Hostile divorces may contribute to children’s poor behavior

The 15-year-old student who recently brought an antique shotgun to his Maryland school and shot a fellow student had earlier in his life experienced a hostile divorce between his mother and father. The boy critically wounded a developmentally disabled student when he fired indiscriminately in the school’s cafeteria. A bond hearing for the teenager was postponed because he is currently undergoing an assessment at a psychiatric hospital.

While the investigation has unearthed several details about the suspect’s life which would likely give cause for concern, it is well known that the breakup of their parents’ marriage can place enormous stress and emotional turmoil on teens, particularly when accompanied by contentious litigation between the parents.

Scholarly research confirms this experience. While the chances that a child will become aggressive due to their parent’s divorce are slim, older children of a divorce often experience deep sadness and isolation – even more so than younger children – and behavior problems are more likely. A messy divorce, particularly where the child feels he must choose one parent over the other, will potentially exacerbate a teen’s issues.

When a divorce is imminent, the best thing that parents can do is reassure their children that the divorce is not their fault and that both parents will continue to love and care for them.

This is not to say that a divorcing parent should never participate in a contested custody proceeding. For example, when domestic violence or child abuse contributes to a divorce, a parent may need to take all reasonable steps to protect his or her child from an abuser.

Yet, in many situations, it is best for the children if parents try to put their frustrations aside when working out divorce solutions. If this is possible, they will be able to help craft a mutually agreeable solution that will make the child’s experience less traumatic and lead to a more positive future for all.

Source: The Washington Post “Records show history of gun possession, contentious divorce for Md. shooter’s family,” Aug. 29, 2012.

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