Analyzing the Effect Divorce has on Behavior and Emotions in Children

Dr. Andreas Schick, of the University of Heidelberg, conducted a study to show the effects that divorce has on a child. Schick looked to see if children of divorced parents are generally more fearful, have lower self esteem, evaluate their competence differently, and have more behavior problems.

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Along with looking into the difference between separated and non-separated families, a child’s gender can be looked at as a factor in this experiment. Another factor that was analyzed in this case is how the length after separation can affect the child over time. This study was conducted in Germany in the year 2000 and only looked at German families.

There were 241 children, aged 9 to 13, being evaluated in this study. 32% were 9 to 10 years old, 53% were 11 to 12 years old, and 15% were 13 years old. 66 of the kids were from separated families and 175 kids were were from intact families. It is also important to note 109 were male and 139 were female. When it comes to the kids of the divorced families, the average age when the parents divorced was 7.2 years old with a standard deviation of 2.62 years. At the time of this study the average time the parents had been separated was 3.6 years with a standard deviation of 2.57 years. There was no experiments or intervention in this study. This was a cross sectional, ANOVA correlation study comparing different groups of people. This study was conducted with the use of reports that were filled out mostly by the parents and some by the kids themselves. Behavior was measured by the German Version of the Child Behavior Checklist (CBCL) and the Marburger Verhaltensliste (MVL). Self-esteem was measured by the German version of Harter’s Self Perception Profile for Children (SPP). Anxiety was measured on a new scale based off of the General Anxiety Scale for Children (GASC). Some of these measurement tools were slightly modified or extended to specify information for the study.

When it comes to analyzing the effects of a seperated family, one must look at the scores of the tests between the two different groups. When first looking at the GASC, it revealed that the scores were not different between the kids of the divorced families and the kids of the intact families. This shows that there is no link between being in a seperated family and being more fearful. However, when interpreting the results for the SPP, MVL, and CBCL, it showed a much greater difference within the subsections.

First looking at the SPP, only one of the six subscores indicated a major change between the groups. The major subscore that indicated a significant difference was self confidence. Across the board, children in separated homes viewed their behaviors as less confident than those in intact families regardless of their gender, which is the second variable. Also, another variable mention was how long the parents had been divorced at the time of the study. According to this variable, the longer the kids parents had been divorced, the higher the child’s self-confidence was. This indicates that over time the child can gain lost confidence.

Then, to analyze behavior one must look at the scores from the MVL and CBCL, combined they have 17 different subscores. Out of these 17 subscores, 10 of them showed significant difference between the two groups of kids, showing that there were more frequent behavior problems in children of divorced families. However, even though the scores were higher than the scores of the children in the separated families, the average scores were under the level of clinical significance. In order to make the results more relevant to the testing, cutoffs were changed to be more specific to the group of kids tested. A child’s behavior was considered clinically significant when their scores were one standard deviation away from the average score of the children in the non-separate households. With the new defined cutoffs in the subsections of the MVL, it is apparent that across the board there was a much higher percentage of kids with social anxiety and unstable performance in the seperated group, as compared to the intact family. The CBCL was less indicative of behavior problems except for the subsection of internalizing behaviors. This section showed that kids in separated families were much more likely to show internalizing behaviors. Another factor between these groups was gender, and in the case of these tests gender played no impact in the scores of these tests. When factoring in the time the parents had been divorced, this showed that this also had no impact on the percentage of kids that had social anxiety and unstable performance. However, internalizing behavior did show a decrease in percentage as the number of years apart had increased.

The results of this experiment show the importance of emotional support for children that are going through a separation in their lives. Due to the separation, the child is undergoing a new stressor in their development and usually suffer reduced social support. Another big takeaway from this entire study is that the differences between gender did not impact the results, so both male and female children experienced the same degree of emotional adjustments and their needs should be taken equally as seriously. Another factor was accessed was how the length of separation effects the child involved. Out of the 11 significant changes seen between separated and nonseparated families, 7 of them were more drastic for the newly separated families (maximum of 2.5 years separated). Bronfenbrenner would describe this as an impact in the chronosystem, because there is a disruption to the child’s known microsystem, which indicates it can alter development. This also relates to the topic of goodness of fit. Since these kids in divorced families are more prone to be high in negative affectivity, it is important both parents give them a supportive and caring environment.

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