By: Paul Robertson
(Family Honor Editor’s Note: This article originally appeared on the website of the “Center for Parent/Youth Understanding“. It is being re-posted here with permission.)
We live in a time and culture when the importance of fatherhood is very much maligned. The media has gone out of its way to portray fathers as unreliable, silly and spineless. Can you name even one television program where a father is portrayed as he should be? Not since The Cosby Show has fatherhood been presented as the noble calling it really is.
There is an endless stream of research to show the significant impact an involved father has on the lives of his children. Children with caring fathers who are involved, nurturing and playful are more likely to do better linguistically and cognitively. Even toddlers with involved fathers can be expected to begin school with higher levels of academic readiness. These children also cope better with stress and frustrations in school than kids without involved fathers. The trend to academic achievement continues into the teen years. Teens are likely to have better verbal skills and do better in school thanks to fathers who stay involved. One 2001 study found that highly involved biological fathers had children who were 43 percent more likely than other children to achieve mostly “A” marks and 33 percent less likely to repeat a grade (The Importance of Fathers in the Healthy Development of Children – Rosenberg and Wilcox, 2006).
The same researchers show children with involved dads are more likely to be emotionally secure, be confident to explore their surrounding, and have better social connections with peers as they continue to mature. These same children are less likely to be getting into trouble at home, school and in public.
Fathers who simply spend time in unstructured play with their children will find that their children are adjusted both emotionally and socially. For example, fathers who spend time wrestling with their kids can teach them how to deal with aggressive impulses and physical contact without losing their tempers. Fathers also teach their children the importance of achieving and accomplishing tasks that often lead to teens who are more likely to exhibit self-control and be well-behaved.
In order to stay connected with their children, fathers have been required to play a variety of roles. In light of the complicated and challenging youth culture our kids face, these tasks take on an even greater sense of importance compared to prior generations. We have focused on the five roles outlined by Garret Evans and Kate Fogarty (The Common Roles of Fathers: The Five Ps) from the University of Florida as they apply within the current youth culture.
In the distraction of our daily schedules, we have forgotten the importance of simply being there for our kids. Some children learn that dad only will show up in crisis situations when mom can no longer handle things. Participating fathers are there to help their children with the everyday issues, which in turn leads to more meaningful relationships. It is a great way to teach basic life skills, such as making good choices, choosing good friends and learning to discern the important issues of life. The culture and all its temptations make a father’s involvement crucial. Dad leads the way by being an example of what he wants his children to become. We all know that “more is caught than taught” and it were never truer than in issues of parenting.
Fathers tend to engage in more physical play than mothers, who tend to be nurturers. Roughhousing has a number of benefits—builds muscles and coordination, is a place to teach rules and self-control, teaches taking turns and how to play physically without hurting others. It also is a wonderful time for meaningful conversations and building deep emotional bonds. Dads often underestimate the benefits of simply playing with their kids.
As children turn into adolescence, the physical fun side of life can be carried on into organized sports and recreational activities that offer even more avenues to continue to grow together.
Given today’s youth culture is permeated with an indifference to morality, perhaps the greatest role a father now plays is that of principled guide. It takes a great father to guide his children through their media minefield. Kids are looking for direction and guidance, which need to come from the home. Fathers help young people to see the dangers ahead and how to set boundaries for healthy living. Proper discipline teaches socially desirable behavior and builds character. It enables children to understand the consequences and reality of their own decisions and actions; something that is often missing in the media they watch.
It is important for fathers to catch their children doing something good. We have a natural tendency to only notice our kids when they do something wrong. Guiding fathers recognize and reward the goodness in their children. True discipline is as much about reward as it is correction. Building reasonable, consistent boundaries in a youth world of “anything goes” will pay great dividends in the future for loving parents.
Society still values a father who provides tangible resources for his family. Some fathers believe that if they provide enough material things for their kids that they will be happy. If possessions made one happy, this generation of young people should be the happiest ever. However, most long for relationships more than resources. Dads can provide time helping with homework, attending school activities and caring for their children. There is a nurturing side to fathers that all kids long for. He sets the character example for what he wants his son or daughter to be when they grow up.
Teenagers are dying for relationships. The popularity of such Web sites as Facebook and MySpace are evidence. When surveyed, most young people agree they would rather have interaction with real people. For these young people, time with their father can be a life-changing experience as face-to-face guidance on a variety of life issues can be provided best through real interaction. For example, most kids learn most of what they know about sex from the media. Is there a less trustworthy source than their music and movies? Young people need to hear the truth from dad … and mom.
Many teens and young adults are struggling in the real world because they were never properly prepared for the real world; somehow life is much simpler on TV. Fathers need to help their children discover their God-given gifts and passions and guide them into developing those passions into a God-glorifying vocation. Direction on values, morality, integrity and character also are part of the preparation. Parents want their children to grow up to be responsible citizens and it doesn’t happen by chance. It takes an involved father to assist them in making the right choices in a world where cheating, bullying, intimidation and lying have become the new life-skills to get ahead. The ultimate goal is to prepare them to live life on their own with honor and Christ-like compassion.
In my own research, I’ve asked a number of young people what they expect their father to be in a world that is changing quickly and that often fails to provide positive direction for them. Here is a sample of what I’ve heard.
First, they expect their fathers to ask them how they are doing, how their day was and then take time to listen to their answers. They need to know their father cares about them. In one survey, 73 percent of our teens said having someone to listen to them is “very, very important.” The Internet may be a great place to chat, but is anyone really listening?
Second, they expect their fathers to be consistent and to model the behavior and beliefs they talk about. Fathers are expected to teach moral beliefs and standards, and to be an example. Teens hate hypocrisy and double standards. They want authenticity in their media world of shallowness and lies.
Third, young people long for fathers to love them unconditionally. They need to know that regardless of how stupid they can be, their dad will love them “no matter what.” Teens want to see the emotional and compassionate side of the man they look up to. It makes their fathers human in a rather impersonal, technological world.
Fourth, girls want their fathers to treat them with respect both verbally and physically. Dads need to set the standard for what their daughters should expect from the other men in their life. Honoring your daughter makes her feel worthy and loved and helps her get beyond the simple notion of being an “object” in her youth culture.
Fifth, as much as they need guidance they also need freedom. Freedom is earned as they prove they are responsible. Preparing your teens to live in the real world is a long and complicated process but very rewarding when done properly.
No doubt we live in a busy world where everyone’s schedule is more than full. Fathers feel the pressure—often feeling no one else understands—of providing for the family while juggling a hundred other important issues. However, in the end, dads only get one chance to raise their kids properly. If as one mother said, “When you die, the only thing you take with you is the love and memories of your children,” then the question becomes, “What will their memories of us be?”
©2008, The Center for Parent/Youth Understanding