Parental separation, adolescent psychopathology, and problem behaviors

J Am Acad Child Adolesc Psychiatry. 1994 Oct;33(8):1122-31; discussion 1131-3. doi: 10.1097/00004583-199410000-00008.


Objective: This paper examines the effects of parental separation on the occurrence of adolescent psychopathology and problem behaviors at age 15 years.

Methods: Data collected during the course of a 15-year longitudinal study were used to examine a sample of 935 children with respect to exposure to parental separation during childhood, measures of adolescent psychopathology and problem behaviors at age 15 years, and prospectively collected confounding factors.

Results: Children exposed to parental separation during childhood had elevated risks of a range of adolescent problems, including substance abuse or dependence, conduct or oppositional disorders, mood and anxiety disorders, and early-onset sexual activity. However, adjustment for confounding factors explained a large amount of the increased risks of adolescent disorder, and after adjustment for confounders the odds ratios between exposure to parental separation and adolescent outcomes ranged from 1.07 to 3.32 with a median value of 1.46. The ways in which boys and girls responded to parental separation were similar.

Conclusions: While the results suggested that children exposed to parental separation had increased risks of adolescent problems, much of this association appeared to be spurious and arose from confounding social and contextual factors that were present in the child's family before parental separation. However, even after such control, the results suggested that exposure to parental separation during childhood was associated with small but detectable increases in risks of adolescent conduct disorder, mood disorder, and substance abuse disorders.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Child
  • Child Behavior Disorders / diagnosis
  • Child Behavior Disorders / psychology*
  • Divorce / psychology*
  • Female
  • Follow-Up Studies
  • Humans
  • Longitudinal Studies
  • Male
  • Personality Development*
  • Prospective Studies
  • Risk Factors