I want to be very clear from the beginning: single mothers are absolute heroes. In fact, according to the U.S. Census Bureau, out of about 12 million single parent families in 2014, more than 80% were headed by single mothers. Single mothers take responsibility for their child’s well-being in every aspect, in a way that most parents do not. Some are lucky to have a strong male role model in their child’s life, and others have to fill this role as well. Single mothers deserve a tremendous amount of recognition – and so do good fathers.
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A good father helps a child’s development in more ways than simply taking some of the burden off mom’s shoulders. A great dad – or uncle, grandfather, mentor, or close friend – can make a tremendous difference.
Here are six scientifically proven ways that a good father will enrich his child’s life:
1. Fathers teach children to take risks.
By nature, mothers like myself are primarily concerned with keeping our children safe and caring for their emotional health. Fathers, by contrast, are focused on teaching their child to survive in the world. This effect was proven in the Swim Lesson Study, which examined parental behavior while helping toddlers learn how to swim. The researchers found that “fathers tend to stand behind their children so the children face their social environment, whereas mothers tend to position themselves in front of their children, seeking to establish visual contact with the children.” This behavior is also on display when…
2. Fathers roughhouse with their children.
Roughhousing, once seen as the territory of the well-meaning but clueless father, has now been proven to be a crucial part of child development. Of course, it is a physically active way to facilitate bonding in a world where most children do not get enough of either. However, it has also been proven to increase a child’s resilience and intelligence. There is more going on below the surface of rough play. Learning about fairness and setting boundaries encourages children to build emotional intelligence and strengthens their sense of morality.
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3. A father’s presence discourages drug and alcohol abuse.
A study published in the Journal of Marriage and Family examined the impact of family structure and community on drug and alcohol abuse among adolescents. They found that children in single-parent homes were more likely to fall victim to substance abuse, even when accounting for income and community. This was true for children being raised by both single mothers and single fathers. Another interesting finding was that “adolescents are at increased risk of drug use if they reside in communities with a higher proportion of unemployed and out-of-workforce men.” This highlights the idea that even men who are not fathers can have a positive – or negative – impact on the young people around them.
4. Fathers keep children fit.
It is widely accepted that girls learn about fitness and body image primarily from their mothers. However, new evidence shows that this may not be the case. A study published by the National Institutes of Health showed that it is her father’s fitness level, and not her mother’s, that will set the tone for a young woman’s physical health. Another study, published in the Journal of Pediatrics, found that the activity level of preschool children was directly linked to the BMI of their fathers. Whether it is the result of modeled behavior or father-instigated physical outings, children with healthy fathers tend to follow in their footsteps.
5. Fathers discourage teenage sexual activity.
Although this idea is the punchline of many jokes, scientific evidence confirms that it is true. A recent study determined fathers to be twice as influential as mothers when it came to the decisions teenagers make about sex. Another study found that paternal absenteeism leads to a higher risk of early sexual behavior as well as unintended pregnancy. This effect was even more pronounced in daughters than it was in sons.
6. Involved fathers promote scholastic achievement.
A 2001 study by the Department of Education found that students whose fathers were highly involved with their schoolwork were 43% more likely to receive good grades. It did not seem to matter if he was a stepfather, single father, or father with split custody. All that mattered was that he took an interest. Another study highlighted the importance of fathers reading to their children as it relates to their literacy. This was proven to be especially important for boys, who are at risk for mistakenly viewing reading as a feminine activity.
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