Studies Highlight Parental Divorce’s Effect on Academic Achievement

  • Many studies highlight the relationship between parental divorce and a child's academic achievement.
  • Many of the studies express the notion that social skill development can be negatively impacted, alongside the academic achievement, during a parental divorce.
  • Communication between parents and children during this situation is key, in order to help correct some of the issues.

"Whether you have finalized your divorce or are having marital difficulties, your child’s development is too important to be left unchecked, especially during the difficulties of a parental divorce."

Children of divorce have to deal with a lot of changes occurring in their lives. With custody and parenting schedules taking them from home to home, they have to develop resilience early on to withstand the stresses of this challenging situation.

These stresses can be a distraction for their day-to-day responsibilities at school. The uncertainty of the future mixed with their inability to thoroughly process the emotional complexity of the changes occurring with their parents can create problems in a child’s academic development and overall academic success.

The American Sociology Review study

The American Sociology Review published a study that measured the academic and social development of children of divorce. Researchers of the study found that of the approximately 3,500 elementary school children that were measured from kindergarten through fifth grade, the children who had experienced a parental divorce had difficult setbacks in social skills and in math.

In addition, the children of divorce in the study were more prone to experiencing anxiety, loneliness, sadness, or low self-esteem, in comparison to their peers whose parents stayed married.

Divorce was not necessarily a factor in the reading scores or ability to externalize behaviors for children of divorce, including how often they fight, argue, or become angry.

The American Journal of Psychiatry study

Many have interpreted these types of results as proof that reactions to divorce can vary widely among children. A study published in the American Journal of Psychiatry looked to examine if children of divorce, as a group, would show deficits in academic performance compared to children from intact families and if normal heterogeneity would be found in the groups, considering divorce promotes psychological factors like vulnerability and resilience.

Among the 96 middle schoolers examined, children of divorce showed significant performance deficits in academic achievement, as reflected in their scholastic motivation and grade-point average. However, children of divorce did not display this deficit in nationally normed tests of scholastic aptitude and other less direct measures of behavioral conformity.

Bridgewater State University study

A study from Bridgewater State University interviewed students going through a parental divorce and asked them if they felt that the divorce or any form of relationship problems their parents were having contributed to their academic problems.

They said that the parental divorce did play a factor to their academic struggles during the worst period of the situation. In addition, the interview with students from divorced families revealed that it is not the fighting over the divorce itself, but rather how the fighting is between their separated parents. The more intense the fights are, resulted in the greater impact it had on academic work.

Even if the parents still are married, the study found that parental fighting still attributed to a student’s inability to concentrate and subsequent academic struggles.

University of Virginia study

Few studies attempt to explain the ‘why’ behind the academic struggles that a parental divorce may cause a child. One study by Daniel Potter of the University of Virginia looked into a child’s mind for answers.

The study, published in the Journal of Marriage and Family, examined the role of psychosocial well-being for children following a parental divorce, using data from the Early Childhood Longitudinal Study.

The results suggested that divorce is associated with diminished psychosocial well-being in children and that this decrease helps explain the connection between divorce and lower academic achievement.

University of Missouri study

A study from the University of Missouri saw a relationship between the similarities of the academic struggles that child may experience during a parental divorce and attachment theory. Attachment theory states that a strong emotional and physical attachment to at least one primary caregiver is critical to personal development, according to Psychologist World.

Because of how a child interacts with attachment theory, their attachment style frequently remains constant throughout their life, thus earlier intervention to the academic problems that may arise could help lessen them before they get too far out of hand.

This notion in the study helps highlight the importance of consistent catering to the parent-student relationship and how important it is to continue to cater to it even during a parental divorce.

Communication and support

All of these studies speak to the importance of monitoring your child’s education. Whether you have finalized your divorce or are having marital difficulties, your child’s development is too important to be left unchecked, especially during the difficulties of a parental divorce.

Communication is key, and making sure that both parents are on the same page, regardless of their marital situation, will be beneficial for your child. It is their development that needs the attention, and there is no place in that development for parental alienation or the problems you may have with your co-parent.

It may require assistance, such as a tutor or learning program, as well as a child therapist, to help with their emotional issues surrounding the end of their parents’ marriage. It’s important to note that getting your child help has nothing to do with your own pride. Too often, parents bring their own sense of self-worth into the well-being of their child. Your ability to overcome your own academic issues or your own emotional issues without professional help is something you did and may not be possible for your child. Ascribing them with the same characteristics could have damaging consequences to their development, as they continue to pursue their own educational interests.

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