The Path of Positivity: How to Lessen the Impact of Divorce on Children’s Mental Health
Children and teens are growing up in a world marked by unprecedented stressors, including the pandemic, climate change concerns, the pervasive influence of social media, economic disparities, and global instability. These issues have not only surged in prominence but have also contributed to a spike in divorce rates, setting the stage for a perfect storm of mental health challenges for youth.
Parents who are separating or divorcing are acutely aware of the life-altering effects it can have on the family, and many are actively seeking ways to lessen the negative impact on the mental health of their children. How does divorce in today’s world affect our youth—and what can parents do to ensure a less stressful and more positive transition for their children? Here are insights and perspectives from ADR Law based on current research and developments.
How Divorce Impacts Children’s Mental Health
Divorce is typically a painful and emotionally charged process for all involved. When it comes to children, the consequences can be profound. A recent study in Frontiers in Psychiatry (2023) highlights how divorce can be a potent source of stress and anxiety for children, potentially leading to depression and long-lasting emotional scars. While children exhibit varied levels of resilience, divorce is often associated with elevated childhood trauma, which can result in greater personality conflict and emotional instability. This could ultimately be a risk factor for mood disorders and particularly the development of depression later in life.
Thankfully, there are ways that parents can reduce the impact of divorce on their children’s wellbeing. The first step is to understand the connecting factors that can affect the mental health of children and teens.
Understanding the Links
Divorce doesn’t occur in a vacuum, and its repercussions extend beyond the family unit. The growing impact of external forces not only heightens stress within relationships, but also adds layers of uncertainty. Youth are particularly vulnerable to the ripple effects of these broader issues, as they confront a rapidly changing world with limited life experience, where external media can intensify the emotional turmoil they experience as children of divorcing parents.
In light of the growing connectivity of children’s social networks, the links between divorce and youth mental health issues become even more apparent. For example, as reported in an ongoing study by Mental Health & Prevention (2023), parental divorce affects approximately 1.1 million children in the U.S. annually. Children at greatest risk for mental health problems are those exposed to high interparental conflict following separation or divorce. Researchers suggest that external pressures can further affect children’s perceptions of family discord.
For parents undergoing a divorce, the process can often serve as a wake-up call for the need to become more attuned to the emotional health issues of their children during turbulent times. The good news is that you can help them weather the journey by maintaining open lines of communication and support, and choosing positive ways to resolve conflict, such as divorce mediation.
Divorce Mediation: A Path to Positivity and Mental Wellbeing
Divorce is an inherently challenging life event, not merely a legal process. The ways parents handle separation can influence the wellbeing of their children, and understanding this dynamic is crucial. Divorce mediation plays a critical role in mitigating mental health issues arising from interparental conflict, by fostering a positive mental outlook in children and their separated or divorced parents.
In the New York court system, reducing conflict has been identified as a major goal for protecting children affected by divorce. One of the key benefits of divorce mediation is its ability to minimize interparental conflict, by providing a safe space for parents to communicate and make decisions together, focusing on the best interests of their children. Courts recognize mediation as a valuable tool to address family disputes, highlighting its potential to reduce the emotional toll on all parties involved.
Using a child-centered approach, mediation places children at the forefront of the process.
- By considering their needs and emotions, mediated settlements are more likely to promote the mental wellbeing of children.
- When children feel heard and included in decisions related to their parents’ separation, they experience less emotional turmoil.
- Collaborative divorce and mediation are often characterized by cooperation rather than confrontation; where parents work together to find solutions, the atmosphere becomes less adversarial, and stress is reduced stress for everyone involved.
The cooperative spirit created by mediation can lead to more enduring and satisfying agreements. As indicated by longitudinal data from The New York State Parent Education and Awareness Program, such mediated settlements tend to have better long-term outcomes, by reducing conflict and promoting cooperation, and by creating agreements that are more likely to be adhered to, creating a more stable environment for children.
Your Options: Alternative Divorce Resolution Methods
In addition to mediation, other alternative divorce resolution methods can be employed to help children adjust to divorce. A collaborative divorce approach, for example, can be created to include a team of professionals, such as lawyers, mental health experts, and financial advisors, working together to help couples reach an agreement. Collaborative divorce can be a useful option when both parties are committed to finding an amicable solution. Another alternative is negotiated settlements, where both parties and their attorneys work together to reach an agreement, can also provide an effective way to minimize conflict and promote positive mental health outcomes for children and parents.
While divorce may be a reality, it is within our power to minimize its impact on our children’s mental wellbeing. By recognizing the interplay of challenges they face and seeking to mitigate their effects, we can collectively work towards a healthier and more resilient future for the next generation.
Families can greatly improve their situation by realizing that divorce is not synonymous with emotional turmoil for children and parents. Divorce mediation, alongside other alternative resolution methods, provides a constructive path forward. By reducing conflict, focusing on children’s needs, and fostering cooperation, mediation can mitigate mental health issues associated with divorce. This approach not only benefits children, but also facilitates a more positive and authentic experience for parents during a challenging time.
Sanwald S; Montag C, Kiefer M. Association between parental separation, childhood trauma, neuroticism, and depression: a case control study. Front Psychiatry. 2023 May 9;14:1112664. doi: 10.3389/fpsyt.2023.1112664. PMID: 37229385; PMCID: PMC10204799.
Karey L. O’Hara,KL, Wolchik,SA, Sandler, IN, West,SG, Reis, HT, Collins,LM, Lyon,AR, Cummings, EM. Preventing mental health problems in children after high conflict parental separation/divorce study: An optimization randomized controlled trial protocol. Mental Health & Prevention, Volume 32, 2023, 200301, ISSN 2212-6570.
O’Hara KL, Sandler IN, Wolchik SA, Tein JY, Rhodes CA. Parenting time, parenting quality, interparental conflict, and mental health problems of children in high-conflict divorce. J Fam Psychol. 2019 Sep;33(6):690-703. doi: 10.1037/fam0000556. Epub 2019 Jul 18. Erratum in: J Fam Psychol. 2020 Feb;34(1):23. PMID: 31318261; PMCID: PMC6880406.
New York State Unified Court System. The New York State Parent Education and Awareness Program. https://ww2.nycourts.gov/ip/parent-ed/index.shtml
New York State Unified Court System. Part 144, New York State Parent Education and Awareness Program. Rules of the Chief Administrative Judge. https://ww2.nycourts.gov/rules/chiefadmin/144.shtml