Dr. Warren Farrell, psychologist and author of Father Child Reunion, was intrigued with why children with active fathers do so well. In an attempt to better understand it, he spent more than a decade analyzing worldwide research.
“I knew when I started this research that dads were important, but I had no idea how important,” says Farrell. “We are 100 percent certain that children do better in 26 different areas when they grow up in intact families. Children clearly pay a price when their fathers walk away or mothers keep dads away.”
A father's impact starts at birth. For example, boys who have contact with their father show greater levels of trust at only 5 or 6 months. A study of black infants found the more interaction the boy had with the father, the higher his mental competence and psychomotor function by the age of 6 months.
As children grow, fathers teach children to have empathy. Dads are usually more firm about enforcing boundaries. Teaching children to
take boundaries seriously teaches them to respect the needs and rights of others.
“Fathers also play a huge role in teaching delayed gratification, the single most important highway to maturity,” Farrell says. “When children are allowed to do something without having to do anything to get there, it undermines this process.”
Children with fathers present in the home do better academically, especially in math and science. This is true even if they come from weaker schools. A study by two Harvard researchers found that even when race, education, poverty and similar socioeconomic factors are equal, living without a dad doubled a child’s chance of dropping out of school.
Another study of boys with similar backgrounds found that by the third grade, boys with present fathers scored higher on every achievement test. They also received higher grades. The more years children spend with single mothers, the fewer years of school they complete.
“When fathers are present, children have better mental health,” Farrell says. “They are more likely to get along well with other children, sleep well at night, be trusting of others, and are less likely to be aggressive or participate in risky behavior.”
The National Center for Health Statistics reports that: “Growing up in an intact family gives children a jump-start in life,” Farrell says. “If a divorce is unavoidable, there are three absolute essentials to give children: "If these three things happen, children tend to grow up almost as well as children in intact families.”
It's very helpful if we understand that what dads do or don’t do really matters. Moreover, the way mothers handle it impacts their child's life forever. Read the entire article here.
And this article from Live Science is fascinating as well:
Feeling dad's love
Rohner and his colleagues recently reviewed decades of studies on parental acceptance and rejection across the globe. Unsurprisingly, parents have a major effect on their kids. When kids feel rejected or unloved by mom and dad, they're more likely to become hostile, aggressive and emotionally unstable. Parental rejection also can lead to low self-esteem, feelings of inadequacy and negative worldviews.
This is true for both parents, Rohner told LiveScience. But in some cases, dad is a more important factor than mom. [History's 12 Most Doting Dads]
Behavior problems, delinquency, depression, substance abuse and overall psychological adjustment are all more closely linked to dad's rejection than mom's, Rohner said.
By the same token, dad's love is sometimes a stronger influence for children than mom's, the researchers found.
"Knowing that kids feel loved by their father is a better predictor of young adults' sense of well-being, of happiness, of life satisfaction than knowing about the extent to which they feel loved by their mothers," Rohner said. He and his colleagues detailed their findings in May in the journal Personality and Social Psychology Review.
Influence and persistence
The research looked only at male father figures, so while the dad in question doesn't have to be biological, the results don't apply to absentee fathers. Rohner and his colleagues aren't certain why fathers sometimes outshine moms in their kids' development. In every family, Rohner said, there is a member with more influence and prestige — the person who might set the weekend plans, for example. In families where dad is that person, his actions might make the greatest impression on the children.
In those cases, "kids tend to pay more attention to what dad does and dad says than mom, and he's going to have more influence," Rohner said.
Dads may also be responsible for endowing their kids with "stick-with-it-ness" that serves them well in life. In a study of two-parent families published Friday (June 15) in the Journal of Early Adolescence, Brigham Young University researchers found that dad's parenting style is more closely linked to whether teens will exhibit persistence than mom's parenting. A persistent personality, in turn, was related to less delinquency and more engagement in school over time.
The magic fathering style that was linked to such persistence in kids is called authoritative parenting, a style characterized by warmth and love, accountability to the rules (but explanations of why those rules exist), and age-appropriate autonomy for kids, the researchers found.
"Our study suggests fathers who are most effective are those who listen to their children, have a close relationship, set appropriate rules, but also grant appropriate freedoms," study researcher Laura Padilla-Walker told LiveScience.
It's not clear why dads might be more important than moms in teaching perseverance, but it's possible that fathers simply focus on this trait more, while moms teach traits like gratitude and kindness, Padilla-Walker said. [5 Ways to Foster Self-Compassion in Your Child]
Being a good dadFortunately for dads, biology is there to back up good parenting. Hormonal studies have revealed that dads show increased levels of oxytocin during the first weeks of their babies' lives. This hormone, sometimes called the "love hormone," increases feelings of bonding among groups. Dads get oxytocin boosts by playing with their babies, according to a 2010 study published in the journal Biological Psychiatry.
Fatherhood also leads to declines in testosterone, the "macho" hormone associated with aggressive behavior, according to research published last year in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. This change is stronger the more involved a dad is with his baby's care, suggesting that it may reduce a man's risk-taking drive and encourage nurturing and domesticity.
What's most important, Padilla-Walker said, is that fathers realize they matter. Quality time is important, she said.
"That doesn't mean going on fancy vacations, it can be playing ball in the backyard or watching a movie with your kids," she said. "Whatever it is, just make yourself available and when you're with your children, be with them."