More and more marriages end up in a divorce and, of course, children are the ones to suffer the most. It’s been known for a long time that splitting families cause a number of emotional and psychological problems to children. Now scientists from UCL are saying that the timing of the divorce is an important factor in children’s emotional health. It turns out, late childhood and early adolescence are particularly vulnerable times.
Scientists analysed data on more than 6,000 children born in the UK, examining reports of children’s mental health at ages 3, 5, 7, 11 and 14. They paid a particular attention to reported emotional problems and compared results between children who had their parents divorce and those whose parents stayed together. 20 % of children in this study experienced divorcing parents. Between them, those whose parents broke up when they were between the ages of 7 and 14, had a 16 % increased risk of emotional problems and a risk of conduct issues in the short-term elevated by 8 %. Meanwhile those children whose parents divorced earlier in their lives were not more likely to have such issues than those children whose parents are not divorced.
Interestingly, while both boys and girls faced the same level of emotional problems, buys exhibited more behavioural issues after parents’ divorce. Meanwhile there was no difference between economically strong and less advantaged families. But why is that parents’ divorce in later childhood causes a deeper emotional trauma? Professor Emla Fitzsimons, co-author of the study, explained: “It finds that family splits occurring in late, but not early, childhood are detrimental to adolescent mental health. One possible reason for this is that children are more sensitive to relationship dynamics at this age. Family break-ups may also be more disruptive to schooling and peer relationships at this stage of childhood”.
Of course, divorce heavily affects adults as well. For example, mothers reported more emotional health issues if they divorced their husbands when their children were older. It seems like getting a divorce is somehow easier when children are smaller. Scientists say that one of the reasons why that happens is that the loss of income is largest if mothers separate from partners when their children is in late childhood. More research needs to be done to see how emotional health of divorced mothers changes over time.
Divorce is getting more and more common. This, of course, means that a lot of hearts get broken. But it is also becoming a public health concern, having in mind that many people experience emotional health problems.