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ASU student's online program helps children of divorce cope

children lying on floor using laptop computers

“Children of Divorce - Coping with Divorce” teaches children ages 11-16 coping strategies to handle their emotions after their parents’ separation. It was created by Jesse Boring, now an ASU alum.

June 01, 2015

Normal life is tricky enough to figure out when you're a kid. But if you're a kid going through your parents' divorce, life can be suddenly full of scary, sad situations that you have no idea how to handle.

“Children of Divorce - Coping with Divorce,” an online program created by an Arizona State University alumnus, aims to equip children with coping strategies to handle those emotional stressors.

Jesse Boring, program creator and developer, created the program as part of his dissertation at ASU’s Prevention Research Center, now called the REACH Institute.

“Children of divorce aren't different than other kids," Boring said. "But they often have a lot stressful divorce related events to cope with.”

Boring, whose own parents are divorced, researched current programs for children of divorce and what the best practices were for a group format. He then created online modules to teach coping skills to children ages 11 to 16.

“The idea was I can create a program that uses all of the best information we have that we know helps people, and I can put it out to the world where it can get out to people,” Boring said.

Boring, who graduated with a doctorate in clinical psychology, divided his lesson into five modules: feelings and divorce, inside tools, tools for communication, problem-solving, and integrating program skills.

Modules include narration, videos and interactive activities to teach its participants coping skills. Boring said he designed it to mimic how he would respond if he was talking with a child in his office.

“I’d tell them stories about my life to relate to what they’re going through, share my personal reaction to things,” Boring said.

Irwin Sandler, Boring’s adviser and REACH Institute professor, said children are dealing with a variety of stressors during their parents’ divorce, like moving to a new school. Sandler said coping strategies include focusing on positive thoughts vs. negative ones or identifying what is their problem to fix and what they cannot fix, such as a parent’s depression.

“It’s different when kids say, ‘My God, this is terrible, I don’t know how to handle it,’ and try and escape essentially through drugs or acting-out behavior, vs. ‘This is really tough. I know how to handle it,’ ” Sandler said.

The program underwent its clinical trials in fall 2009. Sandler said the randomized control trials involved children receiving Boring’s program or one of two popular children divorce websites. Through their analysis of the study, they found that for every 11 kids who went through the program, one mental-health problem was prevented.

“Kids acquire a sense, ‘I can handle the problems in my life,’ ” Sandler said. “That’s very important, and that translates to [fewer] mental-health problems and a greater sense of efficacy they can move on with.”

The program, which has been used by approximately 100 participants, started out as a free resource for the general public in December 2011. After a year, Boring decided that in order to pay for increased marketing, he would have to put a price tag on the program. Prices range from $29.95 to $49.95, depending on how many children are enrolling. Boring also joined Sandler’s company, Family Transitions – Programs that Work.

The company, an organization created by three ASU professors, helps deliver programs for families experiencing divorce or separation. Boring’s program is one of two programs offered by the company.

Michele Porter, one of the partners of Family Transitions, said both parents and children go through a variety of adjustments with divorce. While parents are figuring out things like financial situations, their children are wondering where they will live, Porter said.

“Kids have questions and sometimes they think it’s their fault, so this program helps them navigate those uncomfortable feelings,” Porter said.

Porter said they’re hoping to make improvements to Family Transitions; they’re applying for a small-business innovation grant and are in the process of commercializing their projects.

Boring also hopes to expand his program into other countries, such as Australia or Great Britain.

“This program can be delivered efficiently, and you can prevent thousands of mental-health problems,” Boring said. “Divorce isn’t just a problem in the United States. It’s a problem all over the world.”