According to research conducted by Robert Hughes, Jr., PhD, at the University of Illinois, studies suggest that children in a single-parent home may experience more psychological and behavioural problems on average than children in a two-parent home. However, he is quick to point out that two-parent homes have similar problems more often than not.
The consensus appears to be that when problems do occur, they stem from a lack of economic or parental stability in any household. However, experts also advise that there are many things a single parent can do to help children adjust. They can lessen the negative effects of a missing parent over time by striving to employ good parenting skills and instil a sense of belonging in their children.
Most often, single-family homes are impacted by the lack of funds in the household. Not only are they missing income from the absentee parent, the family can also be deprived of support from extended family members related to the absentee parent.
This decrease in finances can adversely affect the ability to secure safe housing, the means to be able to participate in extra-curricular activities or the opportunity for quality education. Thus, the economic effects of a single parent on their children may ripple through other aspects of the child's development.
Issues such as hostility between parents and feelings of abandonment appear to contribute to single-parent children being exposed to increased conflict with adults and an increase of psychological problems. These children can be more susceptible to at-risk behaviour with drug and alcohol abuse, destructive sexual behaviour, violence, suicide and may have a higher likelihood of divorce when they wed.
Stress and emotional problems can further hinder a single-parent child's development due to lower levels of concentration. This, in turn, can result in lower levels of achievement and an increase in truancy or a higher school dropout rate.
Furthermore, the lack of structure and inconsistent rules imposed by the separated parents can cause a greater challenge for teachers in the classroom. Such an environment can result in a child plagued with disciplinary problems which can often interrupt or preclude the educational process.
The lack of economic and emotional stability in a single-parent home can create physical conditions that may not otherwise be present if both parents were able to support and care for their child. Health-related problems due to a lack of health insurance or funds to pay for medical and dental care can result in poor nutrition (and the associated effects) as well as advanced dental problems. Additionally, emotional stress can manifest itself in eating disorders or physical self-abuse.