Big Brothers: Impact on Little Brothers' Self-Concepts and Behaviors

By Turner, Sean; Scherman, Avraham | Adolescence, Winter 1996 | Go to article overview

Big Brothers: Impact on Little Brothers' Self-Concepts and Behaviors


Turner, Sean, Scherman, Avraham, Adolescence


When a couple with children divorces, the structure of the family is altered, and the process of disorganization and reorganization can continue for several years. However, as with other crises, divorce has the potential for creating growth and new integrations, although reaching this potential is often a difficult task, especially for the children (Wallerstein & Kelly, 1977). Divorce is not a single event, but a series of changes that begins with the dissolution of the marriage and continues to a possibly prolonged disequilibrium within the family. For the child, this change in family structure can create, among other things, a loss in educational opportunities, severe alterations in parent-child relationships, and a lower standard of living (Wallerstein, 1991).

In a national survey, Furstenberg, Morgan, and Allison (1987) found that children of divorce were significantly worse off than those from intact families with respect to several measures of academic performance, problem behaviors, and psychological distress These differences remained even with such control variables as age, race, sex, and mother's education. Further, Zill's (1983) national survey of 2,161 children between the ages of seven and eleven found that children of divorce reported higher levels of loneliness and boredom than did children from intact families. They also reported more feelings of rejection and belittlement and viewed their home environment in more negative terms when living with their mothers without a father present. In general, there is evidence that children of divorce experience a disproportionately greater number of social, academic, and psychological adjustment problems (Kelly, 1988).

Not surprisingly, these negative aspects of divorce adversely affect the self-esteem and self-concept of these children (Harper & Ryder, 1986; Parish & Taylor, 1979; Rosenberg, 1965). However, the question of which specific aspect of divorce diminishes the child's self-concept has proven difficult to answer. It appears that a combination of factors have this negative impact on the children.

Garbarino (1982) states that the development of a positive self-concept in youth is contingent upon the availability of support systems, which he defines as social arrangements offering nurturance, providing feedback, and serving as resources. From this perspective, divorce can be seen as altering that social support. Nurturance is especially at risk for the child as typically the father leaves the home and the mother's availability is limited by such demands as the need for employment. Another, but related explanation for reduced self-concept is that as the child attempts to make sense of the newly experienced deficiency in parental bonding, he or she may conclude that the reason lies within his or her own inadequacies (Parker, 1978).

A further consideration regarding the effects of divorce on self-concept is centered on the amount of conflict experienced within the family. The general finding has been that in families with high parental conflict, the children suffer from lower self-concepts than do children in low-conflict homes (Bishop & Ingersoll, 1988; Raschke & Raschke, 1979).

The frequency and quality of visitation by the noncustodial parent was also found to affect the child's self-concept. A significant relationship was found between infrequent visiting and poor self-esteem, depression, and anger in children of divorce (Hess & Camera, 1979; Kelly, 1981; Wallerstein & Kelly, 1980). Also, unvisited children are likely to experience feelings of rejection and self-blame (Rose, 1992). On the other hand, predictable and frequent contact with the noncustodial parent has been demonstrated to be associated with better adjustment by the child, unless the father is very poorly adjusted or extremely immature (Hetherington, Cox, & Cox 1982; Wallerstein & Kelly, 1980).

One of the many unfortunately typical consequences of divorce is the reduction in family income. …

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