Students academic performance affected by parents marital status



By Katherine Neuner

In a school environment, students living in a divorced household can look like any other person, while some are seen carrying loads of books and bags and having to constantly move back and forth between houses. In a poll conducted by the Crusader staff, of 145 Bonita Vista High School (BVHS)  students, 36.4 percent live in a house with divorced parents. The emotional toll a divorce can have on students is prevalent according to school psychologists, as well as having it affect a student’s academic successes.

Such is the case for Susan*. Susan’s parents divorced when she was only five years old due to the verbal abuse of her mother by her father. Susan supports her parents’ divorce as does 41.1 percent of BVHS students with divorced parents.

“Sometimes, divorces do help a family’s situation and I think the divorce helped mine. My dad was really verbally abusive to my mom and there’s only a certain amount of that you can take. I felt that the divorce was a relief for my mom and allowed her to recuperate,” Susan said.

Despite the fact that the divorce prevented the abuse of Susan’s mother, it caused drastic difficulties for herself. Though she would prefer to live with her mother, Susan is in a joint-custody situation; she states that this is because they are financially dependent on her father.

“[Not] only did he verbally abuse her, but [he] also does that to his children. He tells me really negative things. I usually just ignore it, but when I was smaller it really affected me. I had a low self-esteem because it was hard to take from [my] own father,” Susan said.

Another difficulty that Susan faces are her living arrangements. Because she alternates between her parents’ houses every two days, she has to take more to school than the average student. Generally, Susan takes two textbooks and sometimes a change of clothes in addition to her regular schoolwork. The weight of all her supplies ultimately led her to strain her neck in Dec. 2015.

“I had [a regular] backpack but I had to cram everything so I eventually hurt my neck. I had to wear a neck brace for a long time [and] went to the hospital. [There] they recommended that I get something that puts the weight off my shoulders. So that’s why I currently have a rolling backpack. Even though it’s super uncool, it’s better for my health,” Susan said.

Bonita Vista High School psychologist Elisa Lujan agrees that changes in living conditions are often difficult for children to adjust to.

“I think the living arrangements is one of the hardest things to figure out. And if you do have a living arrangement where you live with both parents, trying to juggle your routine and everything else can be very difficult,” Lujan said.

Aside from living arrangements, students with divorced parents also face other challenges. Susan states that she often feels that she is excessively used as a messenger between her parents.

“Sometimes I feel like I’m constantly in the middle. When it gets to be too much I just say, ‘Ok. Just go tell that to my mom. I’m not the one you should be telling that to,’” Susan said.

Communication is also a problem for divorced families. Lujan hopes that a new system is placed in the school district so that both parents can be informed about their children in school.

“[Currently] in our school district, only one parent can be listed at [a single] address. Communication can be problematic because one parent might not always know everything. In other school districts [such as] San Diego Unified, it’s different; they have it so both parents can be on the contact list and receive mailings and calls. Hopefully [when the] new system [is] in place, it will be like that for our district,” Lujan said.

Although Susan reports having countless struggles in dealing with her parents’ divorce, she states that multiple factors have helped her to cope with it. For example, her older sister Jane* had served as a guide for her through their parents’ divorce since they were children.

“I’m three years older than my sister. When they divorced she was around five, so I’m not really sure that she understood what was happening. I feel like I, as the older sibling, had to shelter  [and] protect her,” Jane said.

Lujan states that she has also been able to handle the stress associated with her parents’ divorce through staying positive.

“The best way to overcome [divorce] is to stay positive even when everything around you seems very negative. That’s what I try to do. Although I have my rough times, I try to bounce back up so that it doesn’t affect me totally,” Susan said.

Aside from staying positive, other coping mechanisms include relying on other family members and school groups.

“I do think that giving yourself positive messages is really important, but also relying on friends and other family members for support. [Do not] try to deal with everything yourself, make sure that you have regular contact with your extended family, [and] try to keep your routine the same as possible. There are two groups on campus: a family group and a grief and loss group, so there are resources for someone who might be going through a divorce,” Lujan said.

Having been in Susan’s situation herself, Jane states that she understands the stress that Susan goes through. However, according to Jane, what helped her most was leaving the situation behind her when she went to college.

“Having divorced parents is so stressful. People who have married parents, I don’t want to say they’re lucky, but kids with divorced parents are definitely more stressed. I would say that my stress level has gone down [in] college. There are times when I’m more stressed out, but overall, being on your own and not having to worry about living under someone else’s house is way less stressful than living in a divorced household,” Jane said.

Overall, Jane states that she is proud of her sister for making it through high school because she believes that dealing with a divorced family only gets easier after graduating.

“I’m just glad that my sister was able to stay positive because now she’ll be going to college and she’ll be happier. It really does change you because once you get out of that toxic situation then [you] really feel like you become a happier person. Once I left I [thought], ‘Wow this is what happiness is actually like,” Jane said. *Names were made anonymous in regards to the student’s privacy.