Thus, studying 12 year old children of divorce is not as simple as it may appear.
The data is inconclusive as to whether young children are at a greater risk for adjustment problems, but they clearly are harmed by it as much as older children are.
Authoritative parents are able to provide structure for their children, but still remain flexible; they can allow the children to make some decisions on their own, while still maintaining parental control over the situation.
One study cited by Cummings and Davies found that 66% of parental interactions after the divorce were marked by anger and conflict.
Kelly noted that conflict drops significantly after the first two years for most divorced families, but for another 25% the level of stress after two years remains very close to the level of distress soon after the divorce.
Divorce does not appear to have consistent effects across all children and across all ages.
Older children may be more sensitive to family conflict and feel more pressure to intervene, which could increase their risk for problems, but they also have more emotional resources to help them cope, which could decrease their risk.
It should also be noted that these results do not indicate that divorce is the main cause of childhood problems in divorced families.
In fact, among families high on conflict, divorced families, and “normal” families, the married and in conflict families showed more child adjustment problems than the divorced families.
This leads them to have the same kind of distant and uninvolved relationship as their parents had with their own family.
The third key area to understand how children adjust to divorce is the issue of parental conflict.
Other studies have shown about half of the behavioral, achievement, and emotional problems seen in boys from divorced families could be identified as early as four year prior to the divorce. Thus, the same factors that led to the divorce have likely already had a negative impact on children when the divorce actually occurs.
There seem to be three key areas to understanding how children will adjust in any specific case. Whiteside and Becker, in the March 2000 Journal of Family Psychology, note that what seems to matter most is helping children adjust in the two years after the divorce is for the children to experience an Authoritative style of parenting.
They may be confused, have fantasizes about reconciliation, and show difficulties in expressing their feelings.