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A survey conducted by the Arizona State University Research and Education Advancing Children’s Health Institute has found that children who witness the divorce and separation of their parents are more likely to develop mental health issues. These problems arise because they tend to have a fear of abandonment which can cause more mental health problems in the future.

According to the National Center for Health Statistics, about 747,000 couples divorced in 2019. Some divorces are amicable and others topics. The latter could affect children caught in the middle, especially those close to their fathers.

Dr. Karey O’Hara, a study co-author from Arizona State University, explains that conflict causes stress for children. In addition, there is a link between mental health issues and inter-parental conflicts. Researchers have seen this link in all types of families, such as divorced, separated, cohabiting, and married.

The researchers also found that conflict between their divorced or separated parents made children feel like one or both parents would leave them.

How researchers conducted the study 

The researchers gathered 559 children aged 9-18 and looked into how parental conflict affects their mental health. They asked the children if their parents had ever asked them to send messages to each other, spoke poorly of the other, or fought in front of them.

The researchers found that the children with parental conflict often feared abandonment. Moreover, their fears persisted three months after the survey. These children were also more likely to develop mental health problems in ten months.

The conflict between parents makes children worry

Past studies have shown that children view parental conflict as a threat and fear that their parents could split up. Dr. O’Hara adds that children with married or cohabiting parents worry about their parents separating whenever they fight.

The fear is worse in children whose parents separate as they have already seen the separation; hence they feel that it isn’t unlikely that a parent would leave them.

While previous studies have shown that having a solid relationship with hair parents reduced stress for children, this was not the case with divorce. Instead, children who had a strong relationship with their fathers experienced more problems. The team is now working on a strategy to help children deal with divorce.