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June 13, 2018

Research Emphasizes the Role of Fathers in Children’s Socialization and Civic Engagement

Father’s Day sets aside time to honor dads for the role they play in raising kids. New research reinforces the importance of that role, finding that children who have fathers—or father figures—in their lives do better, both academically and socially.

Diann Cameron Kelly, Ph.D., associate professor of social work at Adelphi University, writes in her recent paper, “Generative fatherhood and children’s future civic engagement,” that while mothers protect children, keep them healthy and teach them family values, fathers often are the ones who teach their children how to relate to a patriarchal world outside the home and give children a different sense of physical safety than what mothers provide.

When a father helps his children learn to socialize, and the mother is also emotionally present, children exhibit “higher cognition, increased emotional regulation and improved social behavior,” Dr. Kelly said.

Importantly, she noted that fathers who feel like they may be failures as traditional breadwinners should appreciate the vital benefits they provide their children by being engaged with them. We still live in a patriarchal society, she said, and a father provides an important perspective on how to navigate it.

Dr. Kelly said she expected, and even welcomed, criticism from those who think her research is discounting the contributions of mothers—especially single mothers—to a child’s development and well-being. Mothers are, of course, vitally important to their children. But Dr. Kelly said her ideas about fathers hold true when mothers and fathers are both actively engaged in a child’s upbringing.

Her work, she said, can be used by programs that promote fatherhood to persuade parents to be more active in their children’s lives, or to encourage men to reach out to children in their families who may need a father figure.

The paper was published online in the Journal of Human Behavior in the Social Environment.

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