Originally Released: December 1, 1999
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Children whose fathers play an active role in their lives develop better language skills and have fewer behavioral problems, even when their fathers do not live at home, according to a study by researchers at University of Maryland School of Medicine and the University of Maryland, Baltimore County.
The study was funded by a grant from the Administration for Children and Families at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. It examined the influence of fathers on children's behavior and development, and found that fathers make a unique contribution to their children's well being. The results were published in the August edition of Child Development.
"As we head into the next century, we're finding that the traditional family model of a married couple with kids and a dog is becoming less common," explains Maureen Black, Ph.D., principal author of the study and professor of pediatrics at the University of Maryland School of Medicine. "We wanted to look beyond the biological role of the father and whether he is absent or present and focus on how he interacts with his children. We found that fathers who are involved with their children have children with fewer problems. That added involvement from a father helps children tremendously," adds Dr. Black.
The research team examined 175 three-year-old children from low-income African American families living in Baltimore. Fathers, or father figures, were identified in 73% of the families. A "father figure" was described as a man who was "like" a father and had contact with the child at least monthly. However, the majority of the men, or 72%, had daily contact with their children.
For the study, fathers and mothers were videotaped playing separately with their children and then were questioned individually about their contributions to the family. The researchers also asked the fathers and mothers how they felt about being parents. Contributions from the father were compared with cognitive abilities of the children. The children's cognitive abilities were determined by a variety of standardized tests measuring language and behavior.
According to the study, fathers who were satisfied with parenting, contributed financially to the family, and were nurturing during play had children with better cognitive and language skills. Fathers who were satisfied with parenting and were employed had children with fewer behavioral problems. When fathers were living with the child, the entire household became more focused on raising that child.
"I think this study shows that fathers do matter," says Howard Dubowitz, M.D., M.S., co-author and professor of pediatrics at the University of Maryland School of Medicine. "Fathers definitely play an important part in children's development. I think these results show that our society should develop family-oriented policies and programs that promote positive father involvement," adds Dr. Dubowitz.
In addition to Dr. Black and Dr. Dubowitz, Raymond Starr, Jr., Ph.D., professor of psychology at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County collaborated on the study.
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