August 28, 2014 by Robert Franklin, Esq.
In the “Tell Us Something We Didn’t Already Know” category comes this article (Futurity, 8/27/14). Its basic point is that social science research on parenting interventions, i.e. efforts to fix poor parenting or improve good-enough parenting strongly tends to ignore fathers and focus on the “mother-child dyad.” One result is that fathers don’t get whatever benefit parenting programs have to offer because they’re often not invited to participate. Second, even when fathers are allowed to participate, counsellors often don’t know what to do with them. What they’ve been taught concerns mothers and children, so fathers are viewed as an alien species. And finally, existing parenting programs are often a waste of time and money because they only address mothers and children when mothers and fathers tend to parent as a team and bring different skills to the task.
Researchers reviewed numerous databases of studies on parenting interventions and identified 786 of them from around the world, but only 199 dealt with fathers at all and many of those referred to “parents” without indicating which was which. The result being that no one can tell which parent was doing what, which parent received the intervention and whether it was successful.
Here’s a link to the study itself (Journal of Child Psychology, 7/1/14).
Paul Raeburn has recently come out with a book entitled Do Fathers Matter? What Science is Telling Us About the Parent We’ve Overlooked that I’ll be reviewing soon. In it he tries to summarize for lay people the current science on the benefits of fathers to children and vice versa. One theme that arises again and again throughout the book is the astonishing tendency of social science to simply ignore fathers in the study of children’s development and well-being. Unsurprisingly, that tendency utterly misrepresents the reality of both those topics. Humans, unlike the vast majority of mammals, are a bi-parental species. The obvious conclusion is, and should always have been, that fathers are important to their children’s healthy development.
Whatever may be true of African lions, voles or elephant seals, human biochemistry bonds both parents to their offspring, and children benefit from the parenting inputs of both and suffer when one is taken away. Therefore, studying mothers but not fathers in an effort to determine what’s best for kids is a mistake from the start. Like studies of heart disease that used only male subjects, mother-only studies of parenting are per se inaccurate. Fortunately, social scientists have recognized the fact since the 70s and medical science and biology are starting to as well.
The mere fact that this study and Raeburn’s book exist is good news. By themselves they indicate that we at last are coming to realize the vast benefits to children conferred by fathers and the need to know more and more fully.
Slowly we’re beginning to get it.
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