Experts suggest that children with fathers who are involved in their health and development may grow into teens who are less at risk of depression, behavioral problems and teenage pregnancy. American researchers encourage fathers to play an active role in their children's lives and shed light on the main health and well-being benefits brought by quality paternal presence.
With Father's Day today, a recently published paper invites fathers of all kinds: whether living with their children or not, single fathers, stepfathers or any other kind of paternal figure in a child's life; to up their involvement in the health, development and education of their children in a reliable and constant manner. The study's authors underline the key role that fathers play in child development, a role that's far from redundant compared to mothers' roles.
The importance of the father's role in child development is by no means a new discovery. However, over time, the authors of a recent study were able to observe that children who grew up with a father figure involved in their lives tended to experience fewer symptoms of depression, behavioral problems and teen pregnancies. Preterm babies were also seen to gain weight more easily.
The father's clichéd role as a more vigorous, risk-taking play partner was also corroborated. When playing with their children, fathers often encouraged them to explore and take risks, while mothers offered stability and security. Fathers who regularly play with their children effectively "protect" them from symptoms of anxiety and help develop their creativity, the study revealed.
With very young children, fathers can have a positive impact on language development and mental health. For example, the study showed that fathers are more likely to use new words when talking to babies and young children. Involved fathers also encourage the development of harmonious social interactions and social competence.
Single mothers have no reason to worry, however, as an involved male presence -- such as divorced fathers, grandfathers, uncles -- can be just as effective, provided the person is committed to the well-being of the child and the role is assured long term.
Beyond providing financial support, the researchers remind fathers that it's important to spend time with their children. Make time to share a meal together, go to the park, talk to children, read them stories, listen to them, etc. These activities are all the more important in new family contexts, such as step-families and parents living apart.
The study is published in the journal 'Pediatrics'.