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Are Fathers Important for Adolescents? 

With special guest:

  • Dr William (Bill) Fabricius

Most studies in the area of children and families concentrate on the influence of mothers. Fathers are understudied in this area. For this reason we welcome the results of a paper on the role of fathers and we have the opportunity today to speak with one of its lead authors, Associate Professor Dr William Fabricius who joins us from New York. The title of the paper is Effects of the Inter-Parental Relationship on Adolescents’ Emotional Security and Adjustment: The Important Role of Fathers.

This new study looked at hundreds of adolescents, a balanced mix of those living with biological dads and those with stepdads studied in three waves from Grades 7 to 12 across ethnic and gender lines. The research measured the effect of non-violent parental conflict, Intimate Partner Violence and demonstrated affection. The findings revealed the importance of marital quality, namely the level of parental love and closeness, and interestingly “mattering to father.”

Our Family Court should be interested in the finding that the amount of time spent with parents in daily activities during adolescence is a strong predictor of how much a child feels he matters to a parent. This will surprise many parents who feel that adolescence is the time to withdraw from the lives of their children in the interests of developing their independence.

The other surprise for parents is the effect on the children of a reduction in the level of parental love and closeness. And children are excellent in reading the body language even if a drop in the level of affection may not seem obvious to others.

If a child feels that he does not matter to his father the risk is that there will be similar effects as found with fatherlessness. Fatherlessness is a greater predictor than poverty for negative outcomes in children. It is the common denominator for adolescent murderers (72%), imprisoned rapists (60%) and juveniles sentenced to state institutions in Canada (70%) and we would expect similar figures in Australia. Other amply researched negative outcomes strongly linked with fatherlessness are poor scholastic achievement, low self-esteem and gang association.

The importance of this study is that it provides a guide for intact families on how to avoid damaging the relationship between parent and child. It also provides a salutary warning to Family Courts about the dangers to the children they are supposed to be protecting when they separate fathers from their children. It is time that we move from the uncaring, uneducated guesswork of Family Court judges and start basing decisions on studies that provide solid research on the effect of our actions.

Associate Professor Dr Bill Fabricius reveals some findings that will have all parents thinking about their relationship not just with their child but also their partner.

Dr William (Bill) Fabricius

Bill Fabricius PhD is an Associate Professor in Psychology at Arizona State University.

One of Dr Fabricius’ areas of research is father-child relationships, especially in divorced families. Associate Professor Fabricius is interested in the impact of these relationships on children’s health and wellbeing, and in the implications this research can have for social policy. Part of this work is in the context of a funded longitudinal study of fathers and stepfathers, and includes both quantitative and qualitative methods such as narrative analysis.

Song selection by our guest: Memphis Tennessee by Chuck Berry

Note: This program is an encore presentation of the one aired on 14 July 2016.

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