A Father’s Impact on Child Development
There are tremendous advantages that are afforded to children who have active, involved fathers during childhood and adolescence. The Fatherhood Project, a non-profit fatherhood program seeking to improve the health and well-being of children and families by empowering fathers to be knowledgeable, active, and emotionally engaged with their children, researched the specific impacts of father engagement during the different childhood development stages.
Here are 10 important facts that were collected during their research:
10 Facts About Father Engagement
- Fathers and infants can be equally as attached as mothers and infants. When both parents are involved with the child, infants are attached to both parents from the beginning of life.
- Father involvement is related to positive child health outcomes in infants, such as improved weight gain in preterm infants and improved breastfeeding rates.
- Father involvement using authoritative parenting (loving and with clear boundaries and expectations) leads to better emotional, academic, social, and behavioral outcomes for children.
- Children who feel a closeness to their father are: twice as likely as those who do not to enter college or find stable employment after high school, 75% less likely to have a teen birth, 80% less likely to spend time in jail, and half as likely to experience multiple depression symptoms.
- Fathers occupy a critical role in child development. Father absence hinders development from early infancy through childhood and into adulthood. The psychological harm of father absence experienced during childhood persists throughout the life course.
- The quality of the father-child relationship matters more than the specific amount of hours spent together. Non-resident fathers can have positive effects on children’s social and emotional well-being, as well as academic achievement and behavioral adjustment.
- High levels of father involvement are correlated with higher levels of sociability, confidence, and self-control in children. Children with involved fathers are less likely to act out in school or engage in risky behaviors in adolescence.
- Children with actively involved fathers are: 43% more likely to earn A’s in school and 33% less likely to repeat a grade than those without engaged dads.
- Father engagement reduces the frequency of behavioral problems in boys while also decreasing delinquency and economic disadvantage in low-income families.
- Father engagement reduces psychological problems and rates of depression in young women.
Overall, the impact that fathers and father figures can make is substantial. Just as there are many positive aspects to father involvement, the effects of father absence can be detrimental as well.
According to the 2007 UNICEF report on the well-being of children in economically advanced nations, children in the U.S., Canada and the U.K. rank extremely low in regard to social and emotional well-being in particular. Many theories have been explored to explain the poor state of our nation’s’ children. However, a factor that has been largely ignored, particularly among child and family policymakers, is the prevalence and devastating effects of father absence in children’s lives.
For starters, studies repeatedly show that children without fathers positively present in the home suffer greatly. Even before a child is born, their father’s attitudes regarding the pregnancy, behaviors during the prenatal period, and the relationship between their father and mother may indirectly influence risk for adverse birth outcomes. In early childhood it is well known that school-aged children with good relationships with their fathers were less likely to experience depression, to exhibit disruptive behavior, or to lie. Overall, they were far more likely to exhibit prosocial behavior.
In adolescence, the implications of fatherless homes are incredible, as these children are more likely to experience the effects of poverty. Former president George W. Bush even addressed the issue while in office, stating, “Over the past four decades, fatherlessness has emerged as one of our greatest social problems. We know that children who grow up with absent-fathers can suffer lasting damage. They are more likely to end up in poverty or drop out of school, become addicted to drugs, have a child out of wedlock, or end up in prison. Fatherlessness is not the only cause of these things, but our nation must recognize it is an important factor.”
Narratively speaking, many individuals can attest to the fact that the lasting impact of a father in child’s life cannot be denied. Many would admit that they have struggled with feelings of abandonment and low self-esteem, due to the lack of a father’s love in their lives. Some have turned to drugs, alcohol, risky sexual activities, unhealthy relationships, or other destructive behaviors to numb the pains of fatherlessness.
Although the absence of their father is not an isolated risk factor, it definitely can take a toll on the development of children. This is important to take note of, as many would argue that one parental role is more significant than the other. That is simply not true.
According to Psychology Today, researchers have found these narratives to be true. The results of father absence on children are nothing short of disastrous, along a number of dimensions:
- Children’s diminished self-concept, and compromised physical and emotional security (children consistently report feeling abandoned when their fathers are not involved in their lives, struggling with their emotions and episodic bouts of self-loathing)
- Behavioral problems (fatherless children have more difficulties with social adjustment, and are more likely to report problems with friendships, and manifest behavior problems; many develop a swaggering, intimidating persona in an attempt to disguise their underlying fears, resentments, anxieties and unhappiness)
- Truancy and poor academic performance (71 percent of high school dropouts are fatherless; fatherless children have more trouble academically, scoring poorly on tests of reading, mathematics, and thinking skills; children from father absent homes are more likely to play truant from school, more likely to be excluded from school, more likely to leave school at age 16, and less likely to attain academic and professional qualifications in adulthood)
- Delinquency and youth crime, including violent crime (85 percent of youth in prison have an absent father; fatherless children are more likely to offend and go to jail as adults)
- Promiscuity and teen pregnancy (fatherless children are more likely to experience problems with sexual health, including a greater likelihood of having intercourse before the age of 16, foregoing contraception during first intercourse, becoming teenage parents, and contracting sexually transmitted infection; girls manifest an object hunger for males, and in experiencing the emotional loss of their fathers egocentrically as a rejection of them, become susceptible to exploitation by adult men)
- Drug and alcohol abuse (fatherless children are more likely to smoke, drink alcohol, and abuse drugs in childhood and adulthood)
- Homelessness (90 percent of runaway children have an absent father)
- Exploitation and abuse (fatherless children are at greater risk of suffering physical, emotional, and sexual abuse, being five times more likely to have experienced physical abuse and emotional maltreatment, with a one hundred times higher risk of fatal abuse; a recent study reported that preschoolers not living with both of their biological parents are 40 times more likely to be sexually abused)
- Physical health problems (fatherless children report significantly more psychosomatic health symptoms and illness such as acute and chronic pain, asthma, headaches, and stomach aches)
- Mental health disorders (father absent children are consistently overrepresented on a wide range of mental health problems, particularly anxiety, depression and suicide)
- Life chances (as adults, fatherless children are more likely to experience unemployment, have low incomes, remain on social assistance, and experience homelessness)
- Future relationships (father absent children tend to enter partnerships earlier, are more likely to divorce or dissolve their cohabiting unions, and are more likely to have children outside marriage or outside any partnership)
- Mortality (fatherless children are more likely to die as children, and live an average of four years less over the life span)
Tips for Dads
Dads! It is vital that you make every effort to become actively involved in your child’s life – whether you live in the same home as them or not. Here are some great ways to create healthy, positive engagement with your children (adapted from the Modern Dad Dilemma):
- Speak positively to, and about, their mother. It is so important to be on the same page as their mother about what you desire your role to be, and what that will look like. This is especially important in situations where the relationship is severed through divorce or separation. Be clear and respectful, emphasizing your desire to be an involved father to your children. Also, speak positively about her in front of your children! You may have your disagreements at times, but your child needs to know that you respect their mother. They are just as much her child as they are theirs! Speaking poorly of their mother will only damage your relationship with them.
- Create a vision for fatherhood engagement. Twenty years from now, what do you hope your children say about you as a father? What do you hope they don’t say? Answering these questions will help you clarify your sense of purpose as a dad and guide you in important decisions with your own children. How can you get there?
- Be the bridge between your own father and your children. Whether or not you look to your father (or mother) as a model for parenting, the legacy of our parents, for better and for worse, lives inside each of us.This is why it’s important to explore and understand your family legacy, particularly your relationship with your father. How will you pass on the positive aspects of your relationship with your father to your own children? How will you avoid repeating the negative aspects of your relationship with your father?
- Establish a ritual dad time. One way to spend positive time with your child regularly is to create a Ritual Dad Time. This is not meant to replace more frequent rituals like taking your kids to school or reading to them at bedtime. Get together as father/child at least once a month, minimally for at least one to two hours and with only one child at a time (this may be difficult for larger families, but it is essential for building a one-on-one relationship). Choose an activity you both agree on. You may allow your child to choose or alternate who decides. We don’t recommend executive decisions, except in cases of extreme resistance. Make sure you talk during your time together. Using “action talk” (i.e., shooting baskets or playing video games while talking) is great, but men also need to model face-to-face dialogue for children of all ages. You don’t always need a distraction! Be consistent. The ritual does not have to be on the same day each month, but make sure it happens so your child can count on it. Try scheduling your next ritual time at the end of each time together!
- Know your children. Every child craves the interest, attention, and presence of their primary caregivers.They need you to know who they are as unique individuals, not as vessels for our own grand plans or unrealized dreams. By becoming an expert about your children’s lives – knowing what a certain look on their face means, the best way to get them to sleep, who their friends are, what they’re doing in school, what causes them stress — you send a clear and powerful message that they are worthy of your time, interest and attention.
- Be known by your children. Letting your children know more about you through storytelling is a great way to strengthen your bond. What were you like at your child’s age? What mistakes did you make? How did you handle embarrassment? What were your friends’ parents like? Not only do stories humanize you and give children a sense of where they come from, but they can also be an effective way to initiate meaningful dialogue with your child.
Here at Children’s Bureau, we hope that you recognize your tremendous value as fathers! You can truly make a difference in the lives of your children, and the benefits will be long-lasting! Dads, we appreciate you more than you know!