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Boys and girls respond differently to divorce, researchers say

It has long been acknowledged that children are deeply impacted by divorce. Therefore, being mindful of how a divorce proceeding and its outcome will affect the children is critical.

Recently, the University of Toronto studied a possible connection between children of divorce and suicidal thoughts. The team investigated gender specific differences in a group of 6,647 adults. Of that total, 695 had parents who divorced before they turned 18.

What researchers found was that girls whose parents divorced while they were under age 18 did not experience significantly more suicidal thoughts than girls whose parents stayed together. However, boys whose parents divorced while they were young were far more likely to entertain suicidal thoughts than boys whose parents did not divorce.

Why are male children of divorce affected so differently than female children? Researchers speculate that it may have to do with a lack of a strong male figure in their lives. Until fairly recently, the courts generally awarded mothers custody in a divorce. Therefore, some of the boys may not have had a steady male figure in their lives while they were growing up. Having a positive male role model can assist with their gender identity, leading boys to feel confident and supported.

Does this mean that parents should put off getting a divorce until their children turn 18? Of course not. The study simply reaffirms what we already now - that children are greatly affected by divorce and benefit from having both parents participate in their upbringing. After a divorce, it is important for both parents can spend quality time with the children, playing in active role in their growth and development. By being available for the children, parents can ease the stress and uncertainty that comes with a divorce.

Source:, "Suicidal Thoughts High in Adult Children of Divorce," Deborah Mitchell, 20 Jan. 2011

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