Yet another study highlights the value of fathers to children. Read about it here (Philadelphia Enquirer, 6/16/12). This particular study examined children’s level of persistence, i.e. their ability to carry a task through to completion. It turns out that fathers play an important role in teaching children the type of long-range perspective required for understanding the requirements of – and starting and finishing – a project.
What the study identifies as “authoritative” fathers are best at that. Those dads are distinguished from authoritarian ones primarily because they don’t just lay down rules to be followed, but explain the reasoning behind the rules. So, it’s not just “don’t cross the street without an adult,” but rather “don’t cross the street without an adult because it’s dangerous, you might get hurt and the adult can protect you from harm.”
The researchers emphasized that authoritative parenting is different from authoritarian parenting and has three basic features: children feel warmth and love from their father; children are granted an appropriate level of autonomy; and fathers emphasize accountability and the reasons behind rules.
The ability to persist at a task confers obvious benefits for school performance, but apparently tends to lessen the likelihood of criminal involvement. I suppose those involved in most criminal enterprises tend to be those who need more immediate gratification than most people, so instead of getting a job, saving money and buying a car, they steal one. Think Dean Moriarty.
The study included adolescents aged 11 to 14 in 325 two-parent families; they were followed for several years by researchers from Brigham Young University in Provo, Utah.
About 52 percent of the fathers in the study exhibited above-average levels of authoritative parenting. The children of these fathers were significantly more likely to develop persistence, which led to better outcomes at school and lower levels of delinquency…
“There are relatively few studies that highlight the unique role of fathers,” study co-author Laura Padilla-Walker, a professor in BYU’s School of Family Life, said in a university news release. “This research also helps to establish that traits such as persistence — which can be taught — are key to a child’s life success.”
A great deal of social science shows that fathers and mothers tend to parent differently. From earliest childhood onward, women tend to be more verbal and more protective of their children and men tend to be more physical while teaching kids about the value of setting and maintaining boundaries. Fathers tend to be rule-makers that teach about bearing the consequences of actions. Mothers show how wrong behavior can be forgiven. The list goes on, but there’s no bright line between male and female parenting styles. And of course there are probably few parents who embody a strictly “masculine” or “feminine” style. We’re generalizing here.
Just this morning, my wife and I sat down to breakfast with a couple of old friends who are concerned about their son who is 21 and compiling a below-expectations record in college. This of course concerns them both and, as it turns out, each has had “the talk” with their son. But the dad’s talk with the son was dramatically different from the mom’s. Dad essentially said that this coming year is “make or break” time, i.e. the son either compiles the kind of academic record he’s capable of or the money stops. In truly authoritative fashion, Dad explained why this rule came into play, i.e. they’re wasting money, the son is wasting time and, if he ever wants to get serious about school, there are other alternatives. Mom, by contrast, emphasized solutions to what her son’s academic problems have been – his unwillingness to seek help in time for the help to do some good.
As I listened to them, the differences in mothers’ and fathers’ parenting approach was all too clear; Dad laid down the rules and explained the reasoning behind the rules, while Mom tried to devise a way in which their son could solve his problems and avoid the consequences of failure. To me, it was the classic dichotomy of male/female parenting.
And as we know, because social science has taught us, children need both. The synergy between male and female parenting styles produce children who can come to grips with both the hard and the soft aspects of life, society, personal relationships, work, etc. They understand their own boundaries and that there are rules that must be complied with, but they also understand how to relate to other people and when the rules can be suspended for a time. In short, at the appropriate age, children raised in those homes are ready to become fully functioning members of society. Those who grow up without both parents tend to have a shortage of one skill or another. Indeed, reading the news, I’m often struck by the behavior of young people that fairly shouts “fatherlessness!” That word popped immediately to mind when I read about the riots that engulfed parts of London last year. The entire absence of boundaries on the part of the rioters was too obvious to ignore, and sure enough, after the riots and the inevitable post-riot inquiry, the rioters were found to come overwhelmingly from fatherless homes. It came as no surprise to anyone with a sense of the value of fathers to children.
So now we know a little bit more about that subject – that fathers are instrumental in teaching children about the persistence that every adult requires and that the ability to persist at tasks tends to decrease the chance of a child becoming involved in criminal activities.
Of course the $64,000-Question, “will the courts and legislatures listen?” was not addressed by the study.