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The Time of Parental Divorce, Research Paper Example

Pages: 3

Words: 926

Research Paper

Kalter and Rember (1981) discuss the impact of marital divorce on children and attempt to determine which age causes the greatest difficulty in emotional adjustment.

At the time that this article was written, three opinions existed:

The cumulative effect: The younger the child was when the parents divorced, the more severe the effect of the divorce would be on the child.

The critical stage hypothesis. This is a psychoanalytic oriented argument that argues that the ages between three and five are the most critical since the child’s “oedipal fantasies and anxieties, magical thinking, guilt over an oedipal victory… and the absence of an appropriate figure for important identifications” (86).

The recency position: The younger the child when martial divorce occurs, the more resilient the child is to the impact.  The child, in fact, can recover within a year or two.  However conclusions from studies are mixed.

Investigators claim that confounding factors need to be considered when studying and determining impact of divorce timing on a child.  Some of these factors include: “The child’s predivorce developmental achievements and general adjustment, the extent of hostilities between the parents before and after divorce, visitation by the noncustodial parent, level of economic distress for the custodial parent and children, and changing family roles” (p.87).

In short, as Kalter and Rembar (1981) point out, three different theories exist on the relationship between a child’s age during parental divorce and his or her subsequent development. Their research-study aimed to clarify the situation: to discover which, if any of these time periods was the most critical for the child, or whether confounding factors were a greater influence on the child’s response rending the time period when parents divorced.

The Experiment

144 completed evaluations of children seen for psychiatric evaluation at the Department of Psychiatry at the University of Michigan   September 1976 to November 1977 were analyzed. The age of the sample ranged from children who were older than 7 at the time of parental divorce to age 18.

The children were coded according to sex, race, current age of the referred child, and age of the youngster at both the time of parental separation and divorce. Two instruments were used to evaluate existence and range of possible complaints/ emotional disturbance: The degree of a child’s emotional disturbance was evaluated using the 11-point scale of emotional disturbance (ED), and his or her problems were coded according to the presenting complaints checklist (PCCL) which constitutes 28 categories. The ED scale is comprised in this way: zero denotes no evidence of emotional difficulties, points one to two represent minimal problems, Points three to five indicate mild disturbance, six and seven show a moderate level of emotional disturbance, points eight to ten were for moderately severe to severe, whilst the extreme upper end was reserved for borderline and psychotic disturbances. The categories of the PPL cover problematic behavior and feelings that were presented by child psychiatric patients.

Data analysis was obtained by dividing the sample of children into 4 subgroups according to sex and age (age ranged between: 7- 11.5 years old and (2) 12-17.5 years old. The sample was again split into three subgroups depending on the child’s age when the parents separated/ divorced (the pre-oedipal group = 0-2.5 years old; the oedipal phase group = 3-5.5 years old; the post oedipal group = children who were at least 6 years old at the time).  Finally, the relationship between the age of parental separation/ divorce and ED scores was assessed according to Pearson correlations, whilst associations between marital dissolution and the PCCl were analyzed using a 2*3 contingency table.

Results

In regards to the effect of marital divorce on children’s later development, there was no support for the critical stage and recency hypotheses, whilst the cumulative deficit view received minimal support.  However it does appear that the timing of divorce is necessary for the emotional difficulties experienced and evidenced by the child at the time. In short, the younger the child is when divorce occurs the more resilient he or she is to the situation, particularly since she is still coping with the normal developmental tasks of separating from the parents.

Limitations

There were several limitations to this study. Firstly, the sample was skewed in terms of racial composition: only 20 youngsters out of the 144 cases were non-Caucasian. Results therefore cannot be expanded to children as a whole since children of different cultures may experience the impact of parental divorce in varying ways. Secondly, the pre-7 year old age was missing (its sample being too small), therefore one cannot reliably conclude as to which of the three positions (if any of them) are the most accurate since the first deals with very-young children, whilst the second relates to children between 3 and 5 during marital divorce, and the third compares very young children with an older age. Other confounding factors include the historical period, personality factors, and environment of the individual who originally evaluated the children. The evaluation was conducted in the 1970s whilst the sample was studied in the 1980s. The evaluator was presumably influenced by the mores, ideological and educational perspectives of the period (one that verged in various elements from the 1980s). The characteristics of the evaluator prompted the way that she perceived the child, whilst components of the environment and situation in which the child was evaluated also needs to be considered. Whilst the research results are interesting, all of these factors need to be considered in the final acceptance of this report.

Source

Kalter, N., & Rembar, J. (1981). The significance of a child’s age at the time of parental divorce, Amer. J. Orthopsychiat., 51, 85-100.

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