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Effects of Divorce on Adolescents


Adolescence is a critical developmental stage in life of a human being. The stage is marked by different psychosocial changes that define the transition period from adolescence to the young adulthood (Cohen, Kasen, Chen, Hartmark & Gordon, 2003). During the stage, the adolescents undergo emotional changes that are influenced by the desire to achieve purposefulness of life (Cohen et al., 2003).

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A research by Baker Ami (2011) underscored the importance of a functional family for the adolescents’ development. However, the traditional united family that provided social, emotional, economic and psychological safety to children and adolescents is fast fading. In the US, the divorce rate has been on increase. It is estimated that 40-50% of marriages are affected by divorce (Wigfield & Eccles, 2004). The reality of divorce leaves the adolescents in an awkward position that negatively affects their development. The following paper explores the impacts of divorce on teenagers.


The adolescence stage encompasses many changes, including the self-discovery, self-concept and living independently. The adolescents have better understanding of the family ties, and they look upon their parents for guidance (Trzesniewski et al., 2006). Bing, Nelson and Wesolowski (2009) pointed that adolescents require love and psychosocial support from their parents as they go through the period of emotional turbulence. Wigfield and Eccles (2004) noted that the realization of the self-concept is a fundamental goal for the adolescents; thus, guidance from family members is paramount.

Experience of divorce at the critical stage in life has adverse effects on the adolescents. According to Fischer (2000), the adolescents are at the psychological development stage in which they experience ‘mental operation’. They have hypothetical imaginations of the situations that they are likely to experience in their future lives without parents (Fischer, 2000). As a result, they develop a mental picture of life implications without the two parents in the future. The imaginations results to withdrawal signs in which negative perceptions towards self-concept are formed.

According to Fischer (2000), the mental pictures formed by the adolescents are operationalized, and the adolescents’ interactions and life gradually or swiftly change. The adolescents think in an abstract manner and hence, it becomes difficult to cope with reality. According to Guidubaldi, Perry and Nastasi (2007) stress and depression are more prevalent in adolescents from divorced parents compared to adolescents in intact families.

The implication of self-concept on the adolescents can best be explained using the Theory of Cognitive Development. The cognitive theory is based on the key indicator of the adolescent development. The indicators predict the possible consequence in case of a life changing experience. The indicators include formal operations, personal fable and hypothetical-deductive reasoning which lowers the self- concept of the adolescence (Fischer, 2000).

Psychological Implications

In many divorce incidences, children are significantly involved. For instance, the parents involve the children by turning them against the other parent. In addition, the parent to degrade the other uses the children. Fischer (2000) noted that such actions trigger the hypothetical-deductive reasoning. The children feel alienated, not loved and internalize the negative perceptions, which affect the self-esteem.The low self-esteem of the adolescents is a pointer to increased risk of developing mental health problems. According to Trzesniewski et al., (2006), adolescents from broken families are at higher risks of suffering from depression and anxiety.

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In addition, their education is compromised. High unemployment rates, ill health, and criminal acts are prevalent in adolescents who have experienced divorce (Trzesniewski et al., (2006). Baker and Ben-Ami, 2011 carried a study to investigate psychological wellbeing of adolescents whose parents had divorced. Baker and Ami (2011) found that the adolescents had low self-esteem, insecure, reduced self-sufficiency and reported higher rates of depression.

The impacts of divorce on the adolescent vary. Despite the individual differences that determine how they cope with the issue, there is common feeling of loss and disbelief. Divorce has short-term effects and long-term effects. The short-term effects include anxiety, anger and sadness. According to Cohen et al. (2003), the psychological perception formed by the adolescents during the transition period determines how they cope with the future and the possible long-term effects.

Social Ability Implication

Adolescence is characterized by the need of social ability. The social ability influences the self-identity. The social ability is one of the many continuums of identity development. The social ability and the self-identity have sub developmental points that determine the psychological development of the adolescents in different life situations (Cohen et al., 2003). The points include moratorium, diffusion, identity, and foreclosure.

For the positive development of the points to be achieved, the adolescents should grow in an environment that cherishes positive thinking such as family support. However, Wigfield and Eccles (2004) posited that the divorce denies adolescents the chance. Even though it is not absolute that any adolescent must undergo the four points, family breakdowns have been found to hinder adolescents from achieving the significant markers.

The family unit provides the most important socialization aspect in the life a child. A traditional perspective holds that a family that has two parents living together with their children provide a better environment for the development of children than a single family. Divorce breaks the social fiber that holds the family and consequently exposes the children to socialization deficit. The concept is based on the straightforward principle that categorizes parents as valuable resources for the development of the children and the adolescents (Guidubaldi et al., 2007). Therefore, two parents are better placed to promote socialization than one. However, the tenet has been dismissed on the basis that it is conservative and it negates the family process.

Economic Implication

According to Trzesniewski et al. (2006), divorce has an adverse economic consequence on the adolescents. The economic implication transcends the need for basics to the lifelong effects. Divorce leads to declined standards of living. The changes in the economic status of the family alter the lifestyle the adolescent was already used. The resultant effect is a lifestyle shock for the adolescents, which leads to developmental problems.

In addition the socio-economic status affects the academic competence of the children. Guidubaldi et al. (2007) carried a study to investigate the relationship between the development of adolescents and single status of the parent. The study sample included adolescents aged between 12 and 13 years studying in various levels of education. The study established that there was a high correlation between the socio-economic and the academic competence of the study participants. The study went further, controlled the socio-economic factor, and established that the adolescents from divorced families had lower academic competence and social capability than the students from intact families.

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Behaviors Response to Divorce

The behavior of adolescences is influenced by many factors that make it difficult to predict the possible outcome affected and those not affected by divorce. There is no clear demarcation of the behavior of youth. However, divorce predisposes adolescents to vulnerabilities that alter the behavior of the adolescents (Bing et al. 2009). Bing et al. (2009) noted that pre-divorce and post-divorce relationships between the parents determine the adjustment of the adolescent to the new life. Bing et al. (2009) pointed out that some of the adolescents withdraw and spend a lot of time alone.

After divorce, there is the common feeling of anger, a time of self-absorption and coming to terms with reality. Divorce leads to social and environmental implications in the life of the adolescents such as change of school, moving to new localities and changes in lifestyle. The processes trigger the anger, and the adolescents may start to fault their parents. Many psychologists agree that conflict has negative influences on the development of the children and adjustment after the divorce. For instance, Wigfield and Eccles (2004) noted that conflict affects the behavior, social competence and self-esteem.

Positive Response

Divorce does not always lead to negative psychological development of the adolescents. Baker and Ami (2011) stressed that the factors that cause the divorce and the level of involvement of the children and the adolescents determines the course of life that the children are likely to take. In a pre-divorce situation in which the adolescents witness conflicts marked by violence, a divorce serves as a new peaceful life for the children.

Bing et al. (2009) conducted a study to investigate the effect of the pre-divorce relationship on the adolescents after divorce. The study included adolescents from divorced families. The inclusion criteria for the study included teenagers and young adults who had experienced divorce during their teen years. The study participants were interviewed about the life before and after divorce. Emphasis was on the relationship between the parents before the divorce.

The study found that the impact of the divorce on the teenagers depended on the pre-divorce vulnerabilities. Adolescents and young adults who had witnessed violence between parents were found to have positively accelerated in their teenage development after the divorce. In addition, the teenagers attested to concentrating better in school and increased self-confidence. Bing et al. (2009) attributed the traits to the emergence of a secure environment for development. However, the study participants from the relatively calm homes where they never experienced open conflicts and violence attested to social, psychological and emotional disturbance after divorce, which led to cases of social withdrawal.


Divorces in our societies have been on the increase. Many studies show that divorce lowers the cognitive, social, and psychological well-being of the adolescents. There are varieties of consequences of divorce on the adolescences. The severity of the problems depends on different factors. However, other researchers have found that some adolescents experience better development and academic competence after the divorce. The paper has outlined the various effects divorce has on the development of the youth. The adolescence is a transition stage to young adults. With the increasing cases of divorces and its implication on the adolescents, there is the need for intervention measures to heal the affected adolescents. The interventions are critical in preparing the adolescents to a better adulthood.


Baker, A. & Ami, N. (2011). To turn a child against a parent is to turn a child against himself: The direct and indirect effects of exposure to parental alienation strategies on self-esteem and well-being. Journal of Divorce and Remarriage, 52 (7), 472-489. Web.

Bing, N., Nelson, W. & Wesolowski, K. (2009). Comparing the effects of amount of conflict on children’s adjustment following parental divorce. Journal of Divorce & Remarriage, 50 (3), 159-171. Web.

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Cohen, P., Kasen, S., Chen, H., Hartmark, C., & Gordon, K. (2003). Variation in patterns of developmental transitions in the emerging adulthood period. Developmental Psychology, 9 (4), 657-669. Web.

Fischer, K. W. (2000). A theory of cognitive development: The control and construction of hierarchies of skills. Psychological review, 87 (6), 477. Web.

Guidubaldi, J., Perry, J. D., & Nastasi, B. K. (2007). Growing up in a divorced family: Initial and long-term perspectives on children’s adjustment. Applied social psychology Journal, 7 (1), 202-237. Web.

Trzesniewski, K. H., Moffitt, T. E., Poulton, R., Donnellan, M. B., Robins, R. W., Caspi, A. (2006). Low self-esteem during adolescence predicts poor health, criminal behavior, and limited economic prospects during adulthood. Developmental Psychology, 42(2), 381-390. Web.

Wigfield, A., & Eccles, J. S. (2004). Children’s competence beliefs, achievement values, and general self-esteem: Change across elementary and middle school. The Journal of Early Adolescence, 14 (2), 107-138. Web.

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