Connected, but alone?

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Parenting

By Gary Drevitch, published on May 6, 2014 – last reviewed on June 19, 2015

Fathers have long been seen as the less important parent. In Do Fathers Matter?, Paul Raeburn marshals a slew of evidence against this misconception, proving that dads deliver even more than many of us imagined.

As recently as as the 1970s, psychologists and experts had a ready answer to the question of how much fathers contributed to children’s development: Not much.

Admittedly, science journalist Paul Raeburn writes in his new book, Do Fathers Matter?, researchers at the time had little data to prove the value of fathers—but that was because few had taken the time to look into it. “When we bother to look for the father’s impact, we find it—always,” Yale psychiatrist and fatherhood research pioneer Kyle Pruett told Raeburn. Ignoring dads, Pruett says, produced a field of research with “staggering blind spots.”

Today we know better. The body of work that psychologists, biologists, sociologists, and neuroscientists have begun to produce on fatherhood is “one of the most important developments in the study of children and families,” Raeburn believes, even though many findings have yet to receive wide attention.

As for his own family, Raeburn, a father of five, writes, “I’m glad to know my involvement is a good thing. But that’s not why I spend time with my kids. I do it because I like it.”

Following are seven discoveries about paternal influence Raeburn shares in his book, covering life from conception through adulthood:

At Conception: A Battle in the Womb

Harvard University biologist David Haig has detected that some “imprinted” genes—those that can be identified as coming from the male or female parent—compete for resources within the womb. Some paternal genes push the fetus to extract as much nourishment and energy from the mother as possible, even to the detriment of her health, while some maternal genes seek to deliver the fetus only as much as it needs. Haig’s explanation is that “maternal genes have a substantial interest in the mother’s well-being and survival,” while “paternal genes favor greater allocation of maternal time and effort to their particular child.”

In Pregnancy: The Power of Presence

During a woman’s pregnancy, there would appear to be little a father could do to affect the child. A recent University of South Florida study shows that’s not the case. Infants whose fathers were absent during pregnancy were more likely to be born prematurely or with lower birth weights than those whose fathers were present. Such babies were also four times more likely to die within their first year. Even in mothers, complications of pregnancy that would seem to have no connection to male involvement, including anemia and high blood pressure, were more common when fathers were absent.

At Birth: Men Deliver Relief

Old sitcoms showing fathers anxiously pacing in waiting rooms while their wives delivered their children were no exaggeration: From the 1930s, when most U.S. births had moved from the home to the hospital, until the late 1960s, when more men had successfully agitated to gain a place by their wives’ bedsides, delivery was a women-and-professionals only affair, to the apparent detriment of everyone involved. As more men took their place in the maternity ward, women reported feeling less pain, and requests for pain medication declined. Mothers were even less likely to cry. What’s more, men present for their children’s birth report being more attached to their infants and more involved in their care. Letting dads in, Raeburn writes, “pays off in ways no one anticipated.”

Postpartum: An Underreported Risk

How can we gauge the importance of paternal companionship in a child’s early months? In part by observing what happens when infants are deprived of it. One in 10 men experience some form of postpartum depression, Raeburn reports, limiting their ability to emotionally connect with their babies. Children of fathers with major episodes of postpartum depression appear to be eight times as likely as others to have behavior problems as they grow and 36 times as likely to have difficulty getting along with peers.

Toddlerhood: Dads as Bullyproofers

University of Oxford researchers visiting families beginning in babies’ first year found that when fathers maintained a remote relationship with their infants, those children later had higher rates of aggressive behavior, no matter how their mothers had interacted with them. In a related meta-analysis of 24 studies of paternal involvement, Swedish researchers found that kids whose fathers helped care for them, played with them, and took them on outings had fewer behavioral problems in early childhood and a lower likelihood of delinquency as adolescents.

Early Childhood: Look Who Gets You Talking

In at least one aspect of childhood—acquiring language—fathers simply matter more than mothers. For example, researchers studying parental roles in language development among poor, rural children found that a father’s use of vocabulary when reading to kids at six months of age predicted their expressiveness at 15 months and their use of advanced language at age three—regardless of the mother’s educational level or how she spoke to the children. The hypothesis: Since mothers spend more time with children, they’re more likely to use words with which kids are most familiar, while fathers, less attuned to their children’s linguistic comfort zone, introduce a wider vocabulary.

The Teen Years: The Scent of a Father

For years, evolutionary biologists have puzzled over why girls with absent or departed fathers tend to reach sexual maturation earlier and have higher rates of teen pregnancy. Bruce Ellis of the University of Arizona studied families with divorced parents, and daughters who were at least five years apart, in which the older daughter would have had several more early years of “exposure” to a present father. He found that the younger sisters had their first periods about 11 months earlier than their older siblings did. Psychologist Sarah Hill of Texas Christian University told Raeburn that she believes a father’s absence delivers girls asubconscious cue about “the mating system they are born into”: Men will not stick around, so they need to find mates quickly. Their genes then effectively push the girls into earlypuberty. (This effect is more pronounced in families in which the absent fathers had not been a positive presence while in the home.) What’s the source of this phenomenon? Ellis believes it could be a father’s scent. In animal experiments, there is evidence that sustained exposure to a father’s pheromones can slow down puberty, although that hypothesis remains largely untested in humans.

Father’s Matter

By Ryan Anderson
Posted on The Daily Signal on June 12, 2014

Dads matter.

As we head into Father’s Day weekend, that statement may seem like a cliché. But the tragic reality is that if people seeking to redefine marriage succeed in their efforts, it will become less likely in the future that Americans will have involved fathers. After all, the best way to ensure that a father will be involved in the life of his children is by attaching him to them and their mother in marriage.

While the law might be “evolving,” children aren’t. Every child has a father and deserves a relationship with a father. They still need fathers because, among other reasons there is no such thing as “parenting”—there is mothering, and there is fathering. While men and women are each capable of providing their children with a good upbringing, there are, on average, differences in the ways that mothers and fathers interact with their children and the functional roles that they play.

Dads play particularly important roles in the formation of children. As Rutgers University sociologist David Popenoe explains, “The burden of social science evidence supports the idea that gender-differentiated parenting is important for human development and that the contribution of fathers to childrearing is unique and irreplaceable.” Popenoe concludes:

We should disavow the notion that “mommies can make good daddies,” just as we should disavow the popular notion…that “daddies can make good mommies.”… The two sexes are different to the core, and each is necessary—culturally and biologically—for the optimal development of a human being.

Social science confirms the importance of a married mother and father for children. According to the best available sociological evidence, children fare best on virtually every examined indicator when reared by their wedded biological parents. Studies that control for other factors, including poverty and even genetics, suggest thatchildren reared in intact homes do best on educational achievement, emotional health, familial and sexual development, and delinquency and incarceration.

While the law might be “evolving,” children aren’t. Every child deserves a relationship with a father.

A study published by the left-leaning research institution Child Trendsconcluded: “it is not simply the presence of two parents…but the presence of two biological parents that seems to support children’s development.” According toanother study, “the advantage of marriage appears to exist primarily when the child is the biological offspring of both parents.”
President Barack Obama helpfully summarized the data in a 2008 speech:

We know the statistics—that children who grow up without a father are five times more likely to live in poverty and commit crime; nine times more likely to drop out of schools and twenty times more likely to end up in prison. They are more likely to have behavioral problems, or run away from home, or become teenage parents themselves. And the foundations of our community are weaker because of it.

Obama understands why fathers are so essential for children. He grew up without his father. When he addressed the all-male graduating class of Morehouse College last year, he emphasized the importance of fathers, saying, “I have tried to be for Michelle and my girls what my father was not for my mother and me. I want to break that cycle.”

But redefining marriage sends the opposite message: It signals that men and women are interchangeable—and that mothers and fathers are replaceable. Redefining marriage makes it more about the desires of adults than the needs—and rights—of children. Just consider Spain, which has gone so far as to not list the name of mother and father on birth certificates, but instead lists the names of progenitor A and progenitor B.
At one point in American life, virtually every child received the great gift of being raised to adulthood in the marital bond of the man and the woman—the mom and the dad—whose union gave them life. Today, that number is under 50 percent in some communities, and the consequences are tragic.

Same-sex marriage didn’t cause this, but it does nothing to help it and will only make things worse. Indeed, it will lock in the distorted view of marriage as an institution primarily concerned with adult romantic desires, a view of marriage that fueled the sexual revolution, the hook-up culture, no-fault divorce, and out-of-wedlock childbearing. Enshrining this view of marriage in law through a formal redefinition of marriage makes rebuilding the marriage culture much more difficult.

The breakdown of marriage most hurts the least well-off. A leading indicator of whether someone will know poverty or prosperity is whether, growing up, he or she knew the love and security of having a married mother and father. Marriage reduces the probability of child poverty by 80 percent.

Fathers matter, and marriage helps to connect fathers to mothers and children. This Father’s Day, let’s celebrate fathers and marriage.

Ryan T. Anderson, Ph.D., researches and writes about marriage and religious liberty as the William E. Simon senior research fellow in American Principles and Public Policy at The Heritage Foundation. He also focuses on justice and moral principles in economic thought, health care and education, and has expertise in bioethics and natural law theory. He’s the author of the forthcoming book, “The Future of Marriage and Religious Liberty.” Read his research.

Unprepared Fathers

Since as far as we can remember, fathers were important and very necessary to the family for two main reasons. The first reason is procreation. Women are unable to conceive and give birth to children by themselves. A woman’s egg needs to be fertilised by a sperm provided by a man. And after the child is born, the father is needed to provide for him and the family. Even this is changing.

Recently, the geneticist J. Craig Venter showed that the entire genetic material of an organism can be synthesized by a machine and then put into what he called an “artificial cell.” This was actually a bit of press-release hyperbole: Mr. Venter started with a fully functional cell, then swapped out its DNA. In doing so, he unwittingly demonstrated that the female component of sexual reproduction, the egg cell, cannot be manufactured, but the male can. (Greg Hampikian, Men, Who Needs Them)

Even the father’s role as Provider is not as crucial as before. Thanks to feminism, women received protection from abuse and exploitation, were given access to education (women have been a majority of college graduates since the 1980s, and their numbers are growing), and has become more financially independent (between 1948 and 2001, the percentage of working age women employed or looking for work nearly doubled–from less than 33 percent to more than 60 percent). Their increase in financial power made paternal financial support less necessary for some families. In short, fathers grew increasingly unnecessary, redundant in the family.

Over the last 2 to 3 decades, we have seen families changing. Some would disagree and say that, rather, they are breaking down. They are breaking down as a result of a deliberate conspiracy to deconstruct the family. It is believed that it all started with John Stuart Mill who, in his book On Liberty, famously called for ‘experiments in living’ so that we might learn from one another. He argued that there could be a public benefit in permitting lifestyle experimentation. His reasoning was that, just as we distinguish truth from falsehood by the clash of opinion, so we might learn how to improve human lives by permitting a contest in lifestyles. For about 30 years we have been conducting such an experiment with the family. The time has now come to appraise the results.

In the 1970s and 1980s many people argued that the traditional family – based upon a married biological father and mother and their children – was outdated. Under the guise of ‘freedom of choice’, ‘self-fulfilment’, and ‘equal respect for all kinds of families’, feminists and social rebels led a campaign to experiment with different family structures. Sometimes it was claimed that women and children did not need men, and were, in fact, often better off without them.

Gone are the days when only husbands had the prerogative to divorce their wives because they were financially independent. Today, more divorce are initiated by the wife and one of the reasons is because they have taken over from their husbands as the breadwinners of the family. And now that they are capable of supporting themselves and their (the wives) children, husbands are seen as unnecessary and are pushed out of the family. I personally know of at least one family in which this is happening as I write.

Related article: More than Money: How to make a marriage work when she is bringing home the bacon

So, fathers, if you want to remain relevant in your family, it is beneficial for you to take on an added role of care-giver and nurturer of your children.

Many studies back up the fact that infants, children and teens of highly involved fathers fare much better socially, emotionally and cognitively as compared to those with absent fathers. Here are some of the findings:

  • Cognitive Development: Infants of highly involved fathers, as measured by amount of interaction, including higher levels of play and caregiving activities, are more cognitively competent at 6 months and score higher on the Bayley Scales of Infant Development (Pedersen, Rubinstein, & Yarrow, 1979; Pedersen, Anderson, & Kain, 1980).
  • By one year they continue to have higher cognitive functioning (Nugent, 1991), are better problem solvers as toddlers (Easterbrooks & Goldberg, 1984), and have higher IQ’s by age three (Yogman, Kindlan, & Earls, 1995).
  • Emotional Development: Father involvement is positively correlated with children’s overall life satisfaction and their experience of less depression (Dubowitz et al., 2001; Field, Lang, Yando, & Bendell, 1995; Formoso, Gonzales, Barrera, & Dumka, 2007; Furstenberg & Harris, 1993; Zimmerman, Salem, & Maton, 1995), less emotional distress (Harris et al., 1998), less expressions of negative emotionality such as fear and guilt (Easterbrooks & Goldberg, 1990), less conduct problems (Formoso et al., 2007), less psychological distress (Flouri, 2005), greater sense of social competence (Dubowitz et al., 2001), higher levels of self-reported happiness (Flouri, 2005), fewer anxiety symptoms, and lower neuroticism (Jorm, Dear, Rogers, & Christensen, 2003).
  • Social Development: Children of involved fathers are more likely to demonstrate a greater tolerance for stress and frustration (Mischel, Shoda, & Peake, 1988), have superior problem solving and adaptive skills (Biller, 1993), be more playful, resourceful, skilful, and attentive when presented with a problem (Mischel et al., 1988), and are better able to manage their emotions and impulses in an appropriate manner.

Sadly, only 20 per cent of American households consists of married couples with children, and in most of them the fathers are missing. As a result:

  • 43% of US children live without their father [US Department of Census]
  • 71% of pregnant teenagers lack a father. [U.S. Department of Health and Human Services press release, Friday, March 26, 1999]
  • 63% of youth suicides are from fatherless homes. [US D.H.H.S., Bureau of the Census]
  • 85% of children who exhibit behavioral disorders come from fatherless homes. [Center for Disease Control]
  • 85% of youths in prisons grew up in a fatherless home. [Fulton County Georgia jail populations, Texas Department of Corrections, 1992]

I could go on citing statistic after statistic…but I think you’ve got the idea. Fathers are not just needed to produce children, his presence and active involvement is vital for their development thereafter.

Now that we have established that fathers play a very important role in their families and in the lives of their children, yet the fact remains that men enter fatherhood very unprepared.

Women have been prepared from a young age for motherhood through the toys they play with – dolls, doll houses and cooking sets. If a girl has younger siblings, she typically becomes the de facto ‘second mom’ to them. Men, on the other hand, are not taught how to be a father in the same way that women are taught how to be a mother. Society sends men the message that fatherhood is merely a stage in a man’s life in which he has the responsibility of taking care of another human being. In our capitalistic society, taking care of another human being for a man boils down to being able to provide for them. To be Provider, Breadwinner.

Are you entering fatherhood soon? Or perhaps you are a father already? Do you feel inadequate for the role? If you do, help is just a click away.

Click on this link to find out more about our newest course designed specially with you, fathers, in mind. It will equip you with skills in building trust and connection with your children.

5 Commitments Of All Great Dads

Posted on Father a Nation blog

A FATHER IS HIS SON’S FIRST HERO AND HIS DAUGHTER’S FIRST ROMANCE – THE MOST IMPORTANT MAN IN THEIR LIVES. YET BEING A GREAT FATHER DOESN’T JUST HAPPEN. IT’S A CONSCIOUS CHOICE.

In all the work I have done around fatherhood I have noticed a pattern – here are the five things all great fathers commit to.

FATHER. KNOW THY SELF

The first commitment is to be the man his children need him to be. This starts with the realization that the quality of what we as men are able to impart to our children is determined by the quality of our inner lives. None of us arrived at adulthood unscathed by our childhood. We are all driven in some measure by the emotional forces that grew out of our childhood experiences, good or bad, and the beliefs we formed in response to those experiences.

The more conscious we are of these forces and beliefs, the more we are able to deal with them. The less conscious we are the more likely we are to be driven by negative emotions and beliefs and pass them on to our children. Pain from our past that is unresolved is pain we are condemned to repeat, often at the expense of our children.

Great dads are committed to being conscious, to breaking any destructive emotional cycles, and dealing with their own issues so they can impart the right stuff to their children. Great dads are committed to being the man they want their sons to become and their daughters to marry.

FATHER KNOW THY CHILD

The second commitment is to call out the unique identity of your child. To be truly seen is one of the great needs of all of us and to see our childen can be our greatest gift to them. Great dads make it their goal to be the first man who truly sees their son or daughter, to know what makes their hearts come alive.

Every child is unique and their life script is written into their hearts. The father who helps his child discover and know who they are and gives them permission to be fully who they are gives them a great gift. His message is: I see you, I know you, come out and be the man or woman you were made to be. And he can only do this by investing a lot of time engaging with his children, deeply and without distractions.

I’M OKAY! BUT YOU? YOU ARE TERRIFIC!

A great father’s third crucial commitment is to validate his child. So many people enter adulthood with a sense of inadequacy. Men doubt they have what it takes to be a man, women wonder if they have anything worthwhile to offer the world. Great fathers validate their children from a very young age. Their children know they are worthy and that their life counts.

This comes from affirming not just what their children do but who they are. The message is – you matter, you are wanted, you are deeply loved, I delight in you. And the message is conveyed in a thousand different ways – words of affirmation, a gentle touch, a look, a smile and with time. This blessing from a father will remain as a cloak of affirmation wrapped around a man or woman’s heart long after their father has passed on.

PROTECT

The fourth commitment of great dads is to create a sanctuary in which their children can grow and thrive; physically, emotionally and spiritually. The children of great dads feel safe. They know masculinity as a place of refuge, safety and consistency. They see their fathers as strong, gentle and present. Providing the right physical and emotional environment requires a man to nurture, protect and provide. Even when not living in the same house as their children great fathers continue providing to the best of their ability, continue to protect and never stop being present.

BOUNDARIES, LESSONS AND LOVE

The last crucial commitment of great dads is to equip their children for life. This starts with imparting the life skills and emotional intelligence they will need to succeed. Dads do not leave the education of their children in the ways of the world to the media and their peers, they become the principal in their children’s school of life.

Every man has it in him to be an extraordinary father. If we all consciously and intentionally embrace these five commitments – even if we don’t get it right all the time – we will be well on our way to building great lives for ourselves while laying the foundation for our children to build their own great lives.

The Involved Father

By Glenn Stanton. Posted on FocusOnTheFamily.com

PARENTING ROLES

Fathers are just as essential to healthy child development as mothers. Psychology Today explained, “Fatherhood turns out to be a complex and unique phenomenon with huge consequences for the emotional and intellectual growth of children.”1

Erik Erikson, a pioneer in the world of child psychology, asserts that a father’s love and a mother’s love are qualitatively different. Fathers “love more dangerously” because their love is more “expectant, more instrumental” than a mother’s love.2 A father brings unique contributions to the job of parenting a child that no one else can replicate. Following are some of the most compelling ways that a father’s involvement makes a positive difference in a child’s life.

FATHERS PARENT DIFFERENTLY.

Fathering expert Dr. Kyle Pruett explains that fathers have a distinct style of communication and interaction with children. By eight weeks of age, infants can tell the difference between their mother’s and father’s interaction with them.

This diversity, in itself, provides children with a broader, richer experience of contrasting relational interactions. Whether they realize it or not, children are learning, by sheer experience, that men and women are different and have different ways of dealing with life, other adults and children. This understanding is critical for their development.

FATHERS PLAY DIFFERENTLY.

Fathers tickle more, they wrestle, and they throw their children in the air (while mother says . . . “Not so high!”). Fathers chase their children, sometimes as playful, scary “monsters.”

Fathering expert John Snarey explains that children who roughhouse with their fathers learn that biting, kicking and other forms of physical violence are not acceptable.3 They learn self-control by being told when “enough is enough” and when to settle down. Girls and boys both learn a healthy balance between timidity and aggression.

FATHERS BUILD CONFIDENCE.

Go to any playground and listen to the parents. Who is encouraging kids to swing or climb just a little higher, ride their bike just a little faster, throw just a little harder? Who is encouraging kids to be careful? Mothers protect and dads encourage kids to push the limits.

Either of these parenting styles by themselves can be unhealthy. One can tend toward encouraging risk without consideration of consequences. The other tends to avoid risk, which can fail to build independence and confidence. Together, they help children remain safe while expanding their experiences and increasing their confidence.

FATHERS COMMUNICATE DIFFERENTLY.

A major study showed that when speaking to children, mothers and fathers are different. Mothers will simplify their words and speak on the child’s level. Men are not as inclined to modify their language for the child. The mother’s way facilitates immediate communication; the father’s way challenges the child to expand her vocabulary and linguistic skills — an important building block of academic success.

FATHERS DISCIPLINE DIFFERENTLY.

Educational psychologist Carol Gilligan tells us that fathers stress justice, fairness and duty (based on rules), while mothers stress sympathy, care and help (based on relationships). Fathers tend to observe and enforce rules systematically and sternly, teaching children the consequences of right and wrong. Mothers tend toward grace and sympathy, providing a sense of hopefulness. Again, either of these disciplinary approaches by themselves is not good, but together, they create a healthy, proper balance.

FATHERS PREPARE CHILDREN FOR THE REAL WORLD.

Involved dads help children see that attitudes and behaviors have consequences. For instance, fathers are more likely than mothers to tell their children that if they are not nice to others, kids will not want to play with them. Or, if they don’t do well in school, they will not get into a good college or secure a desirable job. Fathers help children prepare for the reality and harshness of the world.

FATHERS PROVIDE A LOOK AT THE WORLD OF MEN.

Men and women are different. They eat differently. They dress differently. They cope with life differently. Girls and boys who grow up with a father are more familiar and secure with the curious world of men.

Girls with involved, married fathers are more likely to have healthier relationships with the opposite sex because they learn from their fathers how proper men act toward women. They know which behaviors are inappropriate.

They also have a healthy familiarity with the world of men — they don’t wonder how a man’s facial stubble feels or what it’s like to be hugged by strong arms. This knowledge builds emotional security and safety from the exploitation of predatory males.

Boys who grow up with dads are less likely to be violent. They have their masculinity affirmed and learn from their fathers how to channel their masculinity and strength in positive ways. Fathers help sons understand proper male sexuality, hygiene and behavior in age-appropriate ways. As noted sociologist David Popenoe explains, “Fathers are far more than just ‘second adults’ in the home. Involved fathers — especially biological fathers — bring positive benefits to their children that no other person is as likely to bring.”4

Helping families thrive with the support of friends like you.

1. “Shuttle Diplomacy,” Psychology Today, July/August 1993, p. 15.
2. As cited in Kyle D. Pruett, The Nurturing Father, (New York: Warner Books, 1987), p. 49.
3. John Snarey, How Fathers Care for the Next Generation: A Four Decade Study (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1993), p. 35-36.
4. David Popenoe, Life Without Father (New York: The Free Press, 1996), p. 163.

Other articles in The Involved Father Series
Consistent Fatherhood
How Dads Can Stay Involved
Make Time to be Dad
Balance Work and Family
Becoming a Family Man

Celebrating Fatherhood and the Roles of Fathers

Post by Extension Blog

Though Richard Nixon left office under a shroud of controversy, he did leave one lasting legacy that over 70 million United States men can thank him for: Father’s Day.

In 1972, Nixon signed a proclamation making Father’s Day a national holiday, 58 years after the second Sunday in May was declared Mother’s Day. Father’s Day had been celebrated prior to this, but Nixon made it official.

Though these holidays in May and June seem mainstream in our culture now, there was a movement in the 1920s and 1930s to scrap the separate celebrations all together and create one holiday, Parents’ Day.

The Great Depression interfered with this campaign, and Americans now spend over $1 billion each June on gifts for the man of the house.

My father is one-half of a wonderful parenting duo (along with my mom). Plenty of families are set up like mine, but there are a plethora of family dynamics. An uncle, brother, or friend of the family may be the father-figure in your life. Dante Spetter, who teaches Human Development and Adolescent and Young Adult Development, spoke with me about how a father or father-figure plays into a child’s life.

HOW DOES A FATHER CONTRIBUTE TO THE DEVELOPMENT OF A CHILD?

Both parents are very important. Generally, mothers do more of the explicit nurturing, while fathers tend to be more involved in play, particularly physical play and rough and tumble play, relative to mothers. However, fathers do much more hands-on caregiving now than they did a generation ago: changing diapers, getting up at night, taking children to the doctors, sharing drop-offs and pick-ups, and helping with homework.

Prior to the late 1970s, most research on fathers compared children with fathers versus children whose fathers had died or deserted. In the late 1970, however, early childhood research began to focus on a father’s role and not just “father absence” as a variable for investigation. In her doctoral dissertation at Brandeis University, Sheila Brachfeld-Child, now senior lecturer in psychology at Wellesley College, asked mothers and fathers simply “to have fun with your baby.” Completed in early 1980s, it was her impression that for many of the fathers, it was their first and only solo outing with the infants. The fathers’ play style was very active, throwing the children in the air or rolling on the floor. The mothers’ play was more “teaching” and fine motor based: finger plays, singing, and sitting quietly.

And when looking at more recent early childhood literature from Michael Lamb, head of the department of social and developmental psychology at the University of Cambridge, children turned to fathers when they wanted to play and turned to mothers when they were stressed or upset.

HOW DOES THE ROLE OF A FATHER FACTOR INTO THE LIVES OF THEIR CHILDREN ONCE THEY ARE GROWN?

In the second part of adolescence, teens tend to look to their peers as to who they should be at that time, and look to their parents as to who they will become.

When children become parents, they look to their parents as to what they should and should not do. A lot of grown children will look to their fathers as how men should act. See, for example, Raising Cain: Protecting the Emotional Life of Boys by Dan Kindlon and Michael Thompson (also a PBS documentary by the same name). For young girls in particular, their fathers can make a huge impact on their self-esteem and how they grow into women. There are also interviews and autobiographies of Hillary Clinton, Madeline Albright, and many prominent women scientists that emphasize fathers’ influence on girls.

WHAT’S THE IMPACT OF THE MOTHER-FATHER RELATIONSHIP ON CHILDREN?

The more positive the relationship is, the more children will see and understand what a working romantic and working collaborative relationship looks like. When parents work as a well-functioning team, children learn how to work things out. Of course, it is natural for couples to argue. The main thing is to ensure both parties model a respectful attitude during disagreements, so that their children learn how to resolve conflicts in a healthy manner.

Some of the research suggests that “parenting behavior” is the link between parent-parent relationships and adolescent outcomes.

Parents who are distressed, depressed or upset by their poor adult relationships bring fewer resources to the table for parenting. Their parenting behavior is less ideal, and this is what leads to poorer teen outcomes. For example, research by Arriaga and Foshee (2004) examining antecedents of teen dating violence has shown that teens whose parents engage in domestic violence are at risk for violent dating relationships.

On the other end of the spectrum, strong marital quality and spousal support generally have a positive effect on child development. In a Dutch study by Hakvoort, Bos, Van Balen, and Hermanns (2010), mothers’ reports of their marital satisfaction and their reports of the father-child relationship were related to better psychosocial outcomes for the children.

HOW DOES A FATHER-SON RELATIONSHIP DIFFER FROM THE FATHER-DAUGHTER RELATIONSHIP?

There is a lot of variability in father-children relationships. Many factors play into how a father will raise his children, like the age of the father or family size. When it comes to parenting in general, there’s a lot more variability than predictability.

For example, fathers may be stricter with their daughters around adolescence. Fathers may also play a formative role in how a daughter will handle future romantic relationships (Arriaga and Foshee, 2004).

Around adolescence, sometimes sons like to assert they can be their own man, but eventually fathers and sons can develop a buddy relationship. And as I mentioned before with Raising Cain, the relationship between a father and child can really vary and there’s no set model that’s right.

WHAT ARE SOME WAYS CHILDREN CAN EXPRESS THEIR LOVE TO THEIR FATHERS?

It is just as important for men to hear and be shown affection from their children as it is for women.

It’s great when a child does something that says to the father, “Today is your day, and I love you all year long.” Any type of gift, note, or gesture that reflects the father’s interests and the child’s acknowledgement of their different interests is great. For example, I took my stepson to buy a gift for his father when he was much younger. He wanted to buy two action figures, so that he could include his dad in his play. Even though he was young, he was thinking about trying to include his dad in an activity he enjoyed.

Words are very important too. Some men back off from expressing their affection, especially to sons, and their sons then have a harder time expressing affection to their fathers directly. This is true whether it’s verbal or physical affection.

For modern teens, texts or e-mail can be helpful. Forwarding an article or a song may be less anxiety provoking than saying “I love you” out loud, but clearly says “I am thinking of you.” Because teens do this all the time, it doesn’t have to feel like a “big deal,” but fathers will love the connection. This is especially true when teens and fathers do not share a household, and can set the stage for parent-child connection, too.

Lastly, it’s important to recognize that many different people can be in the father role. Father’s Day is the perfect opportunity to remember the other important men in your life and say, “I love you.”

Are there benefits in playing video games?

Post published by Romeo Vitelli Ph.D. on Feb 10, 2014 in Media Spotlight

In the United States alone, an estimated 99 percent of boys and 94 percent of girls play video games with 97 percent playing at least one hour per day.    The revenue from the video game industry topped $25 billion dollars in 2010 alone (compared to Hollywood’s box office sales of $10.8 billion for the U.S. and Canada) and video games have become an important part of popular culture.

Media stories continue to warn about the potential dangers of video game playing, including potential addiction, violent behaviour, and depression, usually in the aftermath of a violent incident linked to video game use (such as the revelation that Sandy Hook Elementary School gunman, Adam Lanza, regularly played shooter games).   After decades of research into the negative effects of video games, the results remain controversial despite a rise in treatment programs intended to wean young people off excessive video game use.

But is video game playing necessarily harmful?   A new review article published in American Psychologist suggests that we need to look at the positive aspects of video game play, as well as the negative.    According to Isabela Granic and her fellow researchers at Radboud University in the Netherlands,  media stories relating to the video game phenomenon largely ignore how video games have changed in recent years to become more complex, realistic, and social in nature.   Research in the last five years has documented the benefits experienced by children and adolescents playing these new, interactive games.     The Dutch researchers suggest that not only do the newer video games provide young people with compelling social, cognitive, and emotional experiences, they also can potentially boost mental health and well-being.

Research into developmental and evolutionary psychology has long underscored the positive benefits of play, especially as children grow and develop.   Not only do social games allow children to test out different social scenarios, they can learn how to handle the kinds of conflicts they might face in the real world.   This allows children to develop social experiences that can be valuable as they mature.    Themes such as power and dominance, aggression, pain, and separation can be rehearsed under non-threatening conditions.   This allows children to learn to cooperate and accept their peers.

More recently, brain researchers examining play fighting in rats have found that play fighting releases chemical growth factors in regions of the brain coordinated for social activiities. This includes the orbital frontal complex which becomes stimulated and more developed as a result.   Since there are strong similarites between some forms of human and animal play, Granic and her colleagues suggest that play can provide the same sort of brain stimulation in human children as well.

Although there is no question that ordinary play can provide a wide range of benefits for young people, does the sort of play allowed by interactive video games produce the same benefits?   Again, Isabela Granic and her co-researchers argue that it does.   Not only do video games allow players to interact with the game systems in a way that would not be possible for more passive forms of entertainment such as movies or television, but they can be played either alone, with others, or in competition with thousands of other online players.    Video games can also be played on dedicated systems such as Playstation or Nintendo Wii, personal or tablet computers, and even cell phones.

Among some of the most popular games played online today is World of Warcraft allowing more than twelve million players to customize their own gaming experience, battle human or computer opponents, and explore complex virtual worlds.   Minecraft has millions of players using simple elements to construct complicated structures and mechanisms to be shared online and to create enormous virtual landscapes.    In The Sims 3, players can create virtual realities where simulated characters can interact with other characters online to learn new skills, work and play in dedicated environments, and form complex relationships.    Given the thousands of other interactive game systems available to players,  it is hardly surprising that the wide range of gaming experiences has spawned a gamer culture with virtual and non-virtual gaming communities around the world and distinctions among casual, “core”, “hard-core”, and even pro gamers earning some or all of their income from gaming in serious competitions.

As for the actual benefits that come from playing video games, Isabela Granic and her co-authors provide a comprehensive review of the research literature showing that video games can develop skills in the following areas:

Cognitive development – Research into action games show enhanced mental rotation abilities, faster and more accurate attention allocation, higher spatial resolution in visual processing.   Meta-analysis studies showed that spatial skills can be learned in a relatively brief time by playing video games and that the results are often comparable to training in formal courses designed to enhance those same skills.    Cognitive advantages from video games also appear to produce greater neural processing and efficiency, improve attention functioning,  and help with pattern recognition.   The best results appear to come from “shooter” video games as opposed to puzzle-solving or role-playing games though modern games tend to be too complex to make easy conclusions about the kind of cognitive benefits they can produce.

Open-ended video games and other interactive media available online allow young people to improve problem-solving skills by learning to solve puzzles through trial-and-error.    Interactive games also appear to improve creativity as well.   Although it is still not clear how well the skills learned from video games generalize to real-world situations, early research results seem promising.

Motivation – By setting specific tasks and allowing young people to work through obstacles to achieve those tasks, video games can help boost self-esteem and help children learn the value of persistence.   By providing immediate feedback as video game players solve problems and achieve greater expertise, players can learn to see themselves as having skills and intelligence they might not otherwise realize they possess.   Gaming helps young people realize that intelligence is incremental, i.e., something that can increase with time and effort rather than being fixed.     Immediate feedback also keeps players in the “zone of proximal development” which allows them to solve problems on their own while working towards specific goals.    Since difficulty level rises as players advance, the skills they gain from gaming continue to improve with time.    Games also provide intermittent reinforcement to encourage players not to give up despite growing challenges.

Again, there is little evidence showing that the motivational benefits from playing video games necessarily carries over into the real world.  Still, many of the problem-solving skills learned in games can be applied to real-life problems.   The motivational benefits from video games likely varies depending on the personality and individual circumstances of the player.

Emotion –  For most gamers, video games are played for enjoyment and to help improve their mood.    Along with distracting them from real-world problems (a special concern for young people looking for escape from bullying or other negative life situations),  succeeding in video games can lead to positive feelings, reduced anxiety, and becoming more relaxed.    Many gamers report intense emotions of pride and achievement by immersing themselves in games that allow a high sense of control that “takes them out of themselves.”    According to Mihály Csíkszentmihályi,  the concept of  flow refers to the mental state often reported by gamers during which they are performing an activity that leaves them fully immersed without feeling self-conscious.  Flow experiences have been linked to positive outcomes such as greater self-esteem and a sense of achievement that can translate to greater mental health benefits though this has not been directly tested in video game research.

The positive emotions that can result from becoming immersed in video games on a regular basis may also increase awareness and encourage a more novel outlook on life.   According to psychologist Barbara Frederickson who first proposed a broaden and build theory of positive emotions,  experiencing positive emotions can help broaden the number of behaviours seen as desirable and build social relationships that provide support for achieving goals and coping with failure.   Frederickson also suggests that positive emotions can counteract the effects of negative emotions which decrease motivation.    While it is still not clear whether video games produce the sort of positive emotions that can lead to the sort of broadening and building to which Frederickson referred to in her research, many gamers report emotional benefits they perceive as important to them.

Social – Perhaps more than ever before, video games have become an intensely social activity.   Instead of the stereotypical gaming nerd who uses video games to shun social contact, over 70 percent of gamers play with friends, whether as part of a team or in direct competition.   Games such as World of Warcraft and Farmville boast millions of users, with online social communities and regular interactions with fellow gamers.   Social and prosocial activities are an intrinsic part of the gaming experience with gamers rapidly learning social skills that could generalize to social relationships in the real world.

Though many games have a violent content, they still provide players with an opportunity to learn social skills by focusing on cooperation with team members.   Research has shown that playing violent video games in groups reduces feelings of hostility better than playing such games alone.   More research is definitely needed, but there seems to be a strong potential value of cooperative play in developing social behaviour and curbing antisocial thoughts and behaviours.

Although video games are largely seen as pure entertainment, their popularity has inspired new initiatives to “gamify” medical interventions to motivate patients and keep them informed about treatment options.   One particular success story involves the  Re-Mission video games, designed for young cancer patients.    Conceived by Pam Omidyar and developed by the HopeLab Foundation, the shooter game allows players to control a nanobot injected into the human body to shoot cancer cells and monitor patient health.   Children playing the game learn about their own illness, side-effects of cancer treatment, and the importance of treatment adherence.   Research studies have already demonstrated that patients playing Re-Mission become better educated about cancer and develop greater treatment self-efficacy.   Already played by more than 200,000 patients, Re-Mission is widely recognized as a valuable tool for cancer treatment.

Countless video games have already been developed for a wide range of different academic subjects,  including everything from foreign languages, history, geography, science, and mathematics.    Research into the teaching value of these games already suggests that educational video games may well represent a new way of teaching that could help meet the challenges faced by educators in the coming decades.   Still, relatively few of these educational video games have ever been formally studied by researchers so the question of quality control remains important.   There is always a tradeoff between making games fun as well as educational and most of the games developed so far tend to have relatively limited appeal.

Despite the potential value of video games,  much of the media coverage up to now has been negative, particularly due to concerns about potential video game addiction and their violent content.   As Isabela Granic and her colleagues point out, attaching labels such as “good”, “bad”, “violent”, or “prosocial” largely overlooks the complex picture surrounding the new generation of video games now available.   Players are drawn to the video games they prefer and the benefits or drawbacks to how they interact with these games is largely shaped by their motivation for playing.

Future research needs to concentrate on both the positive and negative aspect of video game playing to get a better understanding of the influence games can have on social, cognitive, and motivational functioning.   That also includes understanding how games can affect young people at different stages in their development.   Though the current game rating system developed by the video game industry supposedly carries warning labels describing some games as being inappropriate for anyone under certain ages, there is no research to back up the actual value of this.

All that can be said for certain at this point is that video games seem here to stay and their impact, both good and bad, are just beginning to be understood.  Along with addressing the very real problems of video game addiction and media violence,  the potential value of using video games for educational and medical applications, among other things, will be challenges that need to be faced.

Early Academic Training Produces Long-Term Harm

Post published by Peter Gray on May 05, 2015 in Freedom to Learn

Many preschool and kindergarten teachers have told me that they are extremely upset—some to the point of being ready to resign—by the increased pressure on them to teach academic skills to little children and regularly test them on such skills.  They can see firsthand the unhappiness generated, and they suspect that the children would be learning much more useful lessons through playing, exploring, and socializing, as they did in traditional nursery schools and kindergartens.  Their suspicions are well validated by research studies.

A number of well-controlled studies have compared the effects of academically oriented early education classrooms with those of play-based classrooms (some of which are reviewed here, in an article by Nancy Carlsson-Paige, Geralyn McLaughlin,and Joan Almon).[1]  The results are quite consistent from study to study:  Early academic training somewhat increases children’s immediate scores on the specific tests that the training is aimed at (no surprise), but these initial gains wash out within 1 to 3 years and, at least in some studies, are eventually reversed.  Perhaps more tragic than the lack of long-term academic advantage of early academic instruction is evidence that such instruction can produce long-term harm, especially in the realms of social and emotional development.

A Study in Germany that Changed Educational Policy There

For example, in the 1970s, the German government sponsored a large-scale comparison in which the graduates of 50 play-based kindergartens were compared, over time, with the graduates of 50 academic direct-instruction-based kindergartens.[2]  Despite the initial academic gains of direct instruction, by grade four the children from the direct-instruction kindergartens performed significantly worse than those from the play-based kindergartens on every measure that was used.  In particular, they were less advanced in reading and mathematics and less well adjusted socially and emotionally. At the time of the study, Germany was gradually making a switch from traditional play-based kindergartens to academic ones.  At least partly as a result of the study, Germany reversed that trend; they went back to play-based kindergartens.  Apparently, German educational authorities, at least at that time, unlike American authorities today, actually paid attention to educational research and used it to inform educational practice.

A Large-Scale Study of Children from Poverty in the United States

Similar studies in the United States have produced comparable results.  One study, directed by Rebecca Marcon, focused on mostly African American children from high-poverty families.[3]  As expected, she found—in her sample of 343 students–that those who attended preschools centered on academic training showed initial academic advantages over those who attended play-based preschools; but, by the end of fourth grade, these initial advantages were reversed:  The children from the play-based preschools were now performing better, getting significantly higher school grades, than were those from the academic preschools, This study included no assessment of social and emotional development.

An Experiment in Which Chidren from Poverty Were Followed up to Age 23

In a well-controlled experiment, begun by David Weikart and his colleagues in 1967, sixty eight high-poverty children living in Ypsilanti, Michigan, were assigned to one of three types of nursery schools:  Traditional (play-based),High/Scope (which was like the traditional but involved more adult guidance), and Direct Instruction (where the focus was on teaching reading, writing, and math, using worksheets and tests). The assignment was done in a semi-random way, designed to ensure that the three groups were initially matched on all available measures.  In addition to the daily preschool experiences, the experiment also included a home visit every two weeks, aimed at instructing parents in how to help their children.  These visits focused on the same sorts of methods as did the preschool classrooms.  Thus, home visits from the Traditional classrooms focused on the value of play and socialization while those from the Direct-Instruction classrooms focused on academic skills, worksheets, and the like.

The initial results of this experiment were similar to those of other such studies.  Those in the direct-instruction group showed early academic gains, which soon vanished.  This study, however, also included follow-up research when the participants were 15 years old and again when they were 23 years old.  At these ages there were no significant differences among the groups in academic achievement, but large, highly significant differences in social and emotional characteristics.

By age 15 those in the Direct Instruction group had committed, on average, more than twice as many “acts of misconduct” than had those in the other two groups.  At age 23, as young adults, the differences were even more dramatic.  Those in the Direct Instruction group had more instances of friction with other people, were more likely to have shown evidence of emotional impairment, were less likely to be married and living with their spouse, and were far more likely to have committed a crime than were those in the other two groups.  In fact, by age 23, 39% of those in the Direct Instruction group had felony arrest records compared to an average of 13.5% in the other two groups; and 19% of the Direct Instruction group had been cited for assault with a dangerous weapon compared with 0% in the other two groups.[4]

What might account for such dramatic long-term effects of type of preschool attended?  One possibility is that the initial school experience sets the stage for later behavior.  Those in classrooms where they learned to plan their own activities, to play with others, and to negotiate differences may have developed lifelong patterns of personal responsibility and pro-social behavior that served them well throughout their childhood and early adulthood.  Those in classrooms that emphasized academic performance may have developed lifelong patterns aimed at achievement, and getting ahead, which—especially in the context of poverty—could lead to friction with others and even to crime (as a misguided means of getting ahead).

I suspect that the biweekly home visits played a meaningful role.  The parents of those in the classrooms that focused on play, socialization, and student initiative may have developed parenting styles that continued to reinforce those values and skills as the children were growing up, and the parents of those in the academic training group may have developed parenting styles more focused on personal achievement (narrowly defined) and self-centered values—values that did not bode well for real-world success.

What has been your experience with early education, as a parent or a teacher?  What effects have you seen of early academic training, or, conversely, of experience in traditional play-based preschools and kindergartens?  This blog is a forum for discussion, and your views and knowledge are valued and taken seriously, by me and by other readers.  Make your thoughts known in the comments section below.  As always, I prefer if you post your comments and questions here rather than send them to me by private email. By putting them here, you share with other readers, not just with me. I read all comments and try to respond to all serious questions. Of course, if you have something to say that applies only to you and me, then send me an email.

References

[1] Nancy Carlsson-Paige, Geralyn Bywater McLaughlin, & Joan Wolfsheimer Almon. (2015).  Reading Instruction in Kindergarten: Little to Gain and Much to Lose.  Published online by the Alliance for Childhood.http://www.allianceforchildhood.org/sites/allianceforchildhood.org/files… (link is external)

[2]  Linda Darling-Hammond and J. Snyder. 1992. “Curriculum Studies and the Traditions of Inquiry: The Scientific Tradition.” Edited by Philip W Jackson. Handbook of Research on Curriculum. MacMillan. pp. 41-78.

[3] R. A. Marcon,  2002. “Moving up the grades: Relationship between preschool model and later school success.” Early Childhood Research & Practice 4(1).http://ecrp.uiuc.edu/v4n1/marcon.html (link is external).

[4] Larry J. Schweinhart and D. P. Weikart. 1997. “The High/Scope Pre- school Curriculum Comparison Study through age 23.” Early Childhood Research Quarterly 12. pp. 117-143.