Blended Families’ Effects on Adolescents

Blended familyThe transition from middle childhood to adolescence is a difficult time for many youth. Some though, are compounded with the dealings of parental divorce and possibly, remarriage. The family relationships in stepfamilies, and particularly stepparent-child relationships, typically are more distant and have more conflict and other negative interactions than those in nuclear families. It is therefore likely that many children who experience new familial circumstances respond to these difficulties with a range of emotional or behavioral problems within and outside the home environment.

According to research by Silverman & Ollendick (1999), over one million children experience the divorce of their parents in the U.S. every year. The mean age of children who experience divorce is eleven years old, over 40 percent of divorced individuals will remarry before their youngest child reaches age 18, and one in ten children will experience two divorces of the custodial parent before age 16. According to these statistics, it is assumed that adolescent children are more likely to be “caught in a crossfire” of turmoil of not only the divorce and/or remarriage of a parent, but also of other stressors during this period in their lives.

In life-altering situations, most people have some degree of difficulty in adjusting. Children, however, have more difficulty adjusting to these situations due to their immaturity, vulnerabilities, and lack of participation or control over them. These shifting situations might include moving to a new city, welcoming a new sibling to the family, or blending with a stepfamily. When children are unable to control the direction of their lives, adaptive behavior is replaced by frustration, which can manifest as emotional or behavior problems (e.g., anger, defiance, aggression, depression, low self-esteem, anxiety), as well as school problems and negative peer association. Of additional concern, a stepparent may respond to these increased behavior problems by disengaging, which may further contribute to parent-child discord, marital dissatisfaction, and other family stress.

For children who have difficulties in their newly blended families, therapy can assist in their maladjustment, as it is designed to help children assess and work through these specific issues, modify their cognitive (thought) processes to guide their behavior, and in turn, improve their adjustment. A therapist can also provide parent support for behavior management and provide additional recommendations to help build the blended family bond.