Study: Hands-On Dads Have Smarter, Happier Kids

Here’s news of still more research showing the value of fathers to children (LifeSite News, 9/9/11).  The new data come from a long-term study conducted on children in Quebec.  The study found that children with hands-on fathers had fewer emotional/psychological problems and higher IQs than those with absent fathers.

The study carried out by Erin Pougnet, a PhD candidate in the Concordia University Department of Psychology, and associates, used data from the Concordia Longitudinal Risk Project, an intergenerational longitudinal data set collected in inner city areas of Montreal…

One hundred and thirty-eight children and their parents from lower to middle income backgrounds participated in two waves of data collection: at ages 3 to 5, and again at 9 to 13 years old.

The children were given IQ tests, while their mothers completed questionnaires on spousal conflict and the home environment.

The children”s teachers contributed to the research by observing and reporting the child”s behavior at school.

“Teachers were a somewhat more independent source of information than mothers, fathers or children themselves,’ Pougnet said in a press release from Concordia University, “because a father”s absence can result in home conflict, maternal distress and child distress.’

The study found that, “Compared with other children with absentee dads, kids whose fathers were active parents in early and middle childhood had fewer behaviour problems and higher intellectual abilities as they grew older — even among socio-economically at-risk families…’

The study also found that girls were more affected by absent fathers than boys.

“Girls whose fathers were absent during their middle childhood had significantly higher levels of emotional problems at school than girls whose fathers were present,’ said Pougnet.

It’s the study, not the results, that’s news.  We’ve known this for decades now, and much more about the value of fathers to children.  We’ve known, for example, that a father’s active presence provides benefits to children across all socio-economic strata.  In fact, whatever the race, religion, class or geographical location, father presence helps and father absence hurts.

And what that means – or should mean – is that governments and courts should be bending heaven and earth to make sure that fathers take an active role in their children’s upbringing.  Not surprisingly, that’s exactly the message the researchers in the Quebec study want to convey.

The research team suggests that the findings of their study not only contribute to the body of research connecting fathers and childhood development, but should also be used by governments to establish policies that support the role of fathers in their families and society.

“These findings add to the increasing body of literature suggesting that fathers make important contributions to their children”s cognitive and behavioural functioning,’ the report concludes, “and point to the benefits of developing policies that encourage fathers to spend time with their children (i.e., parental leave for men) and promote positive fathering and involvement through parenting courses.’

Of course that last sentence is a bit paltry.  After all, the reason there aren’t more fathers actively involved in their children’s lives isn’t the lack of parental leave for men or too few parenting courses.  Those would be nice I suppose, but they hardly go to the heart of the problem of children without fathers.

No, if you want to get at that problem, you have to profoundly change the behavior of mothers and family court judges.  Someone might point out to the researchers that a man can’t be an active dad when a court has barred him from all contact with his child due to false allegations by the child’s mother.  So one place to start would be to make mothers prove that fathers have actually posed a risk to a child in the past before denying or limiting contact.  They should be required to do so with actual, verifiable evidence as opposed to just their say-so.  The risk should be of actual violence, instead of some vague claim of being placed “in fear.”

As we’ve recently learned, in the late 1990s Oregon amended its family law to promote joint custody, but the effort entirely failed.  Why?  Domestic violence claims by mothers against fathers.  Attorney’s have for years pointed out that allegations of violence and abuse are now routinely made for the sole purpose of gaining the upper hand in custody matters.  And why not?  Those claims, when made by mothers, work like a charm, as indeed they must given the astonishingly low levels of “proof” required to get a court order separating a child from its father.

But even in the absence of false claims of abuse, fathers are still denied any meaningful parenting time with their children as a matter of course.  I’ve pointed out many times that, according to the U.S. Census Bureau, in 1993, 84.2% of custodial parents were mothers.  By 2007, that figure stood at 83.6%.  In short, despite a mountain of evidence promoting fathers’ involvement with children, courts haven’t changed in the least. 

Now, the researchers say that even fathers who don’t live with their kids can have a positive effect on them.  That may be true, but surely we can all agree that fathers with more contact with their children have a better chance of having that effect than fathers who see their kids for two days every two weeks, the standard “visitation” schedule.

But custody and false abuse allegations aren’t the only reasons dads don’t see their kids.  As I’ve pointed out many times, our legal system gives Mom the power to decide whether Dad will get to see or even know about his child.  Until we start requiring mothers to inform fathers about their children and give them the opportunity to be the type of parents the Quebec researchers describe, fathers and children will remain separate.

And then there’s the matter of education.  When and where in all our systems of education, whether at home or in schools or elsewhere, do we tell girls that, when they grow up, it’s not OK to use their legal power to remove Dad from his child’s life?  When do we tell them that maternal gatekeeping is morally wrong?

The answers are obvious; we never tell girls that.  Indeed, we tell them the opposite.  As long as the legal system gives mothers a free pass to lie, commit paternity fraud, etc., the message to all is loud and clear.

Then there are the politicians who call loudly for “responsibility” on the part of fathers.  Translation:  if dads weren’t so worthless, this “absent father” problem would be solved.  The great irony is that it’s not the dads who are irresponsible (although surely many are), but the politicians who want to pretend they’re addressing the problem while ignoring the hard changes required to actually bring fathers and children together.  

Face it, privileged mothers and absent fathers go hand in hand.  Until we admit that fact and change our laws, millions of children will go to sleep every night wondering where their fathers are.  And those same children will grow up to be less happy, less secure and less intellectually developed than they could be.

As Walter Cronkite used to say, “and that’s the way it is.”

Thanks to Mike for the heads-up.

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