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How Divorce Affects Boys

by Jill Avery-Stoss, studioD

Anyone affected by divorce may experience a multitude of emotions, which range from emotional devastation to relief. Separation is a loss that children grieve, and divorce is a time of great conflict and anger. While each individual boy perceives this process and copes with it differently from other boys, various contributing factors will affect any individual boy’s journey of healing from the trauma of separation and divorce.

Expectations of Gender

Societal expectations of gender likely play a role in boys' experiences of divorce. Generally, girls are expected to be emotional, while boys are discouraged from crying and from expressing pain in emotional ways. Instead, boys are socialized to be rowdy and aggressive, and society allows them to work through their feelings in these ways. However, it is likely that their parents do not understand the full ramification of what boys are feeling. "When boys act out, adults may not realize that they are showing how upset they are," according to Nithyakala Karuppaswamy and Judith A. Myers-Walls, Ph.D., in their report on how divorce affects children, cited on the Provider-Parent Partnerships website from Purdue University.

Parenting Strategy

Parenting techniques are the main contributors to how boys respond to change, according to researchers Charles R. Martinez, Marion S. Forgatch, in their article, "Adjusting to Change: Linking Family Structure Transitions With Parenting and Boys' Adjustment," published in the Journal of Family Psychology. Their study on family structure transitions in families of boys in grades 1 to 3, concluded that parents who work together and who are consistent in terms of discipline are in the best position to avoid potentially negative effects for their children. Positive parenting also focuses on the child's strengths and offers choices to replace negative behaviors. The divorce itself may not be as integral to boys' adjustment as the extent to which parenting styles are disrupted by the separation and divorce.

Other Influential Factors

The ways in which divorce affects boys vary on an individual basis. A boy’s age, his level of development and his personality are worthy of consideration, as is the level of conflict and the circumstances of the separation. A family’s culture and the family's socioeconomic status are also key factors, plus whether the boy has siblings or not, if other traumas exist and whether emotional support exists for the boys are contributing to boys' responses to divorce, as well. Another potential reason that boys might get in trouble more than girls is that it is often the father who leaves the family, and boys might be missing their fathers, according to Provider-Parent Partnerships.

Potential Positive Effects

Provider-Parent Partnerships also points out that divorce doesn’t always need to be a tragic experience in boys' lives. It is possible for boys to grow and thrive in response to parental divorce. In families where boys have sisters, the mixed-gender siblings will be of great support to each other, just as same-gender siblings are. Boys may also feel empowered when they realize that they are capable of surviving and healing from such ordeals.

About the Author

Jill Avery-Stoss is a graduate of Penn State University and a writer and editor based in northeast Pennsylvania. Having spent more than a decade working with victims of sexual and domestic violence, she specializes in writing about women's issues, with emphasis on families and relationships.

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