As a consequence of the epidemic of divorce that has swept the nation in recent decades, millions of young Americans have seen their parents’ marriage torn apart and have then found themselves incorporated into a new stepfamily. The emotions that adolescents experience during this two-step process recently received attention from researchers at Pacific University and Reed College. Their findings are sobering evidence that the members of the younger generation pay a high price for their parents’ marital failures and remarriages.
After conducting a series of in-depth interviews of adolescents affected by parental divorce and re-marriage, the Pacific and Reed scholars are able to identify some common themes. The researchers limn “two recurring reactions” to the first event of interest (namely, parental divorce):
1. largely suppressed feelings over the loss of the biological family, and
2. frustration over the disruption in life by the divorce.”
A somewhat more complex tangle of emotions emerges in adolescents’ characterization of their parents’ remarriage and of their own lives as part of a new stepfamily. The researchers acknowledge that the teens in their study do recognize some “positive aspects of their stepfamily situation”—including “increased material resources, a bigger house, and more gifts on holidays.” However, the researchers see “a preponderance of distress” in teens’ descriptions of stepfamily formation. In surveying the “numerous themes of distress and struggle” in these descriptions, the researchers highlight three:
1. losses in relationships, privacy and space, resulting in sadness, resentment and anger;
2. powerlessness in their tumultuous lives; and
3. confusion and feelings of being overwhelmed by all the changes.
Again and again the adolescents interviewed for this study lament the difficulties of “relocating to a new home and incurring losses of a former home, friends, extended family, school, and time with the noncustodial parent [usually the father].” These teens express “feelings of powerlessness … associated with the development of new family rules, differing values in the new family, and unequal enforcement of discipline among the stepsiblings.” And many of the adolescents struggle with “the burden of divided loyalties between their parents and their stepparent” as they try to sort out their “confusion [over] the changes in power structure.” A number of teens in the study express “open dislike and discord with their stepparent.” Not surprisingly, many of these adolescents have resorted to “‘hiding out’ in their bedrooms, ignoring the stepparent, and talking with friends or siblings [as] solutions to the stress of stepfamily life.”
The authors of the new study find heartening evidence of “resilience” in the “survival strategies” adolescents have developed for “coping with family distress.” But Americans who care about children’s well-being can only fear the long-term consequences of making home a place where teens struggle to survive emotionally.
(Source: Barre M. Stoll, “Adolescents in Stepfamilies: A Qualitative Analysis,” Journal of Divorce & Remarriage 44.1/2 : 177-189.)
The original article can be found here: