Exploring Divorce with Illustrations

In the face of rising divorce rates, children are more often confronted with parental separation, be it in their own families or in those of friends or classmates. However, we have very limited knowledge about how primary school children communicate about divorce in their peer groups, which (mis-)information and which concepts about divorce-related legal regulations they exchange. Yet, misconceptions and exaggerated ideas may result in uncertainties.

The study ‘SMILE’ investigated together with 8- to 10-year-old children their concepts and communication about parental separation by adopting a participative and innovative methodical approach: Concept cartoons – illustrations showing everyday situations and different characters’ viewpoints – were adopted for use in social sciences for the first time. The study was not primarily interested in investigating what children think about their own parents’ divorce, as numerous studies have done, but included all classmates.

Based on a most different cases design, research was conducted in an urban and a rural Austrian research area, with the highest and the lowest Austrian-wide divorce rate (Vienna and Tyrol). The children were involved in the entire research process (development of concept cartoons, discussions in group settings, dissemination). Jointly produced information leaflets and teaching materials, together with the public and scientific dissemination ensured knowledge transfer and sustainable impact. The study further included discussions with parents, grandparents and teachers and the final conference ‘SMILE goes public’.

This project has been completed.