Father’s Day is a great opportunity to recognize how much dads truly matter. Research shows us many reasons why fathers are important – they play a huge role in teaching kids about empathy, confidence, self-esteem, and valuable life lessons.
When you think of a father, what do you think of? Someone strong, fiercely protective, full of wisdom, maybe bad Dad jokes, bad Dad dancing, or someone who teaches you how to use tools? While these are fun reasons why we love our fathers, what are some of the measurable positive effects a loving father can have on his children?
Here are nine science-based reasons why fathers are important and how they help to create a thriving generation of sons, daughters, and loved mothers.
1. Fathers enhance a child’s cognitive development.
Cognitive development means how children think, explore, interact, and gain an understanding of the world around them. Research has proven that infants of a highly involved father are better developed by six months, and have higher IQs at the 1 year and 3 year benchmarks. This might be due to the additional stimulation of two parents, or from seeing how a problem can be solved in multiple ways. This leads to less black and white thinking and a mind that can see a problem solved from a mother’s and a father’s perspective.
2. Fathers help to reduce psychological problems and rates of depression in young women.
There have been numerous studies showing the effects of an absent father versus an involved father on a young girl’s mental health.
A University of Bristol study revealed that girls whose fathers were absent or left during early childhood (before age 5) were 50% more likely to have mental health problems in their teenage years. They were also more likely to develop physical health issues as adults.
Another study, headed by Professor of Social Medicine Anna Sarkadi at Uppsala University showed that “Having a positive, responsible, and engaged father reduces psychological problems in young women, as well as decreasing delinquency.”
3. Fathers impact the development of empathy.
You may not have known, but one reason why fathers are important is they help to promote empathy in children. Most would assume that children learn compassion and emotional maturity from their mothers, but studies suggest otherwise.
In a 26-year-long study, conducted by Psychologist Richard Koestner, research found that “the number one factor in developing empathy in children was father involvement. Fathers spending regular time alone with their children translated into children who became compassionate adults.”
4. Fathers’ rough-and-tumble play can teach kids valuable life lessons.
Did you know there are many benefits children can gain from play fighting with Dad, a.k.a rough-and-tumble play? It can help shape a child’s many behaviors including understanding their own strength, boosts resilience and social intelligence, teaches boundaries and self-control, and much more.
According to The Conversion, “Studies found high-quality play was related to higher levels of what’s termed prosocial behavior. Prosocial behavior includes things like being considerate of other people’s feelings and sharing well with others.”
In other words, children who engage in rough-and-tumble play are almost always more socially and emotionally adept than children who don’t.
5. Fathers can teach respect for the opposite sex.
Research consistently shows that boys and girls learn how to treat the opposite sex by observing how their father treats their mother.
Girls also learn their self-worth and confidence from their father. He is the first man she seeks male approval from, and this continued relationship will carry over into adulthood. It’s very common that a woman will go on to date men who resemble her father, but why is that?
This is likely due to her ability to judge possible boyfriends by the standards her father set out. A woman who has grown up with a supportive, loving father will expect the same qualities in her future partner. She will be less likely to put up with men who don't measure up to this standard, as she has a strong example of how a good man should act.
By the same logic, a boy who grows up with a loving father is also likely to be a more loving husband. A boy naturally measures himself against his father and will likely want to emulate this positive experience with his own family. He will also use his own experience to avoid any of the pitfalls his father may have slipped into.
6. Fathers boost confidence.
Pat Fagan, the founder of the Marri Research Institute, has studied the critical role fathers play in children's lives and has identified how social interactions, such as play, can help boost a child’s confidence. This confidence building continues as the children age into their teenage years, during which their dad teaches them how to be responsible, brave, and adventurous, as well as help them grow in self-knowledge.
Dr. Fagan suggests that good fathers are ones who can acknowledge their own strengths and weaknesses, and they typically have a growth mindset. This means they’re always striving to make things better for themselves and their families. This mindset is a great example for a growing child, as it allows them to realizes that sometimes it’s okay to fail, as long as you use the experience to grow and improve. Children who are afraid to fail are generally more risk-averse, and this can manifest as a lack of confidence.
7. Fathers provide a look at the world of men.
Men and women are different, and children learn about the world of men through their father. A father can teach a boy how to become a man by showing him leadership and focus, and by being a good protector and provider. Whereas a girl will learn about a man’s world by the way her father treats her.
This dynamic is explained perfectly in Dr. Kyle Preutt’s book Fatherneed: Why Father Care is as Essential as Mother Care for Your Child: “Girls with involved, married fathers are more likely to have healthier relationships with the opposite sex because they learn from their fathers how proper men act toward women. They know which behaviors are inappropriate. They also have a healthy familiarity with the world of men — they don’t wonder how a man’s facial stubble feels or what it’s like to be hugged by strong arms. This knowledge builds emotional security and safety from the exploitation of predatory males.”
Dr. Preutt continues, “Boys who grow up with dads are less likely to be violent. They have their masculinity affirmed and learn from their fathers how to channel their masculinity and strength in positive ways. Fathers help sons understand proper male sexuality, hygiene, and behavior in age-appropriate ways.”
8. Children with supportive fathers do better in school.
As mentioned throughout this article, children perform better in all areas when they have a positive father influence present, so it’s no surprise they do better in education too.
This seems to be true even if the fathers themselves are not highly educated. USA Today reports that having a father assisting the learning process can improve all kinds of skills from language to mathematics. It was hypothesized that this was likely due to dads being less likely to change the way they talk around their children. Speaking to them more like an adult helps increase the child’s understanding and vocabulary. It’s also thought that dads are less likely to speak for their child, allowing them to think more for themselves and become more self-reliant.
9. Fathers increase their child’s sense of well-being, happiness, and life satisfaction.
It sounds obvious, but studies have shown that children who feel loved by a strong and positive father figure are generally more secure and happy in their teenage years. This likely comes from a feeling of acceptance. Feeling like an accepted member of a family can not only help develop self-esteem but also means the child is less like to exhibit disruptive behavior as a way of gaining attention. It might not stop a bit of teenage rebellion, but a supportive father can be relied on when times are tough and can help provide a sense of security.
As you can see, there are many reasons why fathers are important. The significance and impact a father can make in a child’s life is substantial. So, this Father's Day don’t forget to tell him how much you love him, and to thank him for always being there!