Divorce is a permanent marital breakup that has both short and long-term links to youth violence. Research does not universally support this relationship directly, and may be related to measurement of single-parent families rather than divorce specifically. Divorce has been identified as a significant risk factor for adolescent violence, albeit not the only one. Short-term effects have been likened to experiencing an accident where the effects are immediate. Long-term effects have been viewed as a disintegration of the family, one that begins before divorce and persists long after. The relation of divorce to youth violence also appears at both the individual and neighborhood levels. Violence includes a range of behaviors, from very serious behaviors such as murder and rape to fighting and bullying, and can also include suicide as an act of violence against oneself.
At the individual level, youth whose parents divorce are subject to the loss of a parent, experienced as a negative life event, that is a stressor linked to violence, the effects of which can be seen often in the short term, for example, fighting or even suicide. In some cases, this is exacerbated by marital conflict leading to the divorce. Long term, divorce can also lower supervision and interrupt the formation of attachments or positive connections between parents and children, which inhibits the internalization of prosocial norms. In addition, divorce can lead to numerous transitions in the child’s life, such as adjusting to stepparents and moving, which have been linked to delinquency and violence. This, in turn, can lead to greater peer influence. However, the continued involvement of the displaced parent has been shown to decrease delinquent youth outcomes. Theories that contribute to these areas include general strain theory, social control theory, and social learning/differential association theory.
Divorce rates have also been linked to youth violence. Youth from neighborhoods with higher levels of single-parent families commit a higher number of violent acts. This association has remained when research has assessed the influence of other important variables and for crimes measured through official police reports as well as those self-reported by adolescents. These findings may be related to high numbers of youth who have experienced the circumstances indicated above and live in an area characterized by a cumulative lack of supervision and heightened peer influence. Research on neighborhood effects on violence often uses a social disorganization or underclass theoretical framework. Another potential link to violence comes from an increased use of guns in the commission of crimes in disadvantaged neighborhoods, those often characterized by high divorce rates, which increases the likelihood of a violent result.
Gender is also important to consider when examining the relationship between divorce and youth violence, yet little research focuses on gender specifically. Although males are consistently more outwardly violent than females, recent research shows divorce may have a greater influence on females’ violent offending than on males’ offending. Recent findings show divorce increases the likelihood of female perpetration of dating violence more than it does male perpetration of dating violence.
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