A team of Penn State researchers has discovered that in families with divorced parents, the emotional distance is the greatest between teenagers and their fathers, with repercussions affecting the children into their college years.
Alan Booth, a sociology and human development professor, found that while distancing increases between children and fathers after a divorce, relationships between teens and their mothers are less affected.
Booth attributed these findings to the fact that fathers typically have less communication and contact with children after divorce than mothers, as mothers are usually awarded custody.
"Most children end up residing with their mother and are, therefore, closer to their mother," he said.
Booth explained that while statistics show fathers have become more active parents over the past few decades, they are usually less interested and involved with children than mothers are.
"Even when both parents are present, there is a tendency for mothers to be more involved with children, especially approaching and during teenage years," Booth said. "Fathers tend to be more involved when children are young while mothers tend to be consistently involved."
The person who leaves the household, typically the father, is at an extreme disadvantage in preventing emotional distancing, as they have less communication and contact with children, both of which are important aspects of parent-teen relationships, Booth said.
Laura Davis (freshman-psychology) is a student with divorced parents who experienced distancing with her father similar to that explained in Booth's study.
"I live with my mom, so obviously I'm closer with her," Davis said. "It's complicated because my dad never wants to stop by the house because my mom is there."
When the father does have contact with his children, it is often in a public setting such as a movie or a ball game, limiting the amount of affection and spontaneous interaction that can occur between the parent and child, Booth said.
"When we were younger, my dad used to call us and take us out to dinner, but we were never really close to him just because he didn't live with us," Davis said.
Not living with a child also limits the rules that a parent can enforce, which also affects the quality of the parent-teen relationship, according to Booth's research.
His study found that teens have more control over the relationship with their parents and distancing.
"Children control whether there is a lot of contact with their father or a little," Booth said. "If a child doesn't show much interest and a father isn't getting much positive feedback, contact and communication may suffer."
The gender of the teen played no part in the trend observed by Booth; sons were no more likely than daughters to become distanced from their fathers.
"Same-sex bias does not seem to show up in these divorce studies," Booth said.
Read more at the Daily Collegian.