Sample Research Paper On The Impact Of Single Parenthood On Children’s Social And Emotional Development
Parents have an enormous influence on their children’s emotional and social development; therefore, extensive research has been conducted on the effects of single parenthood on a child’s development. The rate of children being raised by single parents has significantly increased since the 1960’s, and studies show that these children are more likely to have social and emotional problems than their peers who have both parents in the home (Parke, 2003). A meta-analysis on the effects of divorce on children measured many different variables of well-being (Amato, & Keith, 1991). Amato and Keith (1991) found that the differences in well-being for children of married and divorced parents were not as significant in recent studies, but there were still discrepancies. They measured several variables of well-being including academic success, self-concept, and social adjustment (Amato, & Keith, 1991). Although the impacts of divorce may be decreasing over time, there are many different theoretical perspectives about why children raised by a single parent are negatively affected. Children are not only affected by having just one parent to learn from and interact with, but also by having only one parent to carry full responsibility for providing for all of their physical, social, and emotional needs. This paper will discuss how the negative impact of single parenthood on children’s social and emotional development is caused by economic disadvantage, quality of parenting, exposure to stress, and possibly selective traits of the parent.
It is common for single parents to experience economic hardship because they have the sole responsibility of providing financial support (Amato, 2005). Many married families may only have one working parent, but in this case the other parent is home and the family can avoid child care expenses. Divorced parents must transition from possibly two incomes to one, and pay for child care. Economic disadvantages make it hard for single parents to afford all of the extracurricular activities and home technologies that allow children to further develop their social and academic skills. They also cannot buy their children the clothes, electronics, and “consumer goods that give their children status among their peers” (Amato, 2005, p. 82). Also, economic hardship leads many single parents to live in bad neighborhoods where there is more crime, and inferior schools and services (Amato, 2005). Living in communities like these can affect children by placing them in situations and around people that negatively influence their social and emotional development. Living in areas with high crime rates may stunt this development due to the greater concern for survival or self-preservation; both among peers and the environment. Feeling secure, physically and financially, can influence a child’s confidence, level of anxiety, and behavior in new situations (Parke, & Clarke-Stewart, 2011). Research shows that financial hardship does influence the well-being of children with single parents because these children have less behavioral and academic problems when their resident parent receives child support (Amato, 2005).
Another reason children are negatively impacted by having a single parent is because of deficiencies in parenting. This may largely be due to the sole financial and child-rearing responsibility of the parent, but according to Amato (2005), “the quality of parenting is one of the best predictors of children’s emotional and social well-being” (p. 83). Studies show that single parents do not provide as much emotional support or supervision compared to married parents (Amato, 2005). They also enforce harsher and less consistent discipline, and they make fewer rules for their children than married parents (Amato, 2005). It is more difficult for single parents to accomplish these things while working and without the help of another parent because of time constraints, and possibly because of emotional and physical exhaustion. However, studies link these parenting behaviors to many negative consequences for children such as emotional troubles, low self-esteem, and difficulty making and keeping friends (Amato, 2005). Children need rules and structure in their lives in order to feel that they have control over their situation, and that they can predict the consequences of their actions (Parke, & Clarke-Stewart, 2011). Lack of emotional support and positive social interaction from a parent prevents children from learning to cope with, and regulate their emotions. It also prevents them from learning appropriate social behavior. The lack of consistent and quality parenting that often accompanies the circumstances of single parenthood has detrimental effects on a child’s development of successful emotional and social skills.
A third attribute commonly associated with single parenthood that negatively affects children is the increased exposure to stress. According to Amato (2005), children of single parents “are exposed to more stressful experiences and circumstances” than children of married parents (p. 84). Single parents may face overwhelming demands without the ability or resources to cope, and this may prevent their children from learning how to cope with demanding situations. Without a model for how to deal with stressful feelings and situations children may not know how to adapt to stress, or develop maladaptive ways of coping with stress. Studies show that exposure to high levels of stress causes children emotional distress, and the previously stated aspects of a single parent family can cause children stress (Amato, 2005). Also, not having one of their parents around can cause stress for a child. Even more damaging for a child is seeing, or being forced to be a part of, conflict between parents. According to Patrick and Cummings (1994), conflict between parents is significantly stressful for children, and can lead to emotional insecurity. This type of chronic stress may interfere with healthy social and emotional development by regularly invoking negative emotions, and possibly causing a child to have low self-esteem or feelings of isolation from their peers.
A different theory about why children are negatively affected by having a single parent points to the characteristics of the parent rather than attributes of their circumstances. This theory proposes that marriage itself does not positively affect a child’s well-being, but it is the characteristics of people who choose to marry and remain married (Parke, 2003). This is called the “selection effect” because the distinctive traits of these people “select” them into their position as a single parent (Parke, 2003, p. 7). This theory argues that some people may have personalities that contribute to their being single, and that these people may be predisposed to behave in certain ways. These parents then pass on genetic predispositions for the same personality traits and behaviors which causes their children to have similar social and emotional problems (Parke, 2003). This theory is difficult to prove or disprove and studies have provided contradictory results (Parke, 2003). This theory may have merit in cases of serious mental disorders that have strong genetic predispositions and emotional issues, but the significant differences in circumstance for single and married parents are more likely to be causes for differences in childhood well-being. However, this selective perspective may offer insight into the cycle of single parenthood in which children of single parents often become single parents through similar developmental problems.
A child’s social and emotional development is negatively impacted by living with a single parent due to many attributes that are associated with single parenthood. Single parents often have financial hardship which leads to a lower quality of life as far as living accommodations, opportunities, and social status. Single parents also often do not provide adequate parenting that is necessary for successful social and emotional development compared to married parents. Children of single parents are exposed to high levels of stress which interferes with, and can cause maladaptive social and emotional development. Although the selective perspective may shed light on characteristics being passed from single parent to child, it is unlikely that this is the only cause of the negative impact of living with a single parent. According to Amato and Keith (1991), the differences in well-being between children living with single and married parents is becoming less significant. Yet, there are clearly significant circumstances linked to single parenthood that cause many obstacles to their children’s social and emotional development.
Amato, P. R. (2005). The impact of family formation change on the cognitive, social, and emotional well-being of the next generation. The future of children, 15(2), 75-96.
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Davies, P. T., & Cummings, E. M. (1994). Marital conflict and child adjustment: An emotional security hypothesis. Psychological bulletin, 116(3), 387-411.
Parke, M. (2003). Are married parents really better for children? What research says about the effects of family structure on child well-being. Washington, DC: Center for Law and Social Policy.
Parke, R., & Clarke-Stewart, A. (2011). Social Development. Hoboken, NJ: J. Wiley & Sons.