a child. To understand adolescent adjustment after divorce, two aspects will be elaborated using well-researched reports by clinicians and scholars firstly. These are divorce process and adolescents adjustment.

Nevertheless, research works demonstrate a tremendous negative impact divorce might have on external behavior, internal behavior of a teen. According to Ashbourne and Daly (2012), this period is crucial for an individual as his/her behavioral patterns are formed. In the majority of families, parents act as role models for their children as they follow the same trends adults use in their everyday life. However, partners passing through the divorce procedure might destroy archetypical patterns that help adolescents to understand female and male roles and act appropriately. For this reason, many children who have experienced their parents divorce, face problems with external behavior. For instance, Vezzetti (2016) admits spontaneous alterations of mood in children whose parents are divorced. Moreover, the deterioration of external behavior could be observed in childrens relations with their peers. They might become aggressive and displace their anger or other negative feelings onto children who surround them (Vezzetti, 2016). Otherwise, in particular, cases characterized by the increased complexity, a child might become reserved and lose the interest to communication with other adolescents who are not able to understand his/her problem.

Therefore, internal behavior of a person might also be affected. Regarding the fact that it is responsible for the ways an individual responds to different situations, it becomes a significant dilemma related to the divorce issues. Thus, Vezzetti (2016) states that if a child experiences a breach of his/her parents relations, he/she acquires corrupted behavioral patterns that come from the inability to understand a reason for the deterioration of relations within the family and visible unsteadiness and vulnerability of the world in which a child lives (Ashbourne & Daly, 2012). It becomes a severe trial for a psyche of a teenager, and he/she elaborates specific adjustment mechanisms, including wrong behavioral patterns, to respond to any hypothetical threat that comes outside.

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Revolving around the theoretical framework related to the issue, the aspect of academic achievements should be discussed. Studies aimed at the investigation of motivation levels among teen pupils evidence that divorce decreases their intrinsic motivation to study significantly (Ashbourne & Daly, 2012). The fact is that family and parents serve as central institutions that approve achievements of a teen and introduce particular rewards for it, both moral and physical ones. Elimination of the family institution destroys the basis of all academic results of a child. Moreover, very often divorced parents are too busy with their spoiled relations and are not able to devote time needed to monitor their childrens academic successes. The crash of ideals and vulnerability of their world deteriorate teens attitude to other social institutions. Under these conditions, academic achievements suffer from teens exasperation and their attempts to adjust to new conditions. Finally, investigators admit the appearance of rebellious inclinations among adolescents who feel the lack of trust (Ashbourne & Daly, 2012). In such a way, these aspects comprise the theoretical framework needed for the investigation of the issue and determine how adolescents adjust to the new environment.

Divorce Process

The improved comprehension of adjustment patterns used by adolescents experiencing their parents divorce demands the in-depth analysis of this process and its fundamental peculiarities. Therefore, divorce is the termination of a marital union through legal processes. There are serious factors concerning divorce that affect the adolescent adjustment.

Factors Affecting Adolescent Adjustment in Divorce


First, it is the timing of divorce. As discussed earlier, adolescents tend to be emotionally unstable, and for this reason, timing is critical. Parents who are experiencing separation and divorce are expected to be cautious on schedule. Divorce taking place during a child’s adolescent tend to affect them emotionally (Lansford, 2009). They might feel abandoned because their support system (their families and parents) is occupied with divorce conflicts. It might also result in the decreases of attention given to teens. As previously discussed, adolescents tend to require care due to the many changes they are experiencing. Accordingly, if a divorce takes place during their young ages, they react negatively, and it results in the more extensive adjustment process.

Parental conflicts

Second, these are parental conflicts and roles. During a divorce, 80% of problematic situations could involve disputes due to disagreements in settlements and reasons that led to divorce (Lansford, 2009). Separation takes place due to the dispute that may not be solved, and both parties are not willing to come to a common understanding. The disagreements always lead to conflicts that are accompanied by arguments which may take place in front of children. Such arguments tend to affect an adolescent negatively. Because adolescents tend to be emotionally unstable, arguments affect their emotions and bring about confusion. It is mainly due to this fact adolescents search for another support system since the parents do not give them the required attention. They then seek for attention elsewhere and in most cases in the wrong people among their peers (McIntosh, 2003). There are those that start using drugs as it helps them to forget their domestic issues and avoid hardships peculiar to the real-life setting. Such adolescents then lose their respect for parents and cultivate internal conflicts. Due to inter-parental disputes, parents are seen to neglect their parenting roles and therefore affect the adolescent’s adjustment process. It could be considered a worst-case scenario for young parents as their children just starting to discover this world and their roles in it.

Divorce Policies

Considering a complex character of the issue, there are specific divorce policies that take place in the process. They include child support and child custody. During a divorce, there are factors considered during separation. Child support mainly involves financial assistance where the court decides on how both parents will contribute financially to the upbringing of the child. Child custody, on the other hand, is where the court determines on who will stay with the children and visits done by another partner. Both factors have significant effects on the adjustment of adolescents. In a case of a child support, some parents disagree to the point that one does not play his/her role financially (Sun & Li, 2002). This aspect will affect the living standards of the child to the point that he/she will notice the lack of some things. It may push children to other methods of earning money get all things they might need. Some of the activities may include child labor and prostitution.

In a case of child custody, adolescents need attention, and when their mothers and fathers separate to different places, they reduce the number of childs opportunities to contact with another parent. In most cases, it is the father who plays a critical role in an adolescent’s life. According to research done in 1990, fathers play a crucial role in adolescents life regarding discipline as they tend to be strict when it comes to behavior and therefore help to mold discipline in teens (Hetherington & Stanley-Hagan, 1999). Custody will mean less interaction, and consequently, they will lack discipline if it is the father or care in the case of a mother (Hetherington & Stanley-Hagan, 1999).

Adolescent Adjustment

Analyzing the theme of adjustment mechanisms, it is critical to mind that adolescents are characterized by physical and emotional change. Such changes tend to be confusing to them and therefore this moment in their life is quite critical. It is where they shape their character, external and internal behavior. Thus, a character could be defined as one’s personality which is in most cases affected by the environment (Sun & Li, 2002). Some adolescents are introverts which means that they keep their emotions to themselves making it hard to understand their feelings. In a situation where parents are undergoing conflicts that affect teens, they tend to keep their feelings to themselves and eventually lead to depression (Sun & Li, 2002). Depression makes the adjustment process harder to adapt and could have a long-term effect on the adolescents. An adolescent who is an extrovert tends to be outspoken. It helps them readily share their feelings. That is why this group of children is rarely emotionally burdened. Adolescents experiencing divorce in their family tend to feel more confused, and it is advisable that they share their emotions to avoid feeling depressed. They say a problem shared is a problem half solved. Therefore, sharing their experience with someone helps to decrease the level of tension.

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Nevertheless, as we have already stated, academic achievement is one of the indicators of an adolescent adjustment. During the initial stages of a divorce process, the majority of adolescents tend to be emotionally unstable. It affects their ability to concentrate on their academic achievements. In most cases, once they lose concentration, their academic grades depreciate with time. Sometimes it will lead to permanent discouragement in working hard and eventually affect their general life situation for the long term. There several situations when adolescents used to perform well academically, then all of a sudden after a divorce of parents they begin to flop. Such performance may persist, and, eventually, a child loses hope in improving his/her grades (McIntosh, 2003). This adolescent then loses confidence in a bright future and therefore starts living a carefree life. For this reason, it is advisable for parents to maintain their parental roles to ensure the adolescents do not adapt to negative attributes.


In conclusion, divorce is common in the current society, and adolescents in such families need assistance in adjustment. Their internal and external behaviors, as well as academic achievements, suffer from the radical alterations in the environment stipulated by the crucial deterioration in parents relations. Experiencing stressors related to this process, adolescents might elaborate specific behavioral patterns needed to cope with the high level of stress and socialize. At the same time, it is an incredibly complex process that affects a personality of a child and preconditions his/her future life. Moreover, every teen has his/her specific difficulties which precondition the term needed for adjustment. There are those that take longer to adjust than others. Some adapt and become worse with undesirable personalities that stick in the long run. For couples, it is advisable to ensure that a divorce process does not affect their parenting roles (Lansford, 2009). They should ensure that their children are provided with the same level of attention they had obtained before a divorce. Adolescents should not feel much change in the availability of their parents despite the policies laid out during divorce. They are sensitive and need parents as their support system for a smoother adjustment.


Amato, P. R. (2010). Research on divorce: Continuing trends and new developments. Journal of marriage and family, 72(3), 650-666.

Ashbourne, L., & Daly, K. (2012). Changing patterns of family time in adolescence: Parents’ and teens’ reflections. Time & Society, 21(3), 308-329. Web.

Deater-Deckard, K., & Dunn, J. (2002). Sibling relationships and social-emotional adjustment in different family contexts. Social Development, 11(4), 571-590.

Hetherington, E. M. (2003). Social support and the adjustment of children in divorced and remarried families. Childhood, 10(2), 217-236.

Hetherington, E. M., & Stanley-Hagan, M. (1999). The adjustment of children with divorced parents: A risk and resiliency perspective. The Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry and Allied Disciplines, 40(1), 129-140.

Kelly, J. B., & Emery, R. E. (2003). Children’s adjustment following divorce: Risk and resilience perspectives. Family Relations, 52(4), 352-362.

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Lansford, J. E. (2009). Parental divorce and children’s adjustment. Perspectives on Psychological Science, 4(2), 140-152.

McIntosh, J. (2003). Enduring conflict in parental separation: Pathways of impact on child development. Journal of Family Studies, 9(1), 63-80.

Sun, Y., & Li, Y. (2002). Children’s well-being during parents’ marital disruption process: A pooled time-series analysis. Journal of Marriage and Family, 64(2), 472-488.

Vezzetti, V. (2016). New approaches to divorce with children: A problem of public health. Health Psychology Open. Web.

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