Lessons from the Cyberspace Classroom: The Realities of Online Teaching / Edition 1

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Authors Rena Palloff and Keith Pratt have written a comprehensive reference for faculty to use to hone their skills as online instructors and for students to use to become more effective online learners. Filled with numerous examples from actual online courses and insights from teachers and students, Lessons from the Cyberspace Classroom covers the entire online teaching process. This essential guide offers helpful suggestions for dealing with such critical issues as evaluating effective courseware, working with online classroom dynamics, addressing the needs of the online student, making the transition to online teaching, and promoting the development of the learning community.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
"A comprehensive and concise description of key issues faced by every online educator, administrator, and developer. Following the tips provided by Palloff and Pratt will move online instruction beyond being merely electronic correspondence education." (Rita-Marie Conrad, online instructor, Florida State University)

"Gives comfort and aid to online teachers not by giving easy answers to hard questions, but by raising all the questions and issues that online faculty are concerned with and by showing where the research and national discussion is on these important issues." (Donald B. Hart, assistant director for faculty development, Thomas Edison State College)

"Will resonate with professional development staff who are seeking guidance in preparing faculty to be effective online teachers and students to be successful online learners. . . .the 'bible' for online course development." (Jessica A. Somers, director, Academic Innovation, Advanced Learning Technologies, University System of Georgia Board of Regents)

"Very practical and applicable . . .an invaluable tool for any faculty preparing to teach in the virtual world." (Gary A. Girard, director, off-campus programs, University of South Dakota)

The issues of teaching online are often similar to traditional teaching with the important difference that interaction is taking place in virtual space rather than face-to-face. Palloff and Pratt (authors and consultants for distance learning) provide clear, basic assistance and guidelines for teaching online based on their own and others' experiences in a readable style that includes many anecdotes. They offer tips on troubleshooting key elements such as hardware and software, developing course content, and supporting and evaluating students. Annotation c. Book News, Inc., Portland, OR (booknews.com)
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780787955199
  • Publisher: Wiley
  • Publication date: 3/12/2001
  • Series: Higher and Adult Education Series
  • Edition description: New Edition
  • Edition number: 1
  • Pages: 224
  • Product dimensions: 6.97 (w) x 9.41 (h) x 0.50 (d)

Meet the Author

RENA M. PALLOFF, Ph.D., and Keith Pratt, Ph.D., are the managing partners of Crossroads Consulting Group, working with educational and training organizations in developing and implementing distance learning programs. They are the authors of the Frandson Award-winning book Building Learning Communities in Cyberspace: Effective Strategies for the Online Classroom (Jossey-Bass, 1999). KEITH PRATT

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Table of Contents


Online Learning in the New Millennium.

Helping Teachers to Teach Online.

Administrative Issues and Concerns.

The Tools of Online Teaching.


Transforming Courses for the Online Classroom.

Teaching Courses Developed by Others.

Working with the Virtual Student.

Online Classroom Dynamics.

Lessons Learned in the Cyberspace Classroom.

Resource A: A Comparison of Syllabi for Online and Face-to-Face Delivery.

Resource B: Systems Theories Course in CourseInfo and eCollege.

Resource C: Additional Online Resources.

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First Chapter

Note: The Figures and/or Tables mentioned in this chapter do not appear on the web.


Because of the changing nature of today's students, economic pressures, and rapid implementation of distance learning courses and programs, definitions of what constitutes education and learning are changing, too. Whereas years ago instructors viewed their students as "blank slates" whose minds could be filled with the information they were imparting, current constructivist theory holds that students, through their interaction with one another, the instructor, and their environment, create knowledge and meaning. A more collaborative approach to learning, such as that promoted by constructivist thought, can yield deeper levels of knowledge creation (Brooks and Brooks, 1993). The use of distance learning technologies, and more specifically, online distance learning, have both grown out of and enhanced the changes now occurring in the delivery of education.

It is widely acknowledged that nontraditional students (that is, working adults returning to school or students who are unable to attend classes on campus for other reasons) make up a rapidly growing population in education today. Their educational needs and demands are different from those of traditional students and it is these students to whom online distance education is geared. We have also seen, however, an increase in the use of online classes for campus-based students, particularly with classes that combine face-to-face and online components.

The changes caused by the use of online distance education are being met with the support of educators but also with some discomfort. The American Association of University Professors devoted the September-October 1999 issue of its bulletin Academe to the topic of technology in higher education. The following is a sampling of the opinions expressed by faculty faced with the increasing use of distance education:

Some students learn better in a course in which they can interact with the professor in person. Others, however, thrive in an online environment. Shy students, for example, tend to feel liberated online, as do many foreign students who are unsure of their spoken English [Maloney, p. 21].

Being there is irreplaceable.... Education involves more than lectures and class discussions. Our students learn from us what scholars in our disciplines do. We show the discipline of the mind and evaluate whether our students are catching on.... When students feel themselves identifying with us and our disciplines, they come to appreciate the struggle for knowledge; some may even choose to become part of the intellectual adventure [Martin, p. 35].

The reality is that technology is playing, and will continue to play, a critical role in teaching and learning. As a pedagogical tool, distance education probably leads to different educational outcomes from those achieved with traditional classroom-based instructionÑ some better, some worse.... The real debate needs to focus on identifying which approaches work best for teaching students, period [Merisotis, p. 51].

Regardless of the debate, distance education is a phenomenon that is here to stay. Ronald Phipps and Jamie Merisotis of the Institute for Higher Education Policy note in their 1999 report on distance education, "Technology is having, and will continue to have, a profound impact on colleges and universities in America and around the globe. Distance learning, which was once a poor and often unwelcome stepchild within the academic community, is becoming increasingly more visible as a part of the higher education family" (p. 29).

In 1997, the U. S. Department of Education noted that in the fall of 1995, 76 percent of higher education institutions with enrollments of ten thousand or more were offering distance education programs. It was projected that by the fall of 1998 that figure would grow to 90 percent (Carnavale, 2000a). An update to that study was released in December 1999, indicating that between the fall of 1995 and 1997-98 the percentage of all higher education institutions offering distance education courses increased by about one-third and that the number of course offerings and enrollments in distance education courses doubled (National Center for Education Statistics, 1999). Not all courses were conducted online. However, the institutions that offered distance education in 1997-98 or were planning to do so in the near future reported that they planned to increase their use of Internet-based delivery. The study concluded that "distance education appears to have become a common feature of many postsecondary education institutions and that, by their own accounts, it will become only more common in the future" (National Center for Education Statistics, 1999, p. vi).

Given these facts, what is the impact of this phenomenon on education? How does learning online affect learning in general? How should decisions be made about such elements as courseware, courses offered, faculty who will teach online, and course development? What are the ethical and legal implications of these decisions? How do we train faculty to understand and use distance learning and distance learning technologies effectively and about the new pedagogy required for the delivery of distance education? How do we teach faculty to build interactivity and community into what is otherwise a flat, text-based medium? We will explore these questions and more in this book as we discuss the lessons learned from the cyberspace classroom.

Online Learning Today

Most distance learning classes today are delivered either through interactive video or over the Internet. But not all online distance learning classes are created equal. A white paper posted on the website of Blackboard, a course authoring software package, defines online education as "an approach to teaching and learning that utilizes Internet technologies to communicate and collaborate in an educational context. This includes technology that supplements traditional classroom training with web-based components and learning environments where the educational process is experienced online" (Blackboard, p. 1). That definition, with which we agree, indicates that there is more than one way to deliver online classes. One is not necessarily preferable to the other. A good way for instructors to enter the online arena is by using technology to enhance an on-campus class. As they gain experience in teaching online, moving from an enhanced approach to one in which a class is wholly delivered online becomes easier.

Classes that use technology and the Internet as an enhancement to what is happening in the face-to-face classroom generally employ materials on CD-ROM, an electronic textbook including associated learning activities, "lecture" material or an asynchronous discussion board located on a course site online, or chat or synchronous discussions online; they may even simply use e-mail. All of this technology may be used in a class that is conducted completely or almost completely online, the difference being that there may be minimal or no scheduled face-to-face sessions associated with the class. Yet another form of online learning is the posting of course material on a static website, meaning that no means of inter-activity is built into the course. In this type of class, the student interacts only with the machine and not with other students. His or her contact with the instructor is likely to be via e-mail.

Most institutions now offer classes that use technology in some form as an enhancement to face-to-face classes. Interactive classes offered using the Internet as a means of delivering course content are a growing phenomenon. The 1999 Department of Education study indicated that the percentage of institutions using asynchronous Internet-based technologies to deliver courses essentially tripled between 1995 and 1997-98 (National Center for Education Statistics, 1999). Asynchronous Internet-based technologies generally refer to electronic bulletin board or discussion board systems. Users can access the bulletin or discussion boards at any time, twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week, to add to the ongoing discussion. Users do not need to be online at the same time in order to participate.

The posting of course material on a static website is most common at this point in time, and it is the form of online education that many refer to when they raise concerns about online learning. It is this form of online education that is mistaken for online learning as a whole and has given it a "black eye" due to the lack of interactivity.

In a report published in Internet Research in December 1999, accounting professors who responded to a survey overwhelmingly disapproved of the use of the Internet to deliver courses in their subject area. Eighty-two percent agreed with a statement that student-to-student and student-to-instructor interaction is missing in Internet-based classes, making them less valuable to students (Saunders and Weible, 1999). The respondents also likened Internet-based classes to correspondence courses, which they clearly considered inferior in quality. When course delivery does not include any interactive component, we have to agree that quality will suffer. However, a well-constructed interactive online course or good use of technology to enhance a course can only serve to contribute positively to learning outcomes.

In order to do a good job of constructing online courses, faculty need training that few campuses currently offer. When they are simply presented with course authoring software and asked or told that a course needs to be developed and presented, the resulting course is likely to have minimal interaction and pay little attention to the development of a learning community, which promotes collaborative learning and helps to achieve learning outcomes. We will discuss faculty training needs and good course construction in greater depth in Chapters Two and Five.

New Technological Developments and New Modes of Delivery

Most courseware applications now allow instructors to customize their courses in many ways. Asynchronous discussions can be supplemented with the use of synchronous or "chat" sessions. Video and audio clips can be used. Instructors can post PowerPoint slides or other graphic illustrations of the material being studied. Support documentsÑ such as handouts, articles, and lecture notes—can also be posted to a course site. Links to other sites of interest or to an electronic textbook can be established. Whiteboard sessions can be held, in which synchronous discussion can occur while graphics are annotated or brainstorming sessions are going on.

Examples of the use of electronic whiteboards can be seen in Exhibit 1.1. The exhibit shows how graphics or other material, such as the math formulas presented, can be uploaded to the whiteboard and then annotated by the instructor. At the same time, a synchronous discussion about the image can be held, allowing students to ask questions and explore the concepts being presented. A more detailed description of current course software can be found in Chapter Four.

Most courseware allows the instructor to assess learner progress. For example, the quiz building functions available in most courseware packages allow the instructor to create tests and quizzes or to poll students about their opinions on various issues. The results of the quiz or poll are encrypted and available to the instructor either via e-mail or on the course site. In addition, the test or quiz can be constructed to show the students their results immediately without allowing them to alter their responses. Many courseware packages now include gradebooks as well, so that both instructors and students can monitor progress as the course occurs. Frequently, quiz results can be linked to the gradebook so that they are automatically recorded.

Many of the technological developments may be helpful in accommodating various student learning styles. An auditory learner, for example, may feel more comfortable listening to a brief audio clip explaining a concept than reading about it. A visual learner tends to do well in an environment that presents mainly text or uses video clips. A learner who is more kinesthetic may appreciate assignments requiring visits to other websites on the Internet and the incorporation of online research. All of these techniques also help to keep things interesting for students who feel the need for more activity in a learning situation.

However, we present the new technological developments with a caution: not all students are capable of receiving a course that contains all of these technological "bells and whistles." Reduced prices on computer hardware have made computers more available to a wider market. Even so, many students do not have access to a computer at home or are using older hardware and software to access their courses. Furthermore, it is difficult to compensate for a poor phone or Internet connection. For example, even though a computer might have a 56K modem, if the Internet connection available is only 28K, the user may have more difficulty working in a chat session or receiving a video clip.

Furthermore, although many institutions feel they need all of the technological advances in the courses they offer, rarely are those "bells and whistles" used in the delivery of a course. Brenda Reiswerg of University Access, an organization that develops business courses for institutions, likens the demand for all of the technological advances to the experience of buying a new car. She states, "When you go to buy a new car and the salesperson asks whether you want cruise control, of course you answer yes. But how often in a year's time do you really use it?" The staff at University Access have found that although their client institutions demand audio, video, and chat capability in their courses, rarely if ever are those elements used in the delivery of the course because many times faculty do not know how to use them effectively in an online course and students may not be able to access them.

In our experience, a well-constructed course is one that is logical in its design, easy to navigate, and inviting to the user. Further, we believe that asynchronous discussion is the most effective means of promoting online learning. Generally speaking, a simply constructed and easy-to-follow course site will be better received by students than one that relies too heavily on elements such as audio, video, and chat and is slow to download because of extensive graphics. Andrew Feenberg (1999), an early pioneer in online course delivery, supports this view when he states, "Could it be that our early experiments with online teaching, although constrained by primitive equipment, actually revealed the essence of electronically mediated education? We believe that to be true. Even after all these years, the most exciting online pedagogical experiences still rely on human interaction. And for the most part, these interactions continue to be text-based." Feenberg's statement echoes our own experience. When we ask students to evaluate the effectiveness of their online learning experience, it is the ability to engage in asynchronous discussion with their peers that they most value. Consequently, the choice of technology that enhances students' ability to connect with one another, enabling them to form a learning community, is critical.

New Issues for Both Faculty and Administrators

As development and acceptance of online distance learning continue to grow, new critical concerns for both faculty and administrators have begun to emerge, including such things as planning for a solid technological infrastructure, intellectual property rights, review and development of agreements with faculty that reflect good understanding of work for hire and copyright, and choice of software with which to conduct online courses. Many of these concerns relate to the degree to which faculty are being involved in the planning and decision making that surrounds the implementation of online distance learning courses and programs. Faculty argue that decisions should be made based on pedagogical need, but they feel that administrators are looking to the bottom line. However, the same issues that faculty face are also faced by administrators, albeit in a different way. For the purposes of this discussion, we provide Table 1.1, which compares faculty and administrative responses to commonly held concerns. A brief discussion of each of these issues follows.


Course Authoring Software Is Chosen Without Faculty Input

Andrew Feenberg (1999) states, "Professors aren't in the forefront of the movement to network education. Instead, politicians, university administrations, and computer and telecommunications companies have taken the lead, because they see money in electronic ventures" (p. 26). Faculty's lack of involvement in decision-making processes that directly affect the way in which online courses will be delivered is widening the rift between faculty and administrators. Feenberg further states, "In educational computing, the choice of infrastructure largely determines how a program can be applied. If administrations consult corporations instead of faculty about this choice, the outcome isn't likely to foster the kind of educational community that faculty culture and traditions encourage" (p. 28). In fact, involvement in the decision-making process required for the selection of course authoring software can help elevate the level of faculty expertise required to teach online just by their testing out various software packages before they begin. This can give faculty a leg up in the course development process.

If faculty are being asked and even expected to teach online courses, and the type of course authoring software that they are expected to use can significantly affect the teaching and learning process, should they not be involved in its selection? Unfortunately, in our experience, rarely are they brought into the selection process in any meaningful way. Feenberg states, "Salespeople often seem to have the ear of administrators in a way that faculty do not, and they use their access to sell not just devices but also the idea that the new tools can be used to reproduce the live classroom experience or, better yet, to automate its elements and deliver it as a package" (p. 30). Although administrators have the dollars and authority with which to spend them, faculty are the end users of the software and should have a say in its choice. Involvement of faculty will help them to "buy into" the online teaching process and facilitate use of the software, thus allowing them to focus more on pedagogical rather than technical issues.

Teaching online requires a new approach to pedagogy. The online recreation of the face-to-face classroom can be a dismal failure for both faculty and students. A recent comment in an article in the Chronicle of Higher Education (Carnavale, 2000b) indicated that students find nothing more boring than reading screen after screen of text when an instructor is attempting to recreate a lecture online.

Administrators, along with faculty and students, need to be educated about the realities of online teaching and the impact that good courseware can have on this process. The concern should not be budgetary, but instead pedagogical. "Administrators and businesspeople should forget the idea that distance education systems based on videoconferencing or CD-ROMs and star professors will replace face-to-face classroom education" (Feenberg, 1999, p. 31). As we have already discussed, technology can be an effective enhancement to the face-to-face classroom. Well-constructed online courses can enhance and expand institutional offerings, thus attracting students who prefer this mode of learning. Online learning is not appropriate for all students, however, and is not likely to replace the face-to-face classroom.

Governance Issues Have Emerged

As with the choice of courseware to be used for online courses, the selection and design of courses and programs to be taught online is also being made with little or no faculty input. In many institutions, department chairs are being asked which courses they will offer and programs are being designed by people involved in new departments devoted solely to distance learning or are being delegated to extension divisions or departments of continuing education. The new departments are hybrids, generally coordinating distance learning efforts that cut across numerous other departments in the university. Although some are organized in order to offer complete degree programs, most have been developed simply to coordinate multiple distance learning offerings. Often, faculty from many departments are asked to teach courses through the new distance learning departments. This is not inherently bad, as long as there has been good planning of the university's program as a whole. "When administrations in their hurry to launch potentially lucrative online programs forgo the usual channels of faculty consultation, quality suffers" (Maloney, 1999, p. 21). Faculty also object to the creation and spin-off of for-profit arms of universities devoted to the development and delivery of online courses, citing poor quality. Some entities are the result of collaborations between several colleges and universities, whereas others are partnerships between for-profit companies and universities (Grimes, 2000).

Accreditation raises yet another set of issues related to governance. As courses and programs are delivered online, those charged with judging academic quality are faced with the challenge of developing new standards. There is a belief that distance learning classes cannot be evaluated through the traditional model of academic accreditation. Some feel that new standards need to be developed because online courses are not a reproduction of those delivered face-to-face. There are additional fears that quality standards are being bypassed, thus degrading public perception of the value of a college degree (National Center for Education Statistics, 1999). However, others believe that new standards for the quality of online courses and programs should be determined through student feedback and institutional responsiveness, resulting in new sets of accreditation standards. Clearly, the jury is still out on this issue, and in the meantime the long-held accreditation standards normally applied to face-to-face classes prevail.

Nothing takes the place of good planning in the creation of any new academic endeavor. Some institutions have bypassed a planning process in the development of an online program, claiming faculty pressure to get courses online or the need to expand their market share quickly. However, as with the creation of a single course, planning with the end in mind can only serve to move the institution closer to a realistic use of technology to enhance teaching and learning. What this means is that the institution should conduct an assessment of the learning and programmatic outcomes it hopes to achieve through online courses. The inclusion of faculty in this process should assist in creating a balanced approach focused on both pedagogic and budgetary goals.

"Administrators hope to use new technology to finesse the coming crisis in higher education spending, and to accommodate exploding enrollments of young people and returning students" (Feenberg, 1999, p. 28). Online distance learning will not save the academy by attracting large numbers of students while reducing infrastructure costs. However, through good planning and evaluation processes, institutions can avoid costly mistakes by developing realistic programs that address realistic student needs.

Intellectual Property and Course Ownership Issues Have Become Paramount

Numerous articles appearing in journals and on the Internet discuss who owns courses developed by faculty for online delivery. Interestingly, this is rarely a subject of discussion when it comes to the face-to-face classes that faculty members have taught for years. When members of the faculty leave for another institution, their courses generally go with them and another instructor is hired to develop and deliver the same course. Furthermore, it is usually not questioned that two instructors teaching the same course may choose to incorporate different concepts and material and be likely to approach the course very differently.

In the online arena, however, a growing trend is for the institution to claim ownership of courses. Because online courses are generally housed on a university server and can be archived or kept intact indefinitely, the question of ownership has become a bone of contention. Some institutions are calling the courses "work for hire" and claiming ownership, whereas others have few policies regulating how online courses are viewed. "Ownership is one of the most contentious issues in online education, because who owns a course bears directly on who profits from it" (Maloney, 1999, p. 23).

In addition, many institutions are hiring faculty from outside the institution—people who are considered to be content experts—to develop courses or are purchasing or licensing such courses, which the institution's own instructors are then expected to teach. "When professors have to use online materials prepared by others, their hands are tied. They can't draw on their own knowledge of content and the needs of their students in teaching" (Maloney, 1999, p. 22). The quality of development and degree to which these courses can be customized is an issue that we will discuss in more detail in Chapter Six.

Just Like Faculty, Students Need to Be Trained to Learn Online

Many of those we have spoken with around the country continue to believe that the key to faculty training lies in familiarizing them with the software they will be using to deliver courses. However, as we have conducted our faculty training seminars we have frequently encountered faculty who tell us that although they mastered the use of the software they still wondered how to deliver the course effectively. Why were students not participating? Why was it that most or all of the interaction occurring in the class was between students and instructor rather than between students? Why was it that students seemed unwilling or unable to take the initiative in making the course "happen"? Both the problems and the answers may be related to one issue: faculty training in more than just use of software. Faculty need instruction in the differences in online teaching and what is required to build a learning community online. We will return to this subject in Chapter Two.

However, faculty are not the only ones who need training. The same mistakes are made with students. Again, it is assumed that if students can navigate the courseware being used, they should successfully complete the class. In our experience, students also need training to learn what is expected of them in the online classroom. In Chapter Seven, we will discuss the issues involved in working with the virtual student.

Finally, administrators, politicians, and all those involved with decision making for distance education programs also need training. The financial realities and the ability of technology to resolve budgetary problems should be conveyed to the decision makers, along with the realities of online teaching and learning. Administrators and decision makers have been persuaded that online distance education could replace campuses and faculty. This is a myth that needs to be dispelled so that faculty and administrators can work together to create pedagogically sound, learner-centered online programs.

Recent Developments in K-12 Online Learning

Higher education professionals can begin their own learning process by taking note of the exciting developments occurring in the K-12 online learning arena. Although technology has been used as an adjunct to elementary and secondary teaching for a while, new virtual high schools and other virtual support services for school districts are emerging. Some of the new high school initiatives have been funded through grants available through the U. S. Department of Education. Some are collaborative partnerships between school districts and institutions of higher education. Others are Internet start-up companies hoping to provide services to the K-12 market, including offering school districts the ability to construct their own websites, which might include online classes, the posting of assignments, and discussion forums for teachers, parents, and students. Other features facilitate communication between parents and schools, enable parents to monitor their child's school progress better, or provide homework assistance for students, ongoing training for teachers, and community-building tools for use between schools and school districts to allow completion of collaborative projects and communication across the country and internationally for students and teachers. Resource C contains a list of contacts for readers who wish to explore some of the many developments in this arena.

One of the more innovative of these efforts has been the development of the Virtual High School, funded through the assistance of a Department of Education Technology Innovation Challenge Grant. The program, developed by the Concord Consortium of Concord, Massachusetts, allows students attending member high schools to take online classes with students from all over the country who are attending other member high schools and with an instructor who may or may not be at their own school. The project is also looking to create courses for middle school students and has created means by which elementary school students can collaborate on projects. Few of the programs being developed at the high school level allow students to complete a high school degree online. Instead, most, like the Virtual High School, provide advanced placement, honors, and college-preparatory courses. These efforts are being hailed as a means by which students who attend school in districts with limited funds to offer such classes can have access to them.

Just as with college-level online programs, however, accreditation concerns have emerged regarding online high school programs. Their quality is an issue that has been raised by accrediting bodies and faculty of four-year institutions. Although the schools of higher education have their own accreditation, there have been questions about the quality of the high school curricula they offer. And as with college-level programs, for-profit organizations are now offering high school level courses. Some companies offer their courses directly to students, which raises the highest level of concern. Others sell their materials to schools and colleges for high school student use. At present, it is difficult to monitor the quality of these courses. There is also some concern about whether the courses will be accepted by colleges and universities when students present them as part of their college applications.

Yet another concern about the online high school alternatives relates to access. Can the poorer districts to which the high school initiatives are directed support their students with equipment and Internet access? As virtual high school classes are developed, there also needs to be concern about the kind of computer equipment students may be using. Although computer prices have plummeted, a thousand dollars may still seem exorbitant to a district struggling to pay teacher salaries and purchase textbooks. Many districts are using older, donated equipment that may not be able to accommodate such elements as audio and video. Some two-and four-year institutions are opening the doors to their computer labs to allow younger students access. But greater efforts need to be made to provide computer equipment to the poorer school districts in order for students to have equal access.

We hope that high school and middle school alternatives will continue to develop but that they will not be seen as a replacement for the face-to-face high school. High school age students are in far greater need of socialization opportunities than are adults returning to school. Still, the courses, programs, and services can fill a definite need among students who might not otherwise have access, and thus provide a great service in narrowing the gap for the technological have's and have not's.

In any case, the growing trend toward virtual high school education is one that we in higher education cannot ignore. The students who participate in online high school classes are likely to seek out the same forms of education when they enter college. They will likely be skilled in navigating the online environment and in working collaboratively with their peers. The question then becomes, Is higher education ready for them?

The Effectiveness of Distance Delivery

A debate that is likely to continue for quite some time is whether online distance learning is as effective as the face-to-face classroom in achieving learning outcomes. Research on this topic continues to emerge as, for example, in a recent report released by the Institute for Higher Education Policy entitled What's the Difference? (Phipps and Merisotis, 1999). The essence of this report is a review of the research, which compares the outcomes of online and face-to-face instruction. Because it is almost impossible to engage faculty in a discussion of online learning without this topic emerging, we feel that it is important to review some of that literature here.

Phipps and Merisotis, the authors of the report, in summarizing their review of the literature on the effectiveness of distance learning, noted that the studies conducted tend to fall into three broad categories: student outcomes (including test scores, grades, and comparisons to on-campus students), student attitudes about learning through these means, and overall student satisfaction with distance learning. One such study, conducted by Schutte (1996), randomly assigned students in a course on social statistics to face-to-face or virtual classes. Lectures and exams were standardized between the groups. The study found that the students participating in the virtual class produced better results on tests. Schutte concluded that the performance differences could be attributed to the enhanced ability for students to collaborate in the online class. "In fact, the highest performing students (in both classes) reported the most peer interaction" (p. 4). However, Schutte noted that the element of collaboration is a key variable that would need to be controlled in future studies.

Phipps and Merisotis (1999) note, "With few exceptions, the bulk of these writings suggests that the learning outcomes of students using technology at a distance are similar to the learning outcomes of students who participate in conventional classroom instruction" (p. 2). Others who have also compiled the research on distance learning have come to the same tentative conclusion (Hanson and others, 1997; Russell, 1999). Phipps and Merisotis offer this conclusion with a caution, however, feeling that most of the research conducted on learning outcomes from distance learning classes is questionable. Many of the researchers, such as Schutte, have noted variables that cannot be controlled, and many studies are based on qualitative rather than quantitative measures. In addition, good research does not yet define what is meant by learning outcomes or conceptualize what knowledge looks like (Boettcher, 1999). Consequently, much of the research attempts to paint the picture of "an illusory 'typical learner, ' which masks the enormous variability of the student population" (Phipps and Merisotis, 1999, p. 5) and does not account for differences in learning styles. Despite problems with the research being conducted on effectiveness, Phipps and Merisotis (p. 8) offer important implications that have come out of it. They state:

Although the ostensible purpose of much of the research is to ascertain how technology affects student learning and student satisfaction, many of the results seem to indicate that technology is not nearly as important as other factors, such as learning tasks, learner characteristics, student motivation, and the instructor. The irony is that the bulk of the research on technology ends up addressing an activity that is fundamental to the academy, namely pedagogy—the art of teaching.... Any discussion about enhancing the teaching-learning process through technology also has the beneficial effect of improving how students are taught on campus.... The key question that needs to be asked is: What is the best way to teach students?

The debate over the effectiveness of online distance learning is far from over. We have found, however, that our involvement in teaching online has made a significant difference in the ways in which we approach our students on a face-to-face basis. No longer do we lecture about material that is contained in the textbook. We now assume that our students will and do read. Our face-to-face teaching is far more collaborative and empowering.

Despite the criticim and skepticism, and with this hopeful outcome and implication of online learning as a backdrop, we now turn our attention to what it takes to assist faculty in developing high-quality courses. In so doing, we offer the following Principles of Good Practice in Undergraduate Education. They were first published by the American Association of Higher Education in 1987 and reproduced at the conclusion of the Phipps and Merisotis report (1999, p. 32) as a guide.

  1. Encourage contact between students and faculty;

  2. Develop reciprocity and cooperation among students;

  3. Use active learning techniques;

  4. Give prompt feedback;

  5. Emphasize time-on-task;

  6. Communicate high expectations; and

  7. Respect diverse talents and ways of learning.

These principles form the backbone of a well-constructed online course because they encourage interactivity, active learning techniques, and the expectation that the instructor will be present and involved but not control the process. With the Principles of Good Practice in mind, we now turn our attention to the important topic of faculty training.

Chapter One

You Can Help Your
Children Successfully
Adjust to Divorce

"What Will Happen to My Kids? I Feel So Guilty!"

This book teaches divorcing parents what they can do to help their children successfully adjust to divorce. The biggest concern for almost all divorcing parents is whether their children will be hurt by the breakup. To be sure, divorce brings painful feelings that are not short-lived; divorce is difficult for every family member to deal with. Children do not understand the changes that are occurring and are worried about what will happen to them. And although parents are usually unaware of this, children also worry about the well-being of their parents, who now seem so angry and sad.

Regardless of who initiated the divorce, most parents are far more distressed by the breakup than they had anticipated. In addition to their own personal distress, they are burdened by guilt over the divorce and by feelings of inadequacy because they do not know how to help their children. However, these and other problems are resolvable. The widespread myth that children's lives are forever blighted is false; parents can take control of this crisis and do a great deal to help their children.

I will be your child's advocate in the pages ahead. I will communicate to youÑ the concerned parentÑ what your children may be thinking, feeling, and needing throughout the different stages of divorce. As I help you understand the questions and concerns that divorce evokes for your children, I will also provide practical guidelines to help you respond more effectively. Divorcing parents need specific information and practical guidelines to help with the problems that divorce brings up for children. My goal in this book is to help parents anticipate the concerns that divorce typically arouses for children, understand what these problems mean, and teach parents how they can respond effectively. For example, I teach parents how to explain the divorce to their children, suggest custody and living arrangements that will be in the children's best interest, and provide guidelines to help shield children from parental wrangling. This straightforward approach will make a difficult time easier for both children and parents alike and go a very long way toward helping children successfully adjust to divorce.

In this introductory chapter I first examine the broad social changes that have transformed the American family and led to a soaring divorce rate. The next section summarizes the effects of divorce on children and how children at different ages tend to react to their parents' breakup. The final section addresses the impact of divorce on parents and highlights the different stages of adjustment that parents often go through. In particular, I will show how parents' guilt and distress over the divorce diminishes their ability to provide both the support and the discipline that children need. In contrast to this overview, each chapter that follows focuses on a specific divorce-related problem and provides practical steps to resolve it.

The Changing American Family

As the divorce rate has soared since the 1960s, most of us have either personally experienced or shared with others the disruption of marriage and family. Divorce has become so widespread that well over one million children now go through their parents' divorce every year. How will divorce affect these children? Are there typical reactions or predictable problems that boys and girls will have because of their parents' divorce? What can parents do to help their children cope with the initial breakup, adjust to living in a single-parent family or to moving back and forth between two households, and make the transition to remarriage and living in a stepfamily? The pages that follow answer these questions and many more.

Before we embark on this important journey, however, we need to learn some other things about divorce. In particular, parents need to understand why so many divorces are occurring today. Are people just too selfish to make commitments or care about others anymore? Have people become too lazy or unwilling to work on the problems that exist in every relationship? Unfortunately, divorcing parents are sometimes blamed in these ways, but social demographers and family historians tell us that the explanations for the soaring divorce rate are not so simple.

A Historical Perspective on the Family

Let's take the long view for a moment and see what family historians have to tell us about the high divorce rate in the American family. Researchers have gathered a great deal of historical evidence describing what family life was like in previous centuries. These statistical records and archival materials from the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries show that family conflict and marital instability are not modern phenomena. As far back as the records go, there is unmistakable evidence that family life was fraught with conflict and tensions, subject to dramatic fluctuations, and full of diverse family forms and types. It is a romantic misperception to idealize the family of the past as a safe haven.

The conflict and tensions that have challenged families for hundreds of years have been heightened by recent developments that have changed the fabric of our society and contemporary family life. Urbanization and industrialization in the twentieth century, women entering the workforce during and after World War II, control over fertility through birth control in the 1960s, and the adoption of no-fault divorce have all contributed to the rising divorce rate. These changes have led to a profound shift in the roles and responsibilities that husbands and wives take on, how couples communicate, and how decision-making power is shared in the family. As a result of these far-reaching changes in marital relationships, the divorce rate started rising about 1900, rapidly accelerated after World War II, and doubled between 1960 and 1975. Although the divorce rate peaked in 1980, it has leveled off at a very high rate. One out of two new marriages in the United States eventually ends in divorce, most within the first ten years. Because this high rate of divorce is expected to continue, demographers predict that over 50 percent of children born today will live, at some point, in single-parent families, usually headed by mothers. However, most divorcing parents have given up on a specific partner—not on marriage itself. About three-fourths of men and two-thirds of women eventually remarry, usually within three years after the divorce (60 percent of which will also end in divorce, usually within five years). As a result of the high remarriage rate, about 20 percent of children today are living in a stepfamily.

Too often divorce is misconstrued as a circumscribed or terminal event that ends when the judge drops the gavel. However, divorcing parents soon find that the breakup and legal divorce is but one phase in a series of complex family transitions. In many cases, for example, there is a period of increasing marital tension or overt conflict leading up to the breakup; there may be life in a single-parent household or shared custody arrangement, remarriage and stepfamily formation, birth of new children, and possibly a subsequent divorce. Children and parents alike can struggle or thrive in each successive transition as they cope with the changes that the next phase presents. Divorcing parents face different challenges with their children at each of these successive stages. In the chapters that follow, I help parents anticipate the problems and respond to the concerns that children experience in each new phase of family life.

The Child's Experience of Divorce

The three brief scenarios that follow show typical responses of each family member to the initial breakup. In each situation you will see certain problems beginning to emerge for the children involved. Ask yourself, as you read along, how you would respond if these were your children.

  1. The Abbott Family
    Although Jack felt guilty about leaving his wife, Linda, and hurting their two children, he had made up his mind to go. He planned to move into an apartment with his girlfriend by the weekend. "I know this is hard for you," Jack began, and then he abruptly announced that he wanted a divorce.

    Linda felt as if she had been kicked in the stomach. "What are you saying? Why are you leaving us? Why didn't you tell me?" Stunned with disbelief, she was almost unable to hear the words he was saying.

    Two months later it still seemed to Linda as if her life had fallen apart. Although Jack had originally suggested that they remain friends, Linda was bitter and wanted never to see or speak to him again. She told her daughters that their father had betrayed all of them and they shouldn't have anything to do with him. And, as if humiliating her had not been enough, Jack was going to try to take her daughters away from her, too. Linda simply couldn't believe it. He was actually seeking joint custody of the two girls.

    Shortly after the separation, Linda and Jack's daughters' behavior began to change. Thirteen-year-old Marta was angry at everyone and everything. She had sided with her mother and wouldn't see or speak to her father, despite his repeated requests to visit her. Marta blamed her father and hated him for leaving. Yet, even though Marta took her mother's side against her father, she gradually began to distance herself from her mother as well. Marta began to spend little time at home; her grades plummeted, and Linda started receiving reports that her daughter was cutting classes and spending time with older teenagers who missed school regularly.

    Unlike Marta, her eight-year-old sister, Ann, wasn't angry all the time. She was sad. Ann felt torn apart inside and was praying that her parents would get back together again. She reasoned that if Marta weren't so angry with Dad, it would be easier for him to move back home.

    Ann also felt torn between her parents. She missed seeing her father, and they often talked secretly on the phone. Ann felt guilty, however, and thought, "If Mom knew, she'd think I was on Dad's side. But I want to see Dad. He tells me it's unfair of Mom to make him into the bad guy. But Mom's right. He wouldn't have left us if he really loved us. I don't know who's right; I don't know what to do. I just feel pulled apart." In contrast to Marta, who became "impossible" to manage, Ann directed her conflict inward and began to complain about headaches and stomachaches.

    The Baxter Family
    When Joan's marriage broke up, her husband moved out of the state without leaving a forwarding address. Joan was left to raise their four-year-old son, Ben, on her own. In the four months after he left, her husband, Jim, sent only two support checks. Joan didn't know how she would make ends meet; her county welfare check wasn't enough to pay for food, rent, and the car payment each month. Joan had a part-time job as a salesclerk, but by the time she paid for day care, there wasn't enough money left to get through the month.

    Joan felt overwhelmed by her life. Even her son was out of control. "Ben is driving me crazy," Joan told a relative. "Ever since his father left, I can't control him—he won't do anything I say. It's awful. He fights with me constantly, yet he won't leave me alone for a minute. He throws a temper tantrum when I drop him off at the day-care center, even though he used to like going there. He used to go to bed easily at night. Now putting him down is a battle that takes most of the evening. He wants one more drink of water, one more story, one more light turned on. I don't have anything left to give, and Ben wants more, more, more.

    "I've finally given up trying to keep him in his own bed. He wakes up from a nightmare and won't stop crying until I let him climb into bed with me. Then in the morning he still won't obey me. He's just bossy and demanding rather than thankful. I tell you, I just can't handle this boy since his father left. He's ruining my life!"

    When his father first left, Ben felt sad and missed him. After the first few weeks, though, Ben just felt angry. He kept thinking to himself, "Why did Dad leave me? I hate him for going away. I don't ever want him to come back." Sometimes Ben felt angry at his mother, too. Maybe it was her fault that his father had left. Ben's feelings were confusing and even kind of scary sometimes. Being angry at his mother could be so scary because Ben was afraid that he might drive away her away, as he believed he had his father. He thought, "If Dad left because he didn't want me, maybe Mom will leave, too! Then I'll be all alone, and there won't be anybody to take care of me." Even though he was really mad, Ben knew it was very important not to let his mother get very far away from him.

    The Campbell Family
    One month after her thirtieth birthday, Barbara asked Dave for a divorce. Dave wanted to stay together, but Barbara insisted that she needed more out of life than she had. Barbara wanted to go back to school and develop a career that would make her more independent than she had been with Dave. They had married right after high school, and she felt she never really had the chance to become her own person. Although Barbara didn't know exactly what she wanted and couldn't answer Dave's questions very well about "what was wrong," she just knew that what she had shared with Dave wasn't going to be enough.

    Six months later, Dave still didn't know what to do with his four-and eight-year-old sons, Danny and Mark, when they visited him at his new apartment. He usually took them to the movies or a park, but nobody seemed to have much fun. And Dave really got frustrated when Danny started crying because he wanted to go home to his mother. He had always felt unsure of what to do when his boys were sad or cried. Barbara had always taken care of those needs, just as she had always fed and bathed and done almost everything else for them. Taking care of children was natural for her. She always seemed to know what to do. In contrast Dave always questioned himself, never quite feeling that he was doing it right.

    On top of feeling like a failure as a father, Dave was growing resentful toward his former wife and his children. Dave told a friend, "I spend more than I can afford taking them out to eat and to movies and ballgames, and then they don't even talk to me. And when I take the boys back to their mother, she tells me she resents having to be the disciplinarian while I'm the "tour guide" who just has fun with the kids. Barbara actually told Danny and Mark that the only reason she doesn't take them out the way I do is that I don't give her enough money!"

    By the end of the first year, Dave was seeing his sons less and less frequently.

    Eight-year-old Mark had been very sad since his father moved out. He was seeing his father fewer weekends now, and their time together just wasn't the same as it used to be. Mark thought that everything would be all right if his parents would just get married again. Mark felt really bad on days when he overheard his mom crying in the shower or in her bedroom. Somehow, he felt, he just had to find a way to keep her from crying. That's when he remembered that whenever he got into trouble, his parents had stopped fighting with each other and paid attention to him. Then they had gotten along better for awhile.

    Later that week Barbara got the first note from Mark's teacher that he had been fighting at school.

Even though divorce has become commonplace, it remains very painful, as shown in the typical reactions just profiled. The prevailing theme of these three scenarios is the struggle that each mother, father, and child faces with difficult feelings of guilt and anger, failure and fear, sadness and loss. However, divorcing parents should be reassured that many of the concerns that Marta, Ann, Ben, Danny, and Mark expressed could have been reduced or eliminated if their parents had known what to do. Parents who learn how to respond to their children during and after the divorce can greatly reduce the number of problems the children experience.

The Effects of Divorce on Children

Divorce has become prevalent, but what are its effects on children? Many researchers began studying this question in the 1970s, and they have learned a great deal about children and divorce. One thing researchers have learned is that we must distinguish between children's initial or short-term reactions to marital disruption and their long-term (more than two years) adjustment. Children's long-term reactions vary greatly, depending on how the parents respond to the child during and after the breakup. In particular, the most important factors that shape long-term adjustment are (1) the amount of parental conflict children are exposed to and (2) the quality of parenting or childrearing competence they receive.

In addition to these two factors, children's reactions are affected by social or environmental factors such as living in a neighborhood with high crime and violence. Economic factors are an important aspect of divorce, as most single-parent mothers have more economic stress and can provide fewer resources and opportunities for their children following divorce. Economic stress leads to increasing family mobility and an unwanted decrease in kinship networks and family support systems. This becomes especially problematic when it deprives families of grandparents and other kin who can help parents cope in the aftermath of divorce. Further, the stressful impact of divorce is likely greater in Asian, Hispanic, and other ethnic-religious families in which marital disruption is less accepted. With these considerations in mind, let's examine children's initial reactions to their parents' breakup.

Short-Term Reactions

Researchers have found that almost all children are very upset by the initial breakup. When looking back on their childhood, most adults whose parents divorced later describe the initial period of separation (when one parent moved out) as the most painful event in their lives. Children usually do not understand what is happening, even though they may know other children who have gone through divorce. Routinely, children are initially shocked and surprised by the separation, even though it seems clear to the adults that it did not happen suddenly or come out of the blue. Despite the fact that there may have been a great deal of arguing, tension, or unhappiness in the home, children do not want the divorce. Most children do not find relief in it or welcome it in any way unless they have been witnessing physical violence.

During the first year after marital disruption, parents usually see more anger, fear, depression, and guilt in their children. These troubled reactions usually lessen by the second year. To understand children's short-term reactions, however, we must examine how the impact of divorce varies between boys and girls and how it affects children differently at different ages.

PRESCHOOL-AGE. Preschool children (aged three to five) often react to their parents' separation with both anger and sadness. Boys tend to become noisier, angrier, and more restless. They may not play as well with friends and tend to sit alone more often. Boys often disrupt group activities at nursery school rather than cooperate in group activities with other children. Some preschool girls are angry, too, but others become little adults. These "perfect" little girls become overly concerned with being neat and good and may lecture or scold other children the way a parent or teacher would. Both boys and girls at this young age feel sad, cry more often, and become more demanding.

In response to the initial shock of marital disruption, children also regress, that is, act younger than their age; they return to behavior that they had previously outgrown. For example, children may resume sucking their thumbs, carrying a security blanket, asking for a pacifier, hitting their siblings, or needing help to feed themselves. Further, these children feel more insecure. When three-to five-year-old children are anxious, for example, parents observe more nightmares, bedwetting, masturbating, and fear about leaving the parent. As we discuss in Chapter Two, these children often have a very understandable fear. Having seen one parent move out unexpectedly, they are often worried about being left by the other parent as well.

SIX TO EIGHT YEARS OF AGE. Divorce seems to be especially difficult for six-to eight-year-old children, and boys at this age may be more distressed than girls. The primary reaction of these children is sadness. They are sad and weepy and likely to cry openly about the breakup. They usually long for the out-of-home parent, and boys may miss their fathers intensely. At this age, children are especially prone to believe that the departing parent has rejected them. This feeling of rejection and being unlovable results in lowered self-esteem, depression, and all too often a sharp decline in school performance. These children are worried about their parents, have trouble concentrating in school, and often try to prevent the divorce and restore their family.

NINE TO TWELVE YEARS OF AGE. Whereas the primary feeling for six-to eight-year-olds is sadness, it often changes to anger for nine-to twelve-year-olds. These children may be intensely angry at both parents for the breakup or especially angry at the parent who initiated the separation. These children are prone to taking sides with one parent against the other and to assigning blame. As detailed in Chapter Eight, these children are especially vulnerable to becoming embroiled in destructive parental battles in which one parent seeks to blame, harass, or get revenge on the other. Unfortunately, many parents actively enlist children in these toxic battles that are so harmful to parents and children alike.

Not only do they align with one parent against the other but these children express anger in other ways. What do they do? Many single-parent mothers report that it is impossible to discipline their nine-to twelve-year-old sons. In addition, these children may angrily reject their out-of-home father's attempts to spend time with them.

Anger is not the only reaction of these children, however. They are also sad about the breakup, worried about their parents' well-being, afraid about what will happen to them, and lonely. In particular, children at this age feel powerless. They do not want the divorce; they miss their intact families, long for the out-of-home parent, and feel helpless to alter the enormous changes occurring in their lives. Fueled by angry defiance and discouraging feelings of helplessness, school performance drops markedly for about half of the children in this age group. Other symptoms may emerge during this age period as well. For example, many children begin to have trouble getting along with their friends, get into fights with peers, or begin expressing physical complaints such as headaches and stomachaches. And, as I discuss in Chapter Nine, some of these children become so concerned about their parents' well-being that they try to act like adults and meet their parents' emotional needs. They lose their own childhood as they try to take care of their parents' loneliness and depression or solve their financial worries.

ADOLESCENCE. Fewer adolescents experience parental divorce because most divorces occur when children are younger (divorce is most common when children are four to seven years of age). When divorce does occur, however, the responses of adolescents tend to vary greatly. On the one hand, some adolescents may adjust to the family disruption better than younger children. Because they are becoming more independent and removed from family relations, they do not need as much affection and guidance as younger children. Some adolescents cope effectively with the divorce by distancing themselves from tensions in the parental relationship and becoming more involved in their own ambitions and plans for the future. For these adolescents, the main concern is about their future. In particular, they often worry about how the marital failure will influence their own ability to have a good marriage or go to college. Like older school-aged children, adolescents are likely to have problems when they are not free to pursue their own interests but are pulled into "loyalty conflicts" and feel pressured to take sides or choose one parent over the other.

Refreshingly, a few adolescents show a positive developmental spurt in response to the marital disruption. These young people are often helpful to their parents and younger siblings during this family crisis. Their own maturity and compassion can be seen as they participate constructively in family decisions, help with household responsibilities, and provide stable, nurturing relationships to younger siblings. However, this enhancement occurs infrequently, and when it does it is found almost exclusively for daughters and not for sons.

Many adolescents initially feel betrayed by the divorce. Researchers find that about 30 percent of adolescents angrily disengage from the family (more often boys in divorced families and, as we will see later, girls in stepfamilies). They spend as little time at home as possible and actively avoid activities and communication with family members. Serious problems can result if the adolescent's disengagement is accompanied by a lack of parental supervision or monitoring. If so, they are at high risk to become involved with antisocial peers. Delinquency, alcohol and drug use, school failure, and teenage sexual activity often follow.

Other adolescents may become depressed and withdraw from peers and family involvement or lose their plans and ambitions for their own future. It is sad to note that dropping out of high school and being unemployed extend across diverse ethnic groups. As we will see, one of the long-term effects of divorce for some adolescents, especially females, is a diminished capacity to succeed academically and to achieve occupationally during their early adult years.

Gender Differences

In addition to the age differences just discussed, researchers find gender differences in children's reactions in the years following divorce. Although there has been increasing attention to joint custody and father-headed families, about 85 percent of all children of divorce reside with a custodial mother. Studies find that the problems caused by marital conflict, divorce, and life in the care of a single mother may be more pervasive for young boys than for young girls. Boys in single-mother families, in contrast to girls in single-mother families and children in intact homes, tend to have more adjustment problems. Younger boys tend to be more dependent and help-seeking, whereas older boys are more aggressive and disobedient. Compared to girls, boys in single-mother-headed homes also have more behavior problems at school and at home, have more trouble getting along with friends at school, and have poorer school achievement when father is not involved. Two years after the divorce, girls in mother-headed families tend to be as well-adjusted as girls in intact, two-parent homes. In contrast, there tends to be an increasingly widening gap over time between the problematic behavior of boys in mother-headed homes without much paternal involvement and the better adjustment of boys in two-parent homes. This occurs because boys tend to lose their primary identification figure and source of discipline when father moves out and to receive more anger and criticism from custodial mothers than girls do. The evidence of greater difficulty in raising boys after divorce is also found in sibling relationships.

Researchers find more anger and conflict after divorce between sons, and between sons and daughters, than between sisters. This greater difficulty in handling sons after divorce may be one reason the U. S. Census Bureau reports that parents with sons are 9 percent less likely to divorce than are parents with daughters. For fear of not being able to handle a son alone, some mothers may be more reluctant to divorce if they have sons only. These gender differences change as children grow into adolescence, however. As noted earlier, studies suggest that divorce is often harder for young boys than for young girls. When girls reach adolescence, however, conflict often escalates between single mothers and daughters to match the level of conflict between young sons and mothers.

In addition to increasing mother-daughter conflict, adolescent girls are likely to develop problems in dating and romantic relationships, especially if their father has not been actively involved in their lives, their mother has not been able to discipline effectively, and caregivers have not supervised or monitored them closely. Poignantly, they tend to have sex at an earlier age and with more partners than daughters in intact families. Continuing this unwanted theme, they are also likely to marry at a younger age and eventually become divorced themselves. These problems in heterosexual relationships, as well as in greater academic and occupational underachievement for adolescent girls than boys, tend to persist into early adulthood. These gender differences become even more complex as families transition from single-parent, divorced families to stepfamilies. For example, whereas boys tend to adjust positively to the introduction of a responsible stepfather, girls are more likely to struggle with this new addition.

Longer-Term Reactions

Researchers have looked at the long-term effects of divorce on children five to ten years after the divorce, and when children of divorce are in their late twenties and early thirties. The general pattern that emerges across many different studies is that about 25 percent are doing very well, about 50 percent have mixed successes and problems, and about 25 percent are struggling with significant, enduring problems (about 10 percent of children from intact families have similar problems). Many different themes are found in these long-term reactions to divorce, however. Some individuals remain angry with or rejecting of the departing parent; some feel sad and long for a parent who was uninvolved after the divorce; others hold onto unrealistic, idealized memories of the intact family. Some see themselves as needy and having been deprived of a childhood. Others, however, see themselves as stronger and more resilient as a result of the divorce. Understandably, many adult children of divorce have heightened concerns about issues of trust, loyalty, and security in relationships. On average, they also report more loneliness as adults and more marital conflict than the children of intact families.

What does all of this mean to you, the concerned divorced parent? Do your children have to suffer the life-long consequences of your divorce? No, absolutely not! Divorce does not have to harm children or cause long-term problems. The same parenting skills that lead to good adjustment in intact families lead to good adjustment in divorced families. The way you respond to your child during the divorce and the quality of parenting you provide afterward are the most important determinants of your child's adjustment. More specifically, the most important determinants for problems are

  • Being exposed to ongoing parental hostilities
  • Ineffective discipline
  • Losing contact with a parent after the divorce
  • Feeling pressured to take sides and choose between their parents
  • Being drawn into an adult role and asked to meet their parents' emotional needs.

In contrast, children adjust well if they consistently receive emotional support and effective discipline, maintain secure relationships with their parents, and are not embroiled in parental conflicts. If parents follow the parenting guidelines offered in the chapters that follow, children will make a successful adjustment.
Remember: it is not the divorce itself that causes problems for children, but the way parents respond to the children and the quality of parenting they provide afterward.

Divorce Is Painful for Parents

Although I act as your children's advocate in the pages ahead and focus on what you can do to help your children adjust, I don't forget the parents' difficulties. It may be easier sometimes to recognize or empathize with a child's problems than an adult's. However, when parents feel the support of being understood, it is easier for them to respond in kind and take better care of their children. Before looking further at children's typical reactions to divorce and how parents can best respond, I want to acknowledge how painful divorce is for most parents and the unnecessary guilt they often carry. As we will see, it usually takes far longer for parents to adjust than they had anticipated, and parents often go through a predictable series of stages as they recover from this crisis.

Length of Divorce Process

Researchers have observed wide mood swings, from elation to severe depression, in parents responding to the initial breakup. Parents typically report that diminished work performance, an inability to concentrate, health problems, anxiety, irritability, and sleep disturbances accompany the breakup. Parents also feel insecure in dating at this time, and there is an increased rate of sexual dysfunction in men. Sadly, many parents report increased smoking, drinking, and drug use during this stressful time.

Parents can be reassured to know that the turmoil and disrup

tion brought on by the initial breakup will settle down, but they will not adjust to the divorce in a matter of weeks or even months. One year after the separation is often a low point for parents emotionally; it often takes as long as two or three years for many divorcing parents to regain fully their self-esteem and interpersonal confidence.

Thus parents should not place unrealistic expectations on themselves. Most parents are distressed for a much longer period than they think they should be. Statements like, "I've been separated for nearly a year now, so why do I still feel like crying at the drop of a hat?" are typical of this attitude. Why does it take two to three years for many parents to work through the emotional process of divorce? Many complex issues must be resolved, and some researchers have observed three distinct phases in this divorce process.

STAGE ONE. The initial stage of breaking up is perhaps the most painful period, especially for mothers. This phase includes the wrenching period of increasing conflict, tension, and dissatisfaction in the marriage that culminates in one party wanting out and deciding to divorce (usually the mother) and one party moving out (usually the father). Contrary to the widely held misconception, mothers initiate about two-thirds of all divorces that involve children. These mothers have often agonized over this decision for some time. In contrast, fathers may not experience the full emotional impact of the divorce until later in the process, when mothers may be well on their way toward recovering.

This disruptive period is often chaotic and may cause parents to make poor decisions or act in ways that they regret later. In particular, hurtful interactions between parents occur in this initial stage that can linger and continue to influence the quality of parenting and cooperation that divorced parents can provide years later. This time can be frightening for children because parents sometimes lose their self-restraint and begin to act impulsively. Perhaps one-half of all children see their parents yelling at each other, making ugly threats toward each other, and throwing and breaking things. Tragically, far too many children see their parents hitting each other in their hurt, betrayal, and rage. Common sense and good judgment are most likely to be lost during this stressful, initial stage. For example, children may be inappropriately exposed to their parents' short-term sexual liaisons with new partners, or impulsive parents may act without thinking ahead (for example, by stealing children) and lock hatred and distrust in forever.

This initial stage of marital disruption may last a few months or, in a few cases, it may drag on for a year or two. However, it is damaging for children to witness dramatic parental conflict. Separating parents can do much for their children by shielding them from such scenes. It is especially important during this initial period for parents to exercise restraint and plan arrangements for the breakup as thoughtfully as possible. There will be far less insecurity for children when separating parents can exercise some civility, mutual concern, and a modicum of respect for each other. Even if one parent insists on acting out, children still fare much better if the other parent does not use this irresponsible behavior as license to respond in kind.

In Chapters Two through Four, specific guidelines are given to help parents make plans for their children during this volatile stage. If eruptions have already occurred, however, there are still actions parents can take to help redress their earlier mistakes.

STAGE TWO. As the chaos from the initial breakup settles down, many parents enter a new stage of life transitions. In this second period of trial and error, parents try out new lifestyles and reorganize their lives. Many changes can occur for parents and children during this transitional period that may last from a few months to a year or two. Parents may go back to school, re-enter the workforce, change careers, buy and sell homes, and begin and end new relationships. Children may move to different neighborhoods, change schools, leave friends and make new ones, and go back and forth between two households with differing rules. This uprooting is an unsettling period because parents and children alike must cope with so many changes.

Children adjust better when they have more stability in their lives and fewer changes to deal with. Parents help children cope by providing as much familiarity and predictability in their lives as possible. In other words, children adjust better when parents can keep as many things as possible constant in their lives—school, teachers, church, bedroom, babysitter, playmates, household rules and discipline, and so forth. To emphasize further, children adjust better when parents regulate their daily lives with more predictable daily routines, consistent discipline, and regularly scheduled contact with both parents. When changes must occur, parents can help children by giving clear expectations (and repeated explanations) for what is going to occur and when.

STAGE THREE. The third stage of parental divorce is a renewed sense of stability. This phase happens sooner for some families than others, of course, and children feel more secure as their parents can provide more stability. New love relationships for mothers and fathers settle down, and stable patterns of visitation are established. As the dust settles, some children will be living in single-parent homes, some will be going back and forth between two households, and others will be living in stepfamilies.

Divorce is very painful for most parents, and it may take two or three years to come to terms with the far-reaching changes it brings. Most parents find that the divorce is more distressing, takes longer to adjust to, and changes much more in their lives than they had anticipated. This is usually true for both parents, regardless of who initiated the divorce. As divorcing parents work their way through the three phases of the divorce process, they will adjust better (and parent more effectively) if they can establish support systems with family and friends to help them negotiate these difficult transitions. Mothers often are more effective than fathers at establishing these all-important support systems. One of the most important steps in the parents' adjustment is to come to terms with unrealistic feelings of guilt and blame.

Parental Guilt

As if the divorce wasn't hard enough, guilt feelings only compound the problems. Many parents suffer mightily with guilt over their decision to divorce and, as we will see, it undermines their ability to discipline effectively.

STAYING TOGETHER FOR THE SAKE OF THE CHILDREN. One of the biggest problems for divorcing parents is their own sense of failure because they feel they have let their children down. Almost every parent struggles with guilt about the divorce, even when the other spouse has initiated the breakup. Unfortunately, many parents absorb our society's blame-ridden attitudes toward divorcing parents. The divorcing parent's anguish is often expressed in words such as these: "It's not fair that my children have to suffer because my marriage failed. It's selfish for me to seek a divorce that will hurt my children just to make my life better. Wouldn't it be better to stay married for the sake of the children?"

Should parents stay together for the sake of the children? There are no easy answers to this profound question, of course. Ultimately, each parent must decide what is best for his or her family; what works for one family may not be right for another. For example, the decision to separate or stay together has entirely different effects on children, based on differing circumstances such as these:

  1. Will the children grow up with a calm and responsive divorced parent or have to cope with an irritable or depressed married parent?

  2. Is this a temperamentally easy child who makes friends readily or one who has difficulty with changes or struggles to make transitions?

  3. Will the parent be able to recover from the stress and demands of divorce with some equanimity or remain distressed and unable to parent effectively?

As these contrasting parameters highlight, there are no simple formulas to fit every family. The same decision—whether to part or stay together—will have a very different impact on children in one family context than on children in a different social situation. With this complexity in mind, along with the need to find different solutions for different families, let's see what guidelines the research can provide.

This much is known: it is not in the children's best interests for unhappily married couples to stay together when this exposes children to chronic marital conflict. Researchers have consistently found that children adjust better in split homes that function well than in conflict-ridden marriages. More specifically, a harmonious intact family is best for children, but a harmonious divorced environment is better than a disharmonious intact family. However, the evidence is also definitive that a disharmonious divorce, after which the parents continue to battle, is the most problematic environment of all for children. Both divorced and married parents must be willing to share personal responsibility rather than merely trying to blame the other parent for the serious consequences to children of growing up with chronically embattled parents.

Decades of research on family interaction have repeatedly found that children are affected adversely by conflict and turmoil in their parents' marriage. Children are more likely to develop personality and behavioral problems in unhappy, unloving families in which the parents fight continually than in any other kind of family situation. In other words, the real issue is not divorced versus intact family structure; it is harmonious versus conflicted family interactions.

Dysfunctional family relationships cause the differences found in child adjustment, specifically:

  • Conflict and negativity between parents, and between the parent and the child
  • Aggressive and nonsupportive rivalries between siblings
  • Ineffective discipline
  • Lack of warmth and family cohesion

Even though the media and popular press have not grasped this core concept, divorcing parents need to recognize this essential distinction between family structure (divorced versus intact) and family interaction (harmonious versus conflicted).

Chronic marital conflict is difficult for all children, but it may be especially hard for boys, who tend to develop behavioral problems as a result. Young boys who grow up in an atmosphere of continuing marital strife are anxious and insecure, but as they become older they often become angry, defiant, and hard to discipline. They are more likely to get into trouble with the police and with school authorities; as young adults, these boys have been found to have a higher arrest rate for criminal behavior. Girls are also affected by ongoing marital conflict, and they too may become more aggressive and disobedient. In many cases, however, they react by becoming anxious, withdrawn, or perfectionistically well-behaved.

A nationwide survey of nearly fifteen hundred children conducted by the National Institute of Mental Health found that children who live with a divorced parent have fewer behavioral problems than those who live with married parents who always fight. This finding goes a long way toward explaining why the most poorly adjusted children of divorce have bitter, litigious parents who continue fighting with each other in court or through the children. Clearly, children living in families where there is ongoing warfare would be better off if their parents would just agree to amicably go their separate ways.

But what about other parents who are simply unhappily married? Divorce is a far more difficult decision when there is no overt hostility between parents and no need to shield children from yelling and loud arguments, demeaning insults, ugly threats, or violence. Do children fare better in quietly unhappy, emotionally disengaged, but intact families than in divorced homes? Unfortunately, research doesn't tell us as much about this more complicated question. Divorce is painful for almost all children in the short run and engenders long-term problems for some. This cold, hard fact must be faced squarely. As noted earlier, most adult children of divorce report their parents' breakup as their most painful life experience. Because the consequences for children are indeed serious, parents should never make the decision to divorce impulsively or in anger. Much soul-searching, consultation with respected others, repeated attempts to address the problems in the marriage, and careful planning for the children must all come first. In weighing the decision to divorce or stay married, however, parents are also balancing the potential costs of deciding to remain unhappily together.

First, children often shoulder a large burden of guilt and responsibility if they feel their parents have stayed together unhappily for their sake. Second, staying in an unhappy marriage may teach children to avoid problems. By providing a role model of passivity in living with disappointment or resignation to having less in life than they want, parents may give children the unwanted message that change is too threatening to risk or that there is nothing you can do to solve life's problems. Finally, parents also have a right to their own happiness, and their lives deserve to be considered as well. Parents may ask themselves this question: If your adult child came to you and asked for your advice, would you tell your son or daughter to stay unhappily married?

Parents may decide that it is not best for them or their families to stay together for the sake of their children after honest efforts have repeatedly failed to resolve marital conflicts. That is not the end of the story, however. With rights come responsibilities, and parents need to make a personal commitment to work constructively in the child's best interest, even when the other parent doesn't. As emphasized throughout this book, the marital relationship can end, but responsible parenting must continue.

UNDERMINING EFFECTIVE PARENTING. When parents do divorce because they are unhappily married, they often struggle with intense guilt. These feelings often are just as strong when the other spouse initiated the breakup. Too often, responsible parents who are devoted to doing the right thing for their children are ruled by unwarranted guilt and self-blame. Parental guilt over the divorce causes unnecessary suffering for many parents, and it contributes greatly to children's adjustment problems.

When parents feel too guilty about the breakup, they may not be able to talk with their children about the divorce, although their children need them to do so. Chapters Two, Three, and Four demonstrate that children adjust better when they receive effective parental explanations that answer their basic questions about why the divorce is occurring and what will happen to them. Unfortunately, most parents do not talk with their children about their concerns because it makes parents feel too guilty to see their children's hurt and anger. Because parents who are ruled by guilt want to avoid the topic, they steer away from their children's questions, worries, or sadness in order to manage their own guilt. As a consequence, children do not receive the explanations they need and have more difficulty coping with the breakup.

Parental guilt also leads to other problems for children. For example, parents who feel guilty about the divorce are overly critical of themselves, which often leads to depression and, in turn, causes parents to withdraw from their children and others. This is especially problematic because self-punitive parents who become depressed are less available to children at precisely the time children feel most insecure and in greatest need of emotional contact with their parents.

Parental guilt also increases problems for children by intensifying conflict between their parents. As emphasized earlier, children are hurt when they are exposed to parental fighting or pressured to take sides between their parents. Divorcing parents need to take steps to insulate their children from whatever acrimony or bitterness may exist in the parental relationship. Guilt plays into this all-important issue of embroiling children in parental conflicts. We have just seen how some parents use guilt over the divorce to blame themselves excessively. In contrast, some other parents try to deflect their guilt and shame over the divorce by blaming their former spouses for everything that went wrong in the marriage. These parents rigidly divert all the blame and cannot consider any valid criticisms or recognize their contribution to or shared participation in marital problems. Sharing any responsibility for what went wrong would open the floodgates of their own unacceptable feelings of guilt, failure, and inadequacy. When this defensive stance of blame is adopted, no parental conflicts can be talked about and resolved, and anxious children become insecure adults as they are exposed to unrelenting parental battles.

Most important, guilt undermines parents' ability to discipline children. It is hard enough to discipline children and adolescents in these times anyway; with the breakup it becomes even harder. Perhaps the single most widespread problem in the aftermath of divorce is parents' inability to discipline their children (for example, a mother might say, "If I try to discipline my son, he'll just go live with his Dad!"). When parents feel guilty about the divorce, they find it even harder to take a firm stand, say no, and effectively enforce the rules they have set. Afraid of the child's disapproval, parents become permissive and begin to bargain or plead with the child to behave. Recognizing that they have gained the upper hand in the parent-child relationship, children become manipulative and demanding with parents, aggressive with siblings, and bossy with peers. Clearly, the child develops significant adjustment problems when parents are too guilty or insecure to tolerate the child's protest when they set limits and enforce rules. Chapter Ten examines discipline and the effective childrearing practices parents can employ to help children successfully adjust to divorce.

The following anecdote may help to demonstrate how guilt over the divorce can result in ineffective discipline and cause problems for parent and child alike.

  1. Mrs. Smith
    Although Mrs. Smith had been divorced for two years, she still felt guilty about letting her children down. Family finances were much tighter than they had been before the divorce, and Mrs. Smith felt especially bad because she couldn't buy her teenage daughter, Sarah, many of the things her friends were getting from their parents.

    Mrs. Smith had started working overtime just to avoid having to say no to her daughter so often. She felt bad whenever she had to say no to Sarah and disappoint her. Although the extra money she earned helped to satisfy Sarah, Mrs. Smith felt as if she didn't have enough time or energy left for everything else she had to do. And there certainly wasn't any time left for simply enjoying herself. Life had become a grim routine of meeting everyone else's needs, and Mrs. Smith became increasingly depressed by the burden of so many demands. Finally, she followed the advice of a coworker and met with a counselor.

    Mrs. Smith's counselor was quick to point out all the ways in which her guilt over the divorce had diminished her own personal life and undermined her parenting effectiveness. In particular, the counselor observed that Mrs. Smith's guilt was hampering her ability to effectively discipline her son. Nine-year-old David had acquired a behavior problem since the divorce (only confirming Mrs. Smith's guilt). He would not obey his mother and had recently been sent home from school for talking back to his teacher. The counselor helped Mrs. Smith realize that David's troubled behavior stemmed from her inability to enforce the rules she had set for him, not just because of the divorce.

    In differing ways, Mrs. Smith's guilt was interfering with her ability to take a firm stand and say no to both of her children when necessary. Because she felt that she had hurt David by getting a divorce, she thought she needed to be more understanding and, therefore, more lenient with him. In addition, Mrs. Smith couldn't face David's rebellion when she told him to do something he didn't want to do. This pattern of behavior had evolved to the point where David knew he could say and do almost anything he wanted to his mother and get away with it. The counselor pointed out that once children learn that they can defy a parent, they do not feel a need to be respectful to teachers, coaches, or other authority figures either.

    In the next few sessions with the counselor, Mrs. Smith began to reexamine and rein in her guilt about the divorce. As this burden began to diminish, she started to reclaim the control she had given up and stand up to her son's angry demands. With the counselor's guidance, she instituted a "time-out" program of discipline for her son and began to manage him more effectively. Increasingly, as David could no longer manipulate Mrs. Smith, his behavior at home and school took a turn for the better. Similarly, as she learned to tolerate Sarah's disappointment more realistically, Sarah became less needy and pouty and began to act with more maturity. For Mrs. Smith and many other parents, resolving their guilt over letting the children down allows them to discipline more effectively and to have more realistic expectations of themselves.

How can we put realistic limits on irrational guilt and prevent the parenting problems that stem from it? As before, it is important for divorcing parents to separate the event (for example, the divorce, the remarriage, the relocation to a new home, the birth of a new sibling) from the interaction or way in which parents respond to the event and help children understand and cope with it. We have seen that it does not tell us very much to say that a child is from a nuclear or divorced family. Children can adjust well or poorly in both types of families. Being nuclear or being divorced are not the essential issues. In either type of family there can be mutual respect, support, consistent discipline, effective communication, and an organized household with predictable daily routines. These characteristics of family interaction, regardless of whether the family is intact or divorced, determine children's successful adjustment.

Similarly, threats, loneliness, degrading comments, or competing alliances can exist in intact or divorced homes. These family interaction variables produce unhappy, nonachieving children with adjustment problems. Although this distinction between the event (the divorce) and the interaction (the way parents respond to it) may seem only academic at first, subsequent chapters will show that it largely determines your child's adjustment. Further, the ability to make this distinction gives parents their rightful opportunity to take charge of the divorce process rather than feeling helplessly controlled by it.

In sum, this chapter has emphasized that most of the problems associated with divorce actually are caused by poor parenting: (1) exposing children to ongoing marital conflict and parental wrangling and (2) problematic childrearing practices, especially ineffective discipline. In this context, it is important for parents to realize that children do not have to suffer long-term negative consequences of divorce. Parents can shape their children's positive adjustment by following certain guidelines.

This book gives parents the information they need to respond to their children's questions and concerns and help them successfully adjust to the breakup. These guidelines are not a cure-all, but parents can learn to do much for their children. If parents follow these suggestions, they will often see marked improvement in children who have been struggling with their parents' divorce. This educational program for divorcing parents provides a basic plan of action, and most parents will find they can readily adopt these guidelines for helping their children.

Let's turn now to the subject of children's separation anxieties and the first worry that troubles most young children of divorce—the fear of being left. We will learn what parents can do to allay that fear.

Suggestions for Further Reading

An easy-to-read book, The Smart Divorce: A Practical Guide to the 200 Things You Must Know, by S. Goldstein and H. Colb (Golden Books, 1999) provides practical information and "how-to's" on every aspect of divorce—legal, financial, emotional. In such an emotionally charged area, this helpful book is friendly and easy to read.

Surviving the Breakup: How Children and Parents Cope with Divorce by J. Kelly and J. Wallerstein (New York: Basic Books, 1996) is a comprehensive and scholarly book that describes the experience of divorce from the child's and the parent's point of view. Newer books are available (it was first published in 1980) but none are better.

After the Affair by J. Spring (New York: HarperCollins, 1997) helps couples make thoughtful decisions about whether to divorce after an affair or how to go about reconciling, if possible. This informative book also highlights problems for children when parents

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