Kids are officially more likely to suffer mental health issues if they see their separated parents fighting, a study has warned.
The new piece of research, conducted by Dr Karey O'Hara, of Arizona State University, said that children caught in the crossfire of divorce are often "mentally vulnerable."
Arguing between divorced or separated parents can subsequently often cause children to experience "fear of abandonment," and lead to mental health issues further down the line.
These findings, published in the journal of Child Development, are particularly worrying seeing as more than 100,000 couples decided to part ways in 2019, according to the Office for National Statistics.
While some divorces are amicable, others can become toxic, especially if one party harbours resentment towards the other.
And it's this bad blood which has an impact on kids.
"Conflict is a salient stressor for kids, and the link between exposure to inter-parental conflict and mental health problems in children is well established across all family types, married, cohabitating, separated and divorced," Dr O'Hara says.
"Conflict between divorced or separated parents predicted children experiencing fear that they would be abandoned by one or both parents.
"This feeling was associated with future mental health problems, especially for those who had strong relationships with their fathers."
In this study, the researchers surveyed 559 children aged nine to 18 about their exposure to parental conflict, and asked whether their parents fought in front of them, spoke poorly of the other parent or asked them to carry messages.
Kids who witnessed their mother and father fighting were more worried about being abandoned by one or both parents, the researchers found.
Worryingly, this feeling did not go away and persisted for three months after the children were first surveyed.
They were also more likely to develop mental health problems after 10 months, the researchers found.
Dr O'Hara said: "When parents who are married or co-habitating engage in conflict, the child might worry about their parents separating.
"But children whose parents are divorced or separated have already seen the dissolution of their family.
"The idea that they might be abandoned might be unlikely, but it is not illogical from their perspective."
Previous studies have also shown that kids see their parents fighting as a threat. They also found that having a strong relationship with a parent buffers the child from stress.
However, the new research found the opposite.
Dr O'Hara added: "A strong father-child relationship came at a cost when inter-parental conflict was high.
"Having a high quality parenting relationship is protective, but it is possible that quality parenting alone is not enough in the context of high levels of inter-parental conflict between divorced parents."
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