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The Importance of Fathers
There are millions of children in the United States living 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 3 important areas of their children’s lives:
- Cognitive abilities
- General health and well-being
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.
Children who come from stable homes with involved fathers at very young ages have better emotional security, math, and verbal skills. One study found that highly engaged fathers were predictive of a higher IQ score when their premature infant reached age 3.
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 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 that may help:
- Take time. Do not be too busy to spend time with your child. You may have to give up something, but it will be worth your time.
- Listen. And do so without lecturing or being judgmental. Nonstop lecturing may cause alienation.
- Be a role model.What you say has an effect on your child's development and perception. What you do has a bigger impact.
- Respect the mother.Always. It provides security and a good example for current and future relationships.
- Show affection.Replace your anger and impatience with love, or show it during play. It helps with development and security.
- Be there. Fatherhood is a full-time job. Show up at events, eat dinner together, play, or quietly read a book. Your child notices your presence and your absence.
Administration for Children and Families
National Fatherhood Initiative
Canadian Mental Health Association
Canadian Psychiatric Association
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East L, Jackson D, O'Brien L. Father absence and adolescent development: a review of the literature. J Child Health Care. 2006;10(4):283-295.
Henderson J. On fathering (the nature and functions of the father role). Part II: Conceptualization of fathering. Can J Psychiatry. 1980;25:413-431.
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.
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.
Promoting responsible fatherhood. US Department of Health and Human Services website: Available at: http://fatherhood.hhs.gov/index.shtml. Updated July 21, 2012. Accessed February 9, 2015.
Sarkadi A, kristiansson R, Oberklaid F, et al. Fathers' involvement and children's developmental outcomes: a systematic review of longitudinal studies. Acta Paediatr. 2008;97(2):153-158.
The awesome dad cheat sheet: 18 fatherhood tips they should've handed out at the delivery room. Art of Manliness website. Available at: http://artofmanliness.com/2008/08/03/18-tips-for-being-a-great-dad/. Published August 3, 2008. Accessed February 9, 2015.
Weitoft GR, Hjern A, Haglund B, et al. Mortality, severe morbidity, and injury in children living with single parents in Sweden: a population-based study. The Lancet. 2003;361:289-295.
- Reviewer: Michael Woods, MD
- Review Date: 01/2015
- Update Date: 02/09/2015