Academic journal article Journal of Marriage and Family

Divorce-Related Transitions, Adolescent Development, and the Role of the Parent-Child Relationship: A Review of the Literature

Academic journal article Journal of Marriage and Family

Divorce-Related Transitions, Adolescent Development, and the Role of the Parent-Child Relationship: A Review of the Literature

Article excerpt

For the adolescent undergoing multiple developmental changes, divorce and its related transitions present additional challenges, promoting growth for some and constituting developmental vulnerabilities for others. A review of the literature on adolescent development, family relationships, and the impact of divorce on adolescents reveals that adolescents experience divorce differently than younger children and that a positive parent-adolescent relationship can ameliorate the negative effects of divorce. Major gaps in the literature, particularly in the areas of differential effects for ethnic and minority youth and families and the effect of diverse family configurations on development, are identified. Specific suggestions for further research are proposed.

Key Words: adolescent development, divorce, parent-child relationships.

Due to the continuing high rates of divorce, reconstituted families, shared custody, and single-parent homes have become commonplace in the lives of children and adolescents (Cherlin, 1992). In contemporary research, divorce and remarriage are viewed not as single, static events, but as part of a series of transitions, modifying the lives of children (Hetherington, 1989; Wallerstein & Johnston, 1990). In addition to the trauma of divorce itself (i.e., the conflict between parents that often precedes, accompanies, and follows divorce, the possible loss and diminished contact with a parent, the potential of diminished parent effectiveness, and decreases in economic support), divorcerelated transitions often involve geographic moves, the addition of stepsiblings, and a new set of extended family members. Divorce followed by remarriage can involve the introduction of parent figures with multiple roles and overlapping relationships. Taken together, these divorce-related factors have a direct impact on the life courses of children and may be especially challenging for the adolescent who is simultaneously involved in critical developmental transitions (Anderson, Hetherington, & Clingempeel, 1989; Hetherington, Stanley-Hagan, & Anderson, 1989; Springer & Wallerstein, 1983; Wallerstein & Kelly, 1980).

For the adolescent undergoing multiple developmental changes, divorce and its related transitions present additional challenges, promoting growth for some and constituting developmental vulnerabilities for others (Hetherington & Anderson, 1987). As a consequence of altered family structure, patterns, and routines, some adolescents acquire certain strengths, notably a sense of responsibility and competence (Demo & Acock, 1988). Another body of research has found that multiple life transitions occurring in a relatively short time place certain adolescents at risk (Rutter, 1981, 1987; Simmons & Blyth, 1989). Studies in this vein reveal that a high percentage of adolescents in residential treatment homes are from families disrupted by separation or divorce (Glick, 1984). Research on antisocial behavior among adolescents has found that adolescents in mother-only households and in conflict-ridden families are more likely to commit delinquent acts (Demo & Acock, 1988). These findings on the negative effect of multiple, stressful events have been corroborated by those from large national surveys that reveal that, compared with youngsters from families with two biological parents, more than twice as many adolescents from divorced families have seen mental health professionals (Zill, 1988; Zill & Peterson,1983).

The literature on adolescent development traditionally has emphasized the important role the family plays in negotiating various transitions encountered during this phase, including the formation of a sexual identity (Freud, 1958) and a sense of self (Erikson, 1968), in shaping future life choices and in forming values (Blos, 1979). More recently, the family, especially the parent-child relationship, has been viewed as the main source of support for the adolescent (Feldman & Elliott, 1990), acting as a buffer to help ameliorate some of the stress encountered during this period (Garmezy & Rutter, 1983). …

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