Australian Study: Fathers Vital to Well-Being of Children

September 25, 2013 by Robert Franklin, Esq.

Judges should read this (Sydney Morning Herald, 9/1/13). So should state legislatures. So should the National Organization for Women and other anti-father groups. It’s yet another article about yet another study about the many beneficial effects fathers have on their children. Read the article, and while doing so, again and again ask yourself the question, “Why do judges limit fathers’ and children’s time together to four days per month plus a little extra during the summer?”

It’s as if they’re legally bound to give the lion’s share of parenting time to just one parent, that being the mother in upwards of 90% of cases, depending on the country. I know of no law anywhere that prohibits a judge from awarding equal, or roughly equal, parenting time between mothers and fathers. And yet they almost never do it. It’s like The Walking Dead out there, with judges and legislators wandering blank-eyed and uncomprehending in a single direction.

One reason for the horror show quality of custody cases is that neither judges nor legislators take the time to educate themselves in the social science of child well-being. Yes, every custody decision they make is, by law, supposed to promote the “best interests of the child,” so you’d think they’d get some training in just what that consists of. After all, there are literally decades of science on the matter of family structure and child well-being, the value of fathers to children, etc. But to read judges’ orders in custody cases, you’d think we know nothing of the matter. Sadly, the only ones who don’t are the ones making the laws and those charged with issuing the orders based on those laws.

As I’ve mentioned before, a fathers’ rights organization in the UK sent a Freedom of Information request to Great Britain’s Judicial College, the entity that trains judges. They asked for all the social science the JC used to train family court judges on the importance of fathers to children. The rather indignant reply came back in short order saying they had no social science on the matter and wouldn’t use it if they did.

Amazingly, that sort of radical anti-intellectualism is all too common in family courts. They’re going to keep doing what they do because that’s what they do. They have no interest in what actually promotes the best interests of children according to reams of science. And, as it turns out, that means separating children from their fathers. As the study in Australia shows, that’s bad for kids. Will anyone listen?

Children with involved fathers have better social skills, more successful relationships, stronger self esteem, more self-control and higher grades than those who do not.

They are also less likely to be overweight, suspended from school or bully, take drugs, engage in risky sexual behaviour or crime.

As fathers take a more active role in parenting there is growing evidence of the benefits to children, a report from the University of Western Australia’s fathering project shows.

The report, How fathers and father figures can shape child health and wellbeing, has reviewed all the research published in the past decade on the influence of fathers.

”We shouldn’t underestimate the vast importance of fathers in children’s lives because of the significant impact fathers have on the social, cognitive, emotional and physical wellbeing of children from infancy … into their adult life,” it states.

Fathering project leader Bruce Gibson said fathers were highly influential because children were very sensitive to what their father thought of them.

”Kids have a notion that somehow dad is optional, that he could walk away at any time, whereas mum is stuck with the kids,” Dr Gibson said. ”They have a radar out for what dad has to say, how he treats them.”

Dr Gibson said if both parents said the same thing to their child it had four times the impact than if just the mother said it.

The fathering project report found physical activity was a key way fathers influenced their children, helping to teach them limits, self-control and how to face challenging situations. Father/child play also encouraged healthy diet and exercise habits. Mothers tended to provide comfort in times of distress.

Children who spent more time with their fathers during their transition to adolescence had better social skills and higher self-worth than those who spent less one-on-one time with their fathers. ”The same effect was not observed for mothers,” the authors said.

Children with distant, unsupportive and cold fathers were at greater risk of developing a mental illness like depression, anxiety or bipolar disorder as an adult. They were twice as likely to have a substance abuse problem and 10 times as likely to be involved in crime.

”Research specific to fathers indicates that their influence on alcohol and illicit drug use in children may be distinct and stronger than that of mothers,” the report states.

Dr Gibson said an involved father made his children feel worthwhile, and therefore less vulnerable to peer pressure. ”Kids think ‘my dad is really busy but he’s willing to spend time with me’. It makes kids feel very special and worthwhile.” He cautioned that a disciplinarian, authoritarian father had just as much negative effect on a child as an absent father.

Fatherhood expert Steve Biddulph said fathers influenced their sons and daughters in different ways. ”Girls regard dads as their first role model for the opposite gender [while] boys look to dads for how to behave.”

Mr Biddulph, the author of Raising Boys and Raising Girls, said there had been a trebling in the amount of time fathers spent teaching, helping and playing with their children.

”The younger generation of dads that I speak to simply love being dads, they find it gives a sense of worth and purpose beyond the often impersonal satisfactions and frustrations of the corporate world,” he said.

”Parenthood is a muddle-through kind of activity, you are always learning and stumbling, and once [you] get used to that, it makes you more real, relaxed, and humble.”

Rebecca Giallo from the Parenting Research Centre said men need to look after their mental health if they are to be good fathers.

”When a father is experiencing good mental health he’s more available to children to be responsive to their needs, to engage in play and learning activities and experience what is important to children,” Dr Giallo said. ”He’s also an important support in the family if the mother is having difficulties.”…

The Fathers and Families Research program at the University of Newcastle has found that children who engage in rough and tumble play with their dads learn how to read social signals, regulate their emotions, stay within limits and take ”manageable” risks.

"Rough and tumble play influences how well a child controls their emotions and activity,” researcher Jennifer StGeorge said. New research by Dr StGeorge suggests children whose fathers spend more time playing with them have lower risk-taking behaviours.

There you have it, same song, 5,000th verse. On a wide range of outcomes – personal, health and social – children with fathers do better than those without. Absent or distant fathering isn’t good enough. So what do courts do? Of course, they make the father as distant and unimportant as possible. Four days a month visitation is about as distant as you can get and still be called a parent, and it’s all but guaranteed to promote bad outcomes for the kids. A visitor is a visitor, not a parent.

And let’s be clear. As a society, we want children with the type of characteristics those with involved fathers typically display. We want kids with better social skills, more awareness of boundaries, less involvement with drugs and alcohol, better emotional health and cognitive skills. Society benefits from involved fathering. So why do courts do everything in their power to prevent it?

Can anyone answer that question?

Thanks to Don for the heads-up.

The National Parents Organization is a Shared Parenting Organization

The National Parents Organization is a non-profit that educates the public, families, educators, and legislators about the importance of shared parenting and how it can reduce conflict in children, parents, and extended families. Want to get involved?  Here’s how:

Together, we can drive home the family, child development, social and national benefits of shared parenting. Thank you for your activism.

#sidney, #Australia, #NOW, #father, #ParentsResearchCentre, #Parenting, #Bruce Gibson, #RebeccaGiallo

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