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BEYOND LOCAL: Study finds that divorce may hurt teens more than children

The study also shows that after a family break-up, children from more privileged backgrounds were just as likely to have mental-health problems as their less advantaged peers

It’s common to hear people going through divorce say they tried to stay together “for the sake of the children,” but one study suggests getting divorced earlier may be better for kids.

According to a recent report from The University College London, divorce hurts adolescents more than it does children, The Telegraph reported. It also showed as children of divorced parents aged, they were more likely to engage in bad behaviour and disobedience.

The research, which looked at data of 6,000 children in the U.K., found those between the ages of seven and 14 were more likely to suffer emotional problems, compared to those whose parents stayed together. But for children under seven, researchers said it didn’t make a difference.

Divorce coach Lauren Millman of Lauren Millman Counselling and Psychological Services in Thornhill, Ont., told Global News that while it has been said that divorce hits older children and teens harder, this is often a blanket statement.

“This has neither been my professional experience nor is it my professional opinion,” she said. “Young people are smart, and generally know that their parents aren’t getting along. There is much to be said, however, about how parents manage their own emotions and content in the conversations they’re having… how they portray themselves in their relationship toward the kids, and what kinds of conversations they’re having with their children.”

Millman recommended open and honest dialogue with children, at any age, and having tough conversations even with young children.

“The children, regardless of age, must always know it’s not about them, and that they are loved and supported. A major key aspect of that is helping children understand that sometimes, parents are better together, apart, and discuss openly and listen without judgment how the children feel.”

The research

The U.K. research looked at the mental health of children of five different ages: three, five, seven, 11 and 14. They looked at issues like low mood, anxiety and behavioural issues. They compared this data of children who had divorced parents and those that did not.

Experts noted as children got older, their problems began to get worse.

The study also shows that after a family break-up, children from more privileged backgrounds were just as likely to have mental-health problems as their less advantaged peers.

“Teens aren’t wired to be reasonable or rational, and today’s teens and young children have so many psycho-emotional challenges and expectations enveloping them,” Millman explained. “Imagine having to also deal with their parents not getting along, hearing acrimonious communication between them, feeling the anger and potential loss of love.”

She added when the “D” word gets thrown around, emotions start to build.

“This again, is why conversation is so important to have with your children,” she said. “Making any familial decisions that will affect everyone should be done so thoughtfully, slowly, and with care, ensuring the children are emotionally supported and understand what’s going on.”

Going through a divorce

Going in with ease is key, Millman said.

“Parents are often too nervous or scared to engage in these conversations with their children but there is so much value in doing so, as it sets a path for better-adjusted children and a more supportive and loving dynamic,” she continued. “I caution, don’t lose sight of maintaining a loving and supportive dynamic for your children.”

Despite what’s going on in the household, remind your children how much you love and support them.

“[It] will lead to a more successful parting of the ways, and potentially quicker and more successful adjustments for the children and teens.”

Finally, don’t relinquish the value of time and space to allow your children, and you, to process, she said.

“There is great value and fortitude in time and space, and in being patient and not taking their outward, reactionary and often terse or angry behaviour to heart.”

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