Social scientists who study family dynamics are discovering (or rediscovering) the “Dad Effect”—which describes the tangible, measurable benefits children enjoy when they have an emotionally engaged and physically present father in their lives.
“When fathers are actively involved with their children, children do better,” according to Penn State sociologist Paul Amato, whose specialty is parent-child relationships. “Research suggests that fathers are important for a child’s development.”
Engaged fathers are those who foster warm, loving interactions with their kids on a regular basis, not just on special occasions or holidays. By doing so, they positively influence their kids’ cognitive, emotional, physical, moral and psychological development.
Children with engaged dads are healthier, do better in school, are less prone to depression, and have a more positive self-image than their fatherless peers. A dad’s involvement in a child’s life has even been linked to a decreased risk of obesity.
And these advantages tend to last a lifetime.
A study from Brigham Young University found that “the single strongest predictor of all aspects of family functioning” was “satisfaction with core family leisure that included the father’s involvement… such as eating dinner together, participating in hobbies and informal sports or yard activities together, watching television together, or playing board games and video games together.”
In contrast, the majority of high school dropouts, youth suicides, juvenile delinquents and runaways come from fatherless homes. Fatherless children generally do worse in school, are twice as likely not to graduate from high school, and have higher rates of drug abuse and teen pregnancy, than children who live with their biological fathers. They also have double the odds of winding up incarcerated, even after accounting for other risk factors such as race, income, parental educational level and place of residence.
And since fatherless children are also more likely to grow up in poverty, with all the attendant social ills that accompany early deprivation, a father’s financial support is also incredibly important. But it’s only one of the many positive “Dad Effects” that cannot be duplicated by the state or charitable agencies, however well-meaning they may be.
“Providing subsidized food and medical care to these [fatherless] families does not address their central problems. Social service agencies are no substitute for dedicated, loving, responsible fathers,” wrote Nicholas Zill, a research psychologist at the Institute for Family Studies.
So on this Fathers’ Day, we salute all the good dads out there who, quietly and without fanfare, are doing their best to provide a strong and sturdy foundation for the next generation.
The (Fredericksburg) Free Lance-Star