• Director of Programs, The Fatherhood Project • Author, The Modern Dad’s Dilemma • International Speaker on Fatherhood
The State of Fatherhood Today
(And Why it Matters to Schools)
Findings from the rapidly growing science of early childhood and brain development show that a father’s active participation and emotional engagement with his children leads to improved social, emotional, behavioral, and academic outcomes. The research confirms that a father’s emotional engagement — not the amount of time fathers spend with children, rather how they interact with them — leads to multiple positive outcomes, and serves as a significant protective factor against high risk behaviors in both girls and boys. This holds true for resident and nonresident fathers alike. For example:
More frequent father engagement in their child’s literacy and education results in higher achievement levels in reading and math for the children.
Positive father engagement is associated with lower levels of impulsivity, higher ratings of self-control, and better stress tolerance.
Fathers who become involved in school settings early in their children’s lives are more likely to stay engaged longer.
At The Fatherhood Project at Massachusetts General Hospital, we believe that educators working with families in schools have an unprecedented opportunity to utilize these important findings and dispel the myth that fathers are somehow unimportant or unnecessary to raising healthy children. Our work with schools focuses on:
Strengthening the essential emotional connection between fathers and their children in the early years by offering the opportunity to have fun together while learning and practicing lifelong relationship skills.
Educating the parent community about the positive impact fathers have on child outcomes when they are actively involved in children’s lives at home and school.
Empowering school and parent leaders to create a more father-inclusive school environment.
*The words ‘dad’ and ’father’ are meant to be inclusive of any adult primary or
significant caregiver, including but not limited to stepfathers, uncles, mentors, grandfathers, etc.
POSITIVE IMPACT OF FATHER INVOLVEMENT ON CHILD DEVELOPMENT
Research shows that fathers not only have the capacity for care giving, but that children benefit directly from dads’ parenting contributions. Findings from the rapidly growing science of early childhood and early brain development show the positive, lifelong impact fathers can have by being engaged early in their children’s lives. Yet, more children than ever are growing up without a father. Fathers’ emotional absence has negative effects on child development and is associated with higher rates of crime, poverty, marital conflict and substance abuse. In order for more fathers to become involved in parenting, it is essential for them to understand the advantages to children of fathers’ emotional engagement.
THE FATHER-CHILD RELATIONSHIP
A well-established body of research confirms that a father’s active participation and emotional engagement with his children leads to improved social, emotional, academic and behavioral outcomes. This is true for resident and non-resident dads alike. While some fathers may not be able to be physically present, the most important factor is the child’s feeling of closeness to the father. Non-resident father involvement can have positive effects on children’s social and emotional well-being as well as academic achievement and behavioral adjustment. The quality of the father-child relationship matters more than the specific amount of hours he spends with his child.
Children who feel greater closeness to their father are twice as likely to enter college or find stable employment after high school.
More frequent father engagement in their child’s home literacy and education results in higher achievement levels in reading and math for the children.
Fathers who become involved in school settings early in their children’s lives are more likely to stay engaged later, which increases student achievement.
The more frequently young children are spanked, the higher the odds of increased aggressive behavior two years later.
Father engagement reduces the frequency of behavioral problems in boys while also decreasing delinquency and economic disadvantage in low-income families.
For both boys and girls, positive father engagement is associated with lower levels of impulsivity and higher ratings of self-control.
A positive father-daughter relationship delays initial sexual activity for adolescent girls.
Father involvement leads to: better problem-solving competence, stress tolerance, greater empathy, and moral sensitivity.
Children who grow up without an emotionally present father tend to place responsibility for their problems on others and the world.
Father engagement reduces psychological problems and rates of depression in young women.
High levels of dad involvement are correlated with sociability and confidence in children.
EARLY BRAIN DEVELOPMENT
At The Fatherhood Project, our work emphasizes the importance of teaching parents, children, and professionals about the most current findings from brain development research, as well as providing practical exercises to implement at home and school. The following are brief excerpts of two key concepts from our partners at The Harvard Center On The Developing Child, that we integrate into our work:
EXECUTIVE FUNCTION AND SELF-REGULATION are the mental processes that enable us to plan, focus attention, remember instructions, and juggle multiple tasks successfully. These skills are crucial for learning and development. They also enable positive behavior and allow us to make healthy choices for ourselves and our families. Executive function and self-regulation skills depend on three types of brain function: working memory, mental flexibility, and self-control.
SERVE AND RETURN Science tells us that serve and return interactions are essential to the development of brain architecture. When adults interact with children in a caring, responsive way, they help build and reinforce neural connections in a child’s brain that support the development of important cognitive, social, and language skills. If an adult’s responses are consistently unreliable, inappropriate, or simply absent, children may experience disruptions to their physical, mental, and emotional health.