The Role of Fathers with Daughters and Sons

How dads boost kids intellectually, developmentally, and socially.

Why Dads Matter

Fathers play an important role in a child's development from birth through adulthood. In fact, numerous studies have reached the same conclusion: Children with involved fathers have an advantage -- socially and academically -- over children with distant or no relationships with their dads. "We found that fathers who are involved with their children have children with fewer problems," says Maureen Black, PhD, a researcher and professor of pediatrics at the University of Maryland School of Medicine. "That added involvement from a father helps children tremendously." Specifically, her research found better language skills and fewer behavioral problems in children with an actively involved father. Interestingly, this result holds true even if the father doesn't live in the same home as the child -- for example, in divorce situations. It appears that how involved the dad is -- not where he lives in relation to the child -- is the crucial factor.

According to a study at the University of Illinois, children with fathers who take the time to ask about what they learned in school and their day-to-day social activities and relationships do better in school than kids who don't have that kind of input or interest. And it's important to note that this father figure doesn't have to be a biological father in order for children to benefit. It can be an adoptive father, stepdad, or an adult male in the household.

Researchers at the University of Oxford in England reached the same conclusion about the link between paternal involvement and academic success in their study of 17,000 British school children. Says psychologist Eirine Flouri, one of the study's authors, "An involved father figure reads to his child, takes outings with his child, is interested in his child's education, and takes a role equal to the mother's in managing his child." Children with this type of dad were more likely to get good grades in school, she found.

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