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Parental divorce at adolescence: a longitudinal study
thesisposted on 2022-03-28, 00:56 authored by Rosemary Dunlop
The main thesis presented here is that adolescent adjustment is associated with processes within the family rather than with divorced or non-divorced family structure and that understanding these processes can aid prediction. A framework was adopted integrating aspects of developmental, symbolic interactionist and family systems theories, and relevant findings from previous research were examined. The study was longitudinal, examining correlates of adjustment at divorce and three years later and identifying factors predicting adjustment across this time interval. Thirty-seven families were recruited from the Sydney and Parramatta registries of the Australian Family Court and a comparison group of 41 nondivorcing families was drawn from New South Wales state high schools. Control of time since final separation and age of adolescents, first contact close to the point of divorce and follow-up three years later provided the time-frame. Standard tests were used to measure adolescent self-image, depression and anxiety, and their view of the relationship with each parent along dimensions of care and overprotection. A parent-derived scale appraising adolescent functioning provided an independent measure of adjustment. Parents adjustment and marital satisfaction were also measured. Adolescent response to the divorce was examined by scales based on interview items. Separate home interviews were carried out with adolescents and, where possible, both parents. The results indicated that adolescent adjustment in both divorced and intact families at first interview was associated with perceived levels of family happiness, degree of family conflict, and nature of parent-child relationships. Evidence of links between parental psychopathology and child adjustment was found. Among those from divorcing families adjustment was related to the quality of the relationship, but not the gender, of the custodial parent. Decrease in family conflict following separation was associated with better school and general adjustment. Those with close ties with their lathers experienced a greater degree of emotional distress but this was not associated with poorer general adjustment. Few age or sex effects were found, and there were no significant differences in adjustment between those from intact and divorcing homes. Three years later very similar results emerged. Current family happiness, conflict and parent-child relationships were all related to adjustment. No significant group differences were found on a measure of readiness tor intimacy, although interview responses showed that those from divorced families were rather more sexually active. Among this group, custody was no longer significant and adjustment was associated with age rather than divorce response, with higher adjustment among older adolescents. Conflict change and acceptance of the divorce were linked to some aspects of self-image. Feelings about the divorce were still related to the adolescents' view of the father - those who felt close to him expressed sadness, but this emotional response was not related to self-image scores. Predictive analyses showed that self-image scores were remarkably constant over three years, and that parental care and overprotection at Time 1 were significantly correlated with scores at Time 2. Self-image at Time 1 (with Time 2 mother care) explained 40% of the variance in Time 2 scores. Four case-histories were presented showing how the results expressed themselves in individual lives. The findings were then related to previous research and theory, and recommendations were offered for counselling, legal procedures and future research. The results support the thesis that adolescent adjustment is associated with family processes rather than divorced or intact family structure, and that predictions based on this knowledge can be made.