Friday, December 30, 2005

Delinquent Without Dad

Someone sent me this article from a newsletter:
Depressed Without Mom, Delinquent Without Dad

Mothers help keep teens from falling victim to anxiety and depression; fathers help keep adolescents from turning belligerent and defiant. Of course, in an age of rampant divorce, custodial mothers may try to do their best for their children, but noncustodial fathers can do very little for their offspring's psychological development.

The markedly different ways that mothers and fathers affect their adolescent children's lives are detailed in a study recently published in the Journal of Early Adolescence by a team of researchers at Yale and Florida State Universities. But because so many fathers are now largely absent from their children's lives, the paternal side of the parental equation remains merely a theoretical abstraction for many of the teens in this new study.

Scrutinizing data collected from 116 sixth through eighth grade students (selected so as to be demographically representative for the state of Florida), the Yale and Florida State analysts look for indications of how parents affect their adolescent children's lives. The data in this study clearly indicate that "fathers are less involved in parenting their adolescent children than are mothers and that adolescents report feeling more securely at¬tached to their mothers than to their fathers." The influence of mothers on their adolescent chil¬dren further manifests itself in statistical analyses establishing that for "internalizing problems" (i.e., problems manifest by "extreme shyness, worry, anxiety, and depression), "maternal factors ... outweigh paternal factors in terms of relative influence."

However, when the Yale and Florida State scholars shift their fo¬cus to adolescent children's "externalizing problems" (evident in "hyperactivity, impulsivity, aggression, and delinquency"), the researchers see fathers' influence eclipsing that of mothers. "For externalizing behavior problems in the full sample," the researchers report, "the paternal factors (involvement and attachment) explained significant, unique variance; however, maternal factors did not." Surprisingly, fathers' effect on externalizing behaviors shows up in particular strength among adolescent daughters, "with fathers apparently exerting more influence on girls' externalizing behaviors than on the expression of similar behaviors in their sons."

What is more, when the researchers examine data for "total behavioral problems" for both boys and girls, they conclude that "only the paternal factors of involvement and attachment were found to be uniquely significant." In other words, "for externalizing and total behavioral problems, the father-child variables outweighed the mother child variables" for both genders.

Not surprisingly, adolescent children are not likely to feel attached to a father who does not live with them, nor is an absentee father likely to be very involved in their lives. The authors of this study in fact report that "nonresident fathers were found to be less actively involved, in comparison to resident fathers, in the lives of their teenage children." The researchers further remark that "the teens of nonresident fathers also reported feeling less securely attached to their fathers than did their peers whose fathers lived with them."

Since this new study identifies weak paternal involvement and attachment as statistical predictors of adolescent behavior problems, its findings can only underscore the vulnerability of the many teens now growing up without fathers.
(Source. Susan K. Williams and F. Donald Kelly, "Relationsbips Among Involvement, Attacbment, and Bebavioral Problems in Adolescence: Examining Fatber's Influence," Journal of Early Adolescence 25 [2005]. 168 196, empbasis added.)
By all available measures, fathers raise children with fewer problems than mothers.

1 comment:

George said...

Most kids do not become delinquents, of course. The advantage of looking at delinquency (for academic researchers) is that it is easily measured.

The research says that kids are better off if they see their fathers more.