The Importance of Fathers
There are millions of children in theUnited Statesliving away from their fathers. And while some argue that there is no evidence to support the importance of fathers, there have been past studies showing that children without a father figure are more likely to be economically disadvantaged, drop out of school, commit crimes or to behave antisocially, suffer from drug abuse, and have emotional problems.
What the Research Says
Research has shown that 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 inSwedenfound 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 do not necessarily have to live with your children 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 cannot force your daughter to study, but you do not 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 do not 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 cannot have regular face-to-face contact with your children, support them in other ways. Make sure the child support gets paid and do not 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.
The importance of fathers in the healthy development of children. Child Welfare Information Gateway website.
Blanz B, Geisel B, Laucht M, et al. Role of the father in development of school-age children. Results of an epidemiologic study. Z Kinder Jugendpsychiatr. 1986;14:5-31.
Bonnett D. Fathers play an important role in prevention. The NCADI Reporter website.
Divorce rate statistics. Americans for Divorce Reform website.