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Today's word on journalism

Monday, January 29, 2007

Words as weapons:

"When he had a pen in his hand it was like giving a kid a machine gun."

--Peter Hall, theater director, on "Angry Young Man" playwright John Osborne (1929-1994)

Children of divorce can have a tough time with the label, even in college

By Morgan Russell

December 15, 2006 | For some students attending college in a religiously dominant culture is challenging enough. For others, it becomes an even more difficult task when it involves a broken home. For those coming from a broken home, attending college in a place that frowns on divorce is even more difficult. Divorce does happen. Why must students who come from divorced families feel the need to justify their current family situation to other students?

Erica Cooper recognizes the looks of shock that fall her way when she explains that her parents are divorced. "It's not a big deal to me anymore, but going to school in a consistent society that has specific views on marriage makes it tough. It's a culture shock for other students whose background deems divorce as unacceptable," said Erica, 21, an exercise science student from Idaho Falls.

The culture of Utah casts a shadow on those students who don't share the ideal Utah background. The reinforced stereotype labels students, not parents, as "divorced" and leaves students explaining situations and providing answers as to why.

"If it's not the look of shock, then it's just silence and eyes hit the floor," explains Erica. "I saw it more when I was a freshman; some students just do not know how to handle the initial 'my parents are divorced' statement. The divorce subject is just awkward tension for someone who doesn't understand that all marriages are not successful."

Sara Saxton, 20, majoring in Child Development, experiences a similar reaction. She has learned to avoid the topic completely by telling friends that her parents are not divorced and instead "pretends that they are still married as an effort to prevent inquisitions as to why they divorced or what my religious preference is."

Plenty of students have faced the divorce card. Whether they choose to bluff or lay it all out there is a decision that only he or she can make. But the truth of the matter is that a majority of children from divorced homes have faced the music, have dealt with it, and have proceeded to move on with their lives.

Steve Allred, PhD psychologist at Antelope Springs Counseling states, "Not only have kids dealt with their parents' divorces but the vast majority of them have thrived, despite the stress and upheaval that are common in the early stages of parental divorce." Most divorced children feel later on in their adulthood that their families are normal and their relationships with each of their parents have improved. Most even felt their parents' divorce was a good decision and that both they and their parents were better off because of it.

According to Sue Campbell, therapist at the Family Institute of Northern Utah, these views actually support new research that much of the current writing about divorce "has exaggerated its negative effects and ignored its sometimes considerable positive effects."

Campbell further explains that, "Divorce is an experience that for most people is challenging and painful. But the disastrous results of splitting up have been exaggerated for children and parents. Divorce can be seen as a window of opportunity to build a new and better life."

Just how much damage divorce does to kids is a real hot-button topic. Past research shows that children are at risk for a variety of difficulties, including dropping out of school, emotional problems, substance abuse, having babies out of wedlock and having their own marriages end in divorce. Despite the fact that children of divorce may be dealing with more issues than kids from a cohesive family, it doesn't mean they're any more screwed up about love.

Mavis Hetherington, a professor in the department of psychology at the University of Virginia, hopes to alter the national dialogue. She believes that too much emphasis is placed on the long-term harmful effects of divorce and that it is almost becoming a self-fulfilling prophecy, Hetherington says. "I think it is really important to emphasize that most do cope and go on to have a reasonably happy or sometimes very happy life." Read about Mavis Hetherington.

Hetherington's research agrees with Ph.D. Scot Allgood, professor of Utah State's family and consumer studies, who has studied the effects of divorce on children for more than two decades. "All is not lost. Many learn from their parent's mistakes and make it a goal to see their relationships flourish. Students need to remember that they are not doomed to repeat parent's mistakes." Click here to learn more about Utah State's Marriage and Family Therapy Program

Steve Allred also adds, "With so much divorce happening, people in their 20s and 30s have become skeptical about marriage, whether they come from a broken home or not. The only thing to do is to go into relationships with awareness and an open mind. The same could be said for those who are not accustomed to the fact that divorce unfortunately happens. Have an open mind and live in the world around you."



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