I was reading an article about a young teen, William Cornick, 15, from England who stabbed his teacher to death in front of his classmates in 2014.
The incident shocked people across England.
William was doing exceptionally well academically. He seemed like a normal, well-adjusted boy. Police found the family to be loving, caring and involved in William’s life. They could find no reason that would explain the murder of a teacher.
I had to read several articles before I discovered a single line, buried at the bottom of an article that said his parents had divorced. Is it possible, this one fact hidden in dozens of pages written on this horrific attack was the reason for this violent murder?
In a previous article, Studies reveal the negative impact of divorce on children, I looked at the impact of divorce on children from a report written by Rebecca O’Neill in 2001 for England’s Institute for the Study of Civil Society based in London.
O’Neill looked at the vast amount of research on the profound impact absent fathers have on families.
Many of the studies O’Neil researched focused on divorce while others looked at families with absent fathers without differentiating between unwed mothers and marriage breakdown. In the end, the result is the same with one parent, usually the mother, forced to raise children on her own.
In this article, I will look at the impact of divorce on teens derived from these many studies. Where possible, researchers tried to neutralize other factors that might contribute to negative behavior to discover the true impact divorce or single parenting on children.
Teens from single parent families are more likely to take part in sex before the age of 16 than those living with their biological parents. Once other contributing factors were considered, boys were 2.29 times more likely and girls 1.65 times. [Source: National Survey of Sexual Attitudes and Lifestyles-England: Sexual behavior in Britain: Early heterosexual experience by K. Wellings, K Nanchanahal and W. MacDowall: The Lancet, 2001]
Data from the National Child Development Study revealed that 25% of the girls from divorced families became teenage mothers compared to just 14% for non-divorced families — nearly double. Similarly for men, 23% had fathered a child by age 22 compared to only 13% from non-divorced families. Once other social factors were considered, children from divorced parents were 40% more likely to have either become pregnant or fathered a child early in life than their counterparts from non-divorced families. [The Legacy of Parental Divorce: Social, economic and family experiences in adulthood by K. Kiernan, Centre for Analysis of Social Exclusion: London School of Economics, September 1997]
Increased trouble with law
Teens from single parent families are more likely to run into problems with the law than their counterparts in intact families.
A study conducted by the Youth Justice Board in the United Kingdom found being in a single-parent family increased a child’s (aged between 11-16) chances of offending by 25%. [Youth Survey 2001: Research Study Conducted for the Youth Justice Board, Jan-March 2001, www.youth-justice-board.gov.uk]
Another study indicated that being from a single-parent family increased a boy’s chances of being classified a “persistent” offender by 60% compared to those from families with both biological parents. According to the authors, this difference was attributed to reduced supervision in single-parent families. [Youth Crime: Findings from the 1998/99 Youth Lifestyles Survey by C. Flood-Page, S. Campbell, V. Harrington and J. Miller: Home Office Research Development and Statistics Directorate, 2000]
Greater alcohol consumption
A study of girls aged 18 from single-parent families in West Scotland classified 17.6% as heavy drinkers compared to only 9.2% from families with both biological parents. Researchers arrived at these figures after accounting for differences in finances. [Teenage family life, lifestyles and life chances: Associations with family structure, conflict with parents and joint family activity by H. Sweeting, P. West and M. Richards: International Journal of Law, Policy and Family, 1998]
A survey of West Scotland teens revealed 29% of 15 year olds from single parent families smoked compared to 15% from families with both biological parents — nearly double. Once other contributing factors were accounted for, a teen’s chances of smoking increased by 50% if he or she was from a single-parent home. [Teenage family life, lifestyles and life chances: Associations with family structure, conflict with parents and joint family activity by H. Sweeting, P. West and M. Richards: International Journal of Law, Policy and Family, 1998]
A similar survey in England of 16-year-old teens concluded the probability of smoking increased by 80% if they were from single-parent families, once other social contributing factors such as finances and sex were accounted for. [Teenage family life, life chances, lifestyles and health: A comparison of two contemporary cohorts by M. Ely, P. West, H. Sweeting and M. Richards: International Journal of Law, Policy and the Family, 2000]
Involved with drugs
22.4% of 15-year-old-boys in single parent families used drugs compared to 10.8% in families with both biological parents — twice the rate. For girls of the same age, being from a single parent family increased their chances of taking drugs by 25% (6.5% to 8.2%) and by age 18 this increased to 70% (33.3% compared to just 19.6% for those in families with both biological parents). Once researchers account for finances and other factors, being from a single-parent family increased a teenager’s chances of taking drugs by 50%. [Teenage Family Life, lifestyles and life chances by Sweeting, West and Richards 1998]
Graham and B. Bowling in their study “Young People and Crime” concluded that once you factored out other contributing social factors such as parental supervision, peer and sibling pressure, boys from single parent families had 270% increased chance of skipping school (truancy) than their counterparts in families with both biological parents. [Young People and Crime by J. Graham and B. Bowling: Home Office: London, 1995]
A teen’s chances of leaving school by age 16 without completing their education doubles if they are from single parent families compared to those living in intact, two-parent families. The study noted this was due largely to the poverty of the single family unit. [Teenage Family Life, Life chances, lifestyles and health by Ely, West, Sweeting and Richards, 2000]
A study out of the US reports that teenagers from divorced parents showed more problems with delinquency and aggressiveness (externalizing their problems) and more difficulties with depression (internalizing problems). While girls tended to lash out because of conflicts between parents after the divorce, the lack of a dad’s involvement was one of the major factors contributing to the boy’s aggressiveness. The report stated, “parental divorce tends to be inherently depressing for boys.” [Explaining the higher incidence of adjustment problems among children of divorce compared with those in two-parent families by R.L. Simons, K. Lin, L.C. Gordon, R.D. Conger and F.O Lorenz: Journal of Marriage and the Family, 1999]
Being a teen is a tough job. I believe if parents can help their kids survive high school it is perhaps a mom and dad’s greatest accomplishment. But the odds of survival are clearly stacked against a teen if he or she comes from a broken home.
More in this series:
- Studies reveal the negative impact of divorce on children
- Impact of divorce on teens
- The impact of divorce on adult children
- Source: Experiments in Living: The Fatherless Family, The Institute for the study of Civil Society, London, England, 2002 / http://www.civitas.org.uk/pdf/Experiments.pdf