Implications of Father Involvement for Childrens Development

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Three types of approaches to the issue of the impact of father involvement on children's social, emotional, and cognitive development can be distinguished. First, in a modern variant of the earlier father-absence theme, sociologists, in particular, have recently examined the impact of nonresident fathers' frequency and quality of contact on children's development. In contrast to this paternal deprivation approach, a second strategy examines the impact of paternal enhancement. This approach asks about the lessons learned from focusing on unusually highly involved fathers, such as occurs in role-sharing and reversed-role families. The third or normative approach focuses on the consequences of the quality and the quantity of father-child interaction on children's development in intact families.

Contact between nonresident fathers and their children. Research in the sociological tradition has focused on large national samples of fathers and children, such as the National Longitudinal Study of Youth, the National Survey of Children, and the National Survey of Families and Households. These surveys reveal a high level of disengagement on the part of nonresident fathers but also, at the same time sufficient variability to permit an examination of the issue of the impact of contact on children's development. A meta-analysis of 63 studies of the associations between nonresident fathers and children's well-being was reported by Amato and Gilbreth (1999). Although they found weak associations between contact and academic success and internalizing problems, there was no link between contact and externalizing problems. In general, frequency of contact with nonresident fathers was not linked to child outcomes. This conclusion is consistent with earlier scholarly evaluations of the evidence (McLanahan and Sandefur, 1994; Seltzer, 1994).

However, quality, not contact or no contact alone, is important in assessing the impact of nonresident fathers. In a follow-up study of 18- to 21-year-old children of African American adolescent mothers, Furstenberg and Harris (1993) found little impact of contact alone on young adults' outcomes but clear beneficial effects if the quality of the relationship were taken into account. Those who reported a strong bond or attachment with their father during adolescence had higher educational attainment, were less likely to be imprisoned, and were less depressed. These effects were especially evident in the case of children living with the father and were only marginally evident for children of nonresident biological fathers. The data suggest that both presence and quality matters; but quality is especially important because fathers' presence is unrelated to outcomes when quality (degree of attachment to father) is controlled. The meta-analysis by Amato and Gilbreth (1999) confirms these earlier findings; a measure of the affective relationship between the father and child (feeling close) was positively associated with academic success and negatively with internalizing and externalizing problems. The effect sizes were modest in magnitude. Second, fathers' authoritative parenting was associated with higher academic success and fewer internalizing and externalizing problems for their children. Authoritative parenting was a better predictor than either frequency of contact or the "feeling close" measure. In addition to quality of involvement, one other variable, namely the amount of fathers' payments of child support, was a significant predictor of children's outcomes, including academic success and children's externalizing behavior although not internalizing behavior. This finding is not surprising, because, as Amato and Gilbreth (1999, p. 559) point out, "fathers financial contributions provide wholesome food, adequate shelter in safe neighborhoods, commodities (such as books, computers, and private lessons) that facilitate children's academic success and support for college attendance." Finally, this effect was evident for both boys and girls and African Americans and European American families. This work reflects earlier and recurring themes in the parent-child literature, namely that quality is the critical factor in determining children's development (Clarke-Stewart, 1988; Wachs, 2000).

Impact of normal variations in intact families on children's development. A voluminous literature has emerged over the past three decades that clearly demonstrates relations between quality of paternal involvement and children's social, emotional, and cognitive development (Biller, 1993;

Parke, 1979,1996; Cabrera et al., 2000; Pleck, 1997). At the same time, considerable evidence shows a good deal of redundancy between fathers' and mothers' impacts on children. There is less evidence that fathers make a unique contribution to children's development.

In a review of the effects of fathers on children, Marsiglio, Amato, Day, and Lamb (2000) examined 72 studies published in the 1990s, with the majority involving young children or adolescents and the remaining concerning young adults. Their review revealed moderate negative associations between authoritative fathering and internalizing and externalizing problems (Baumrind, 1991). The relation held for children and adolescents regardless of age. Moreover, Amato and Rivera (1999) found that the positive influence on children's behavior was similar for European American, African American, and Latino fathers. Marsiglio et al. (2000, p. 1183) offer three important caveats to their conclusion that "positive father involvement is generally beneficial to children." First, most studies rely on a single data source, which raises the problem of shared method variance. Second, as others have noted as well (Parke, 1995, 1996; Amato and Rivera, 1999), many researchers do not control for the quality of the mother-child relationship when examining father effects. Because the behavior and the attitudes of parents are often highly related, this step is critical. Only 8 of the 72 studies reviewed by Marsiglio et al. (2000) did, in fact, control for the quality of the mother-child relationship; 5 of the 8 studies continued to show a father effect after taking into account mother-child effects. For example, Isley, O'Neil, and Parke (1996) found that fathers' levels of affect and control predicted children's social adaptation with peers both concurrently and 1 year later after maternal effects were controlled for (see also Hart, Nelson, Robinson, Olsen, and McNeilly-Choque, 1998; Mosley and Thompson, 1995). Although there is overlap between the effects of mothers and fathers on their children's academic, emotional, and social development, evidence is emerging that fathers make a unique contribution to their children's development (Parke, 1996; Rohner, 1998).

A third caveat concerns problems of inferring direction of causality because studies are correlational and involve concurrent rather than longitudinal assessments (Marsiglio et al., 2000). However, two strands of evidence suggest that the direction of effects can plausibly flow from paternal behavior to child outcomes. First, longitudinal studies support the view that fathers influence their children (for reviews, see Amato and Rivera, 1999; Parke, 1996; Pleck, 1997). For example, Gottman, Katz, and Hooven (1997) found that fathers' acceptance of and assistance with the emotions (sadness, anger) of their children at 5 years of age were related to higher levels of social acceptance with peers at the age of 8. Nor are the effects of fathering on developmental outcomes restricted to childhood. In a follow-up of the classic childrearing study of Sears, Maccoby, and Levin (1957), Koestner, Franz, and Weinberger (1990) reassessed a sample of the original children when they were 31 years old. The most powerful predictor of empathy in adulthood for both men and women was paternal child-rearing involvement when they were 5 years of age. This paternal factor was a better predictor than several maternal variables. In a further study (Franz, McClelland, and Weinberger, 1991), at the age of 41 years, men and women with better social relationships (marriage quality, extrafamilial ties) in midlife had experienced more paternal warmth as children. Although these studies support a father-effects perspective, it is likely that reciprocal relationships will become evident, in which children and fathers mutually influence each other across the life course (Cabrera et al., 2000; Marsiglio et al., 2000; Parke, 1996). (For a review of the father's role in the development of childhood psychopathology, seePhares, 1996.)

The other strand of evidence that supports the plausibility of a father to child direction-of-effects model comes from intervention, studies, and reports of reverse-role families. In recent years, a small minority of families have explicitly explored alternative family arrangements such as role sharing and reversing family roles. In spite of their rarity, these alternative family arrangements can inform us about the possible ways in which families can reorganize themselves to provide flexibility for mothers, fathers, and children (see Radin, 1993, for a recent review) and to assess the impact of increased father involvement on children's development. Russell (1983,1986) examined Australian families in which fathers took major or equal responsibility for childcare. There are distinct consequences for mothers, fathers, and children from parents' role sharing. Most commonly, mothers experience difficulties associated with the physical and time demands of a dual role; in Russell's (1983) sample, 60% of the mothers reported this strain. On the positive side, mothers reported increased stimulation as a result of outside employment, greater independence, and increased self-esteem. Fathers have mixed reactions as well, with 48% reporting difficulties associated with the demands—the constancy and boredom—associated with their full-time caregiving role. On the positive side, 70% of fathers reported that their relationship with their children improved. Other advantages include greater understanding of children, greater awareness of mother-housewife roles, and freedom from career pressures. Although approximately one third of role-sharing parents felt that children improved their relationships with both parents, over one fourth of both parents viewed the mother-child relationship as less strong. In a 2-year follow-up (Russell, 1986), approximately a third of the original families were reinterviewed. Nearly two thirds of both parents continued to view improved father-child relationships as the major advantage of this sharing arrangement. There was an increase in tension and conflict in the father-child relationship as well—a not surprising finding in light of the father's increased caregiver role.

An Israeli study of primary caregiver fathers and their 3- to 6-year-old children (Sagi, 1982; Sagi, Koren, and Weinberg, 1987) found that this arrangement had clear benefits for the children. Over half of the fathers were either equally or more involved in childcare than the mothers were. In addition to the finding that children of fathers with intermediate and high involvement exhibited more internal locus of control than children of fathers with low involvement, it was also found that the intermediate-and high-involvement fathers had higher expectations for independence and achievement and offered more encouragement than low-involvement fathers. Empathy varied positively with involvement as well, with the children of the high-involvement fathers showing the highest empathy scores. Finally, there was evidence of more androgynous gender-role orientation on the part of girls— probably as a result of being reared by more nurturant, involved fathers who were not gender stereotyped themselves and who did not respond to girls in a gender stereotyped fashion (Radin and Sagi, 1982).

Confirmatory evidence of the impact of high levels of father participation on children's development comes from a US study. Radin (1982, 1988) studied 3- to 6-year-old children from families in which fathers were the primary caregivers. Children in these families showed higher levels of internality—a belief in their own ability to control events—than children in traditional families. In addition, children in the role-sharing families scored higher on verbal ability, and their fathers set higher educational standards and career expectations for their children than fathers in traditional families. However, gender-role orientations of the children were not different across the father and the mother primary caregiver families. An 11-year follow-up, when the children were adolescents, assessed the long-term consequences for children as a result of childrearing patterns assessed when the children were preschoolers and when they were 7 to 9 years old. Williams, Radin, and Allegro (1992) found that a greater amount of paternal involvement during the teen's preschool years was predictive of adolescent support for a nontraditional employment arrangement. This included greater approval of both spouses working full time and sharing childcare and less approval of the husbands working full time with his spouse not working and caring for the children on a full time basis. Second, children who experienced high paternal involvement at 7 to 9 years of age were supportive of more nontraditional childrearing arrangements (i.e., high father involvement or shared childcare). In summary, Radin (1993, p. 34) states that "norm-violating parental socialization practices do appear to have an impact on children's gender-related attitudes although it may take a decade to become evident." (Radia, 1993, p. 34). In a related report, Williams and Radin (1992) found no long-term impact of father involvement in childrearing on academic grades or expectations for higher education. Perhaps the models of involved fathers as nonachievement oriented may have diluted their impact on their children's achievement aspirations. In summary, gender roles especially seem to be altered by increased father caregiving participation, but the effects may depend on time of measurement in relation to the child's development.

However, caution is necessary because parents who reverse roles are still rare, and evidence suggesting that children from these families fare better is not conclusive. Such parents may be different in other ways from parents who maintain traditional roles and might have influenced their children differently than traditional parents, no matter which parent stayed home. Moreover, the effect of shared caregiving is usually confounded with the effects of related family characteristics such as maternal employment outside the home. However, it is likely that parents who reverse roles are significantly affected by their choice and that, therefore, the nontraditional environment is at least partially responsible for differences between children from traditional and nontraditional families. As new family role arrangements become more common and more intensively studied, the effects of role reversal and other innovations will be better understood. However, until there is some change in our traditional view about the roles that men and women can or should play in rearing children, few families will either try alternative patterns or persist in them for extended periods (Parke and Brott, 1999).

Finally, a variety of intervention studies aimed at increasing father involvement with their children provide some further evidence that the direction of effects flows in part from father to child (see Fagan and Hawkins, 2000, for a review). For example, studies of fathers and infants have found that fathers who receive parenting training not only increase their involvement (Parke and Beitel, 1986; Parke et al., 1980) but their infants show increased social responsiveness and more play initiations (Dickie and Gerber, 1980; Zelazo, Kotelchuck, Barber, and David, 1977). Studies of fathers with older children, too, show positive changes in father involvement, which in turn improves the father-child relationship (Levant, 1988). Unfortunately, relatively few of these studies systematically assess children's developmental outcomes as well. An exception is a recent study by Cowan and Cowan (2002) who used a randomized design and found that parents (mothers and fathers) who participated in a 16-week series of discussions groups on effective parenting just before to their children's entry into elementary school had children with better school adjustment and higher academic achievement than did parents in a nonparenting oriented discussion group condition. Moreover, the effects of the intervention were evident 6 years later. Although this study involved both mother and fathers as the unit of intervention, these data suggest that experimental modification of fathering behaviors can be an effective way of more clearly establishing the direction of causality in fathering research.

Beyond description: Processes that link fathering and child outcomes. Recent work that has focused on fathers' special style of interacting, namely play, has begun to reveal the processes through which fathers influence children's development (for reviews, see Parke, 1996; Parke and O'Neil, 2000). Parke and his colleagues, for example, examined the relation between father-toddler play and children's adaptation to peers. In one study (MacDonald and Parke, 1984), fathers and their 3- and 4-year-old girls and boys were observed in 20 minutes of structured play in their homes. Teachers ranked these sample children in terms of their popularity among their preschool classmates. For both girls and boys, fathers who were rated as exhibiting high levels of physical play with their children and elicited high levels of positive affect in their children during the play sessions had children who received the highest peer popularity ratings. For boys, however, this pattern was qualified by the fathers' level of directiveness. Boys whose fathers were both highly physical and low in directiveness received the highest popularity ratings, and the boys whose fathers were highly directive received lower popularity scores. Possibly children who interact with a physically playful father and at the same time have an opportunity to regulate the pace and the tempo of the interaction, a characteristic of low-directive fathers, learn how to recognize and send emotional signals during social interactions. Later studies confirmed these findings and showed a link between children's emotional encoding and decoding abilities that are presumably acquired, in part, in these playful interchanges and children's social adaptation to peers (Parke et al., 1988, 1994; Parke, McDowell et al., in press). In addition, fathers' affect displays, especially father anger, seem to be a potent correlate of children's social acceptance. In studies in both the laboratory (Carson and Parke, 1996) and the home (Boyum and Parke, 1995), fathers' negative affect is inversely related to preschool and kindergarten children's sociometric status. Mize and Pettit (1997) found that preschool children whose play with fathers is characterized by mutuality or balance in making play suggestions and following partners' suggestions were less aggressive, more competent, and better liked by peers. Similarly Hart and his colleagues (Hart et al., 1998, 2000) found that greater playfulness, patience, and understanding with children, especially on the part of the father, are associated with less aggressive behavior with peers. Although there is overlap between mothers and fathers, evidence is emerging that fathers make a unique and independent contribution to their children's social development.

Although father involvement in infancy and childhood is quantitatively less than mother involvement, the data suggest that fathers nevertheless do not have an important impact on their offspring's development. Just as earlier research indicated that quality rather than quantity of mother-child interaction was the important predictor of cognitive and social development, (e.g., Wachs, 2000), a similar assumption appears to hold for fathers as well.

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