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December 13, 2011

Children Suffer 'Before Divorce'

DIVORCE is tough on children, but for some the hardest part may come before parents separate, according to a new study. The study, which followed more than 2,800 Canadian children from two-parent homes, found that those whose parents eventually divorced tended to show high levels of depression, anxiety and behavior problems in the years before the separation.

From: Reuters

From correspondents in New York

December 23, 2005

DIVORCE is tough on children, but for some the hardest part may come before parents separate, according to a new study.  The study, which followed more than 2,800 Canadian children from two-parent homes, found that those whose parents eventually divorced tended to show high levels of depression, anxiety and behavior problems in the years before the separation.

And though children with depression and anxiety typically still suffered from these problems after the divorce, behavior problems tended to fade, according to findings published in the Journal of Marriage and Family.

While the aftermath of divorce can be emotionally difficult for children, the current findings show that the family situation before the divorce can be just as damaging, or more so, according to the study author Dr. Lisa Strohschein.

"Perhaps we should pay more attention to what happens to kids in the period leading up to the parental divorce rather than directing all our efforts to helping children after the event occurs," Dr. Strohschein, a sociologist at the University of Alberta in Edmonton, said in a statement.

She based her findings on data from a large national study of Canadian families with young children.  Starting in 1994, parents and older children were interviewed every two years about their family life and the child's mental and emotional health.

Dr. Strohschein focused on more than 2,800 children aged 4 to 7 years whose parents were still together in 1994, comparing the mental well being of those whose parents had split by 1998 with that of children whose families remained together.

She found that in 1994, children whose parents eventually divorced already had higher rates of depression, anxiety and behavioral problems such as lying and bullying other children - well before the divorce in many cases.

Similarly, their parents reported much less marital satisfaction and higher levels of depression and family dysfunction than did parents who ultimately remained together.

These same problems were associated with poorer mental we-being among their children.

After the divorce, children's symptoms of depression and anxiety generally worsened, though behavioral problems actually declined, Dr. Strohschein found.

Some researchers have speculated that in highly dysfunctional families, divorce can actually act as "stress relief" for children.  Since this study found that children's depression and anxiety typically increased soon after the divorce, the findings do not fully support that idea, according to Dr. Strohschein.

However, she concludes, the fact that children's problems generally arose while their parents were still together "calls into question the assumption that it is the divorce event that is necessarily damaging to child mental health."

Original Documentation

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