Saturday, January 15, 2011
Children of separated or divorced parents are statistically three times as likely to display criminal behaviour as those whose parents stay together. Dutch sociologist Marieke van de Rakt made this discovery while carrying out academic research into the genetics of criminal behaviour.
International research had already shown a correlation between divorce and criminality in children. Dr Van de Rakt has now come up with hard figures that demonstrate that correlation.
“On an annual basis, every child statistically has a one percent chance of committing a crime. If parents divorce, that chance is three times as great – the child then has a three percent chance of committing an offence.”
A cocktail of factors contribute to this development. A divorce affects the whole family. The resulting stress can cause children to be less emotionally stable for a while. It also appears that there is often less supervision of children after a divorce. And because there is usually less money coming in, there is not as much to spend on all sorts of nice things. Children’s health and performance at school can also be adversely affected by a divorce.
Developmental psychologist Steven Pont endorses the idea that a divorce brings with it all sorts of risks. He used to work with children placed in care because of behavioural problems. Almost all of these youngsters were from families where the parents had separated.
The divorce rate in the Netherlands continues to rise. Nowadays, an estimated one in three Dutch marriages ends in divorce. Only 50 years ago, divorce was considered scandalous. Now it’s commonplace. Mr Pont often witnesses this: “Every evening, this evening included, 200 to 250 Dutch kids are told that their parents are going to separate. They’re told: ‘Sit down, darling. We want to tell you something…’ That’s how it will go tonight. That’s how it went last night. That’s how it’ll go again tomorrow.”
But the emotional impact of a divorce is still as powerful as ever, says Mr Pont. So what should we do? Should we stay together for the sake of the children like in the past, despite all the rows and the stress?
According to Mr Pont, this is not always the right solution. If a relationship turns violent or if a partner is constantly humiliated, it is better to separate. But deep down, children always have a fundamental desire for their parents to stay together.
Steven Pont believes that parents should persevere even if the relationship doesn’t work, at least while their children are still young. His advice is not to get divorced before your youngest child is four years old.
Sociologist Van de Rakt adds that possible damage can be limited by keeping a close eye on children after a divorce and if necessary asking for help. It is of great importance that children get extra care and attention during the period that their parents would like to wallow in their own misery.