I regularly hold a debate with my university students to respond to the question, “Are Father’s Necessary?” Every time we discuss this, there is at least one student who talks about how once their parents divorced they lost contact with their father. Almost every one of these young adults mourns that loss. Some had fathers who were abusive or neglectful, and for them the feelings are more complex. They don’t want that unhealthy behavior in their life, but they long for the positive connection that they wish they could have had with their father. Some were able to find father figures, men who were involved in their lives through the community, schools, sports and so forth who filled an important role in their lives.
As we celebrate Father’s Day in the US this weekend, I thought it appropriate to think about the ways that fathers and other nurturing adult males support child and adolescent development. Sometimes in all our conversations about parenting, fathers seem to get over looked.
Research has shown that fathers are important in the cognitive and emotional development of young children (Cabrera, Shannon, & Tamis-LeMonda, 2007). Fathers can help combat the stereotypical media portrayals of males for both boys and girls. Rather than being the stupid, insensitive foil to the sassy mom that is frequently shown on television, fathers can show their kids that males can be smart, nurturing caregivers. In this article Joe Kelly talks about how fathers can help their daughters develop body confidence through the physical play that fathers tend to do more than mothers. Researchers have even found that positive and strong attachment and trust between fathers and adolescents has a protective factor on the kinds of activities that adolescents engage in on the Internet (Lei & Wu, 2007).
There is also an interesting line of research that examines the ways that fathers can act as a buffer between children and a mother who is struggling with mental illness, emotional disorders, or adjustment difficulties. The point is, fathers have an important role to play in their child’s life. It may be a different but complimentary role to the mother, or single fathers may find themselves working to provide their child with a full range of guidance.
So how do fathers maximize their opportunities to influence their child? Here are a few ideas:
Cabrera, N.J., Shannon, J.D. & Tamis-LeMonda, C. (2007). Fathers’ Influence on Their Children’s Cognitive and Emotional Development: From Toddlers to Pre-K. Applied Development Science, 11, 208-213.
Lei, L & Wu, Y. (2007). Adolescents’ Paternal Attachment and Internet Use. CYBERPSYCHOLOGY & BEHAVIOR, 10, 633-639.