The Importance of Fathers
According to the National Center for Fathering, more than 27 million children living in the United States are living away from their fathers. And while many experts argue that there is no scientific evidence to support the importance of fathers, the Center for Substance Abuse Prevention (CSAP) would beg to differ.
A study conducted by the CSAP found that children who grow up without a father figure in their lives are 10 times more likely to be economically disadvantaged, twice as likely to drop out of school, more likely to commit crimes or to behave antisocially, and two to three times more likely to have emotional problems. Fatherless children are also at a significantly increased risk for ]]>drug abuse]]> .
What the Research Says
Research on the importance of the role of fathers in the lives of their children is a long ignored, but rapidly growing area of research. Indeed, fathers appear to play a crucial role in three important areas of their children’s lives:
- Cognitive abilities
- General health and well-being
Research has shown that children who have a father or a father figure who is actively involved in their lives do better in school, have lower levels of delinquency, and attain higher levels of education and economic self-sufficiency.
On average, children who are raised from birth in two-parent families have better cognitive behavior and behavioral outcomes than children raised in single-parent homes. This difference can be seen as early as preschool, where children who have fathers in their lives have been shown to develop better nonverbal skills, such as planning and building.
In support of the theory quality over quantity, one study in Sweden found that a father’s behavior had a significant impact on his child’s behavior. In this study, the less time fathers lived with their children, the more behavioral problems their children displayed. However, this was only true if the fathers engaged in low levels of antisocial behavior (illegal activities, irritable and aggressive behavior, and fiscal and emotional impulsivity and irresponsibility). Children whose fathers engaged in high levels of antisocial behavior had greater behavioral problems the more time they lived with their fathers.
Health and Well-Being
During the child's school-age years, fathers are important to both boys and girls in terms of sex-role identity, especially boys, who identify more with their fathers than their mothers. And although many children say they consider their fathers to be stricter than their mothers, they also appear to respond more readily to the system of rewards and punishments that fathers tend to use.
What the Research Means
So, what does all this research mean? It means that, under most circumstances, a father’s presence is as crucial to a child’s healthy development as is the mother’s.
But, being there physically or financially is just part of the equation. The level of your emotional involvement in your children’s upbringing also has an effect on their mental and emotional well-being.
Good male role models help adolescent boys develop their gender characteristics. They also help adolescent girls form their opinions of men as well as their ability to relate to them. The good news is you don’t necessarily have to live with your children in order to be a positive influence on them. You just need to actively involve yourself in their lives. Even if you are not their biological father, your involvement can still make a world of difference.
Another plus to being an involved father is that not only are you contributing to the psychological development of your children, but your children are playing a role in your psychological health and well being as well.
Being a good parent means understanding your children, this includes their activities and their friends. Not sure how to begin? Here are some tips from the Alcohol and Drug Information Clearinghouse that may help:
- Communicate. Take 15 minutes from your day and have a conversation with your child. Ask how his day went or offer to take him to dinner or some other outing.
- Listen. And do so without lecturing or being judgmental. Nonstop lecturing may alienate your children.
- Respect their privacy. If your child is older, allow a little more personal space than her younger brothers and sisters. Respect her time alone or with friends. Just make sure she knows that she can always come to you if she feels like talking.
- Be there. Make a point of attending your child’s school events and recreational activities (sports games, school plays, graduation). Not only will it make your child feel loved, but it may help him enjoy school and keep his grades up.
- Give your kids responsibility. Allow them to make their own choices and make them take responsibility for the bad ones. For example, you can’t force your daughter to study, but you don’t need to bail her out if she fails the class either.
- Be fearless. Talk to your teen about tough issues. Avoiding these discussions may send the message that you don’t care. Studies show that children, especially teens, are affected by their fathers’ attitudes toward topics like sex or illicit drug use.
- Be creative. If, for whatever reason, you can’t have regular face-to-face contact with your children, support them in other ways. Make sure the child support gets paid and don’t miss your scheduled visitation days. If you are divorced or separated from your children’s mother, work to maintain an amicable relationship with her. Constantly fighting with your ex may hurt your kids emotionally.
Administration for Children and Families
Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA)
National Fatherhood Initiative (NFI)
Canadian Mental Health Association
Canadian Psychiatric Association
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Bonnett D. Fathers play an important role in prevention. The NCADI Reporter website. Available at: http://ncadi.samhsa.gov/ . Accessed November 5, 2003.
Divorce rate statistics. Americans for Divorce Reform website. Available at: http://www.divorcereform.org/ . Accessed November 11, 2003.
Henderson J. On fathering (the nature and functions of the father role). Part II: Conceptualization of fathering. Can J Psychiatry. 1980;25:413-431.
The importance of father figures in a teen’s life. The National Clearinghouse for Alcohol and Drug Information website. Available at: http://ncadi.samhsa.gov/ . Accessed November 3, 2003.
Jaffee SR, Moffitt TE, Caspi A, et al. Life with (or without) father: the benefits of living with two biological parents depend on the father’s antisocial behavior. Child Development. 2003;74:109-126.
Listening dads are champs. US Department of Health and Human Services website. Available at: http://www.mentalhealth.org/ . Accessed November 3, 2003.
Marshall DB, English DJ, Stewart AJ. The effects of fathers or father figures on child behavioral problems in families referred to child protective services. Child Maltreat. 2001;6:290-299.
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Last reviewed May 2009 by ]]>Theodor B. Rais MD]]>
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