The Role of Fathers with Daughters and Sons
How dads boost kids intellectually, developmentally, and socially.
By Kristen Finello
Why Dads Matter
Fathers play an important role in a child's development from birth through adulthood. In fact, numerous studies have reached the same conclusion: Children with involved fathers have an advantage -- socially and academically -- over children with distant or no relationships with their dads. "We found that fathers who are involved with their children have children with fewer problems," says Maureen Black, PhD, a researcher and professor of pediatrics at the University of Maryland School of Medicine. "That added involvement from a father helps children tremendously." Specifically, her research found better language skills and fewer behavioral problems in children with an actively involved father. Interestingly, this result holds true even if the father doesn't live in the same home as the child -- for example, in divorce situations. It appears that how involved the dad is -- not where he lives in relation to the child -- is the crucial factor.
According to a study at the University of Illinois, children with fathers who take the time to ask about what they learned in school and their day-to-day social activities and relationships do better in school than kids who don't have that kind of input or interest. And it's important to note that this father figure doesn't have to be a biological father in order for children to benefit. It can be an adoptive father, stepdad, or an adult male in the household. Researchers at the University of Oxford in England reached the same conclusion about the link between paternal involvement and academic success in their study of 17,000 British school children. Says psychologist Eirine Flouri, one of the study's authors, "An involved father figure reads to his child, takes outings with his child, is interested in his child's education, and takes a role equal to the mother's in managing his child." Children with this type of dad were more likely to get good grades in school, she found.
Dad's Impact on His Sons
Besides those benefits, there are some positives specific to a good father-son relationship. For example, the researchers at the University of Oxford also report that boys who have involved fathers are less likely to get in trouble with the police as they get older. Other pluses, according to experts: A good dad can be a positive role model for boys and help them to adopt a healthy gender identity as well as a better awareness of their feelings and emotions.
However, someone other than the boy's birth father can provide a beneficial male influence. Single mothers can find alternative role models for their boys in an uncle, grandfather, or good friend. If no relatives or close acquaintances are available, then mentoring programs such as Big Brothers can provide a willing volunteer.
Dad's Impact on His Daughters
Girls, too, reap some special benefits from having a close father-daughter bond. According to research from Vanderbilt University, girls who had close, positive relationships with their fathers during the first five years of life tended to reach puberty later than girls who had more distant relationships with their fathers. In addition, the University of Oxford researchers noted that girls who had more involved fathers were less likely to face mental health problems later in life. Genuine praise and admiration from a father can help his daughter grow up to be an independent, confident woman.
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