published Sunday, January 5th, 2014

Baumgardner: Don't discount the value of fathers' involvement in their children's lives

By Julie Baumgardner

There is nothing that compares to a father's love. Ask any kid.

Out of 20,000 essays submitted to First Things First about what their father means to them, children from elementary age all the way through high school said they wanted time with their father. That was the common theme whether their father was present in the home or not.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recently released findings from a study of a nationally representative sample of 3,928 fathers, ages 15 to 44, about their involvement in the lives of their children. The study looked at four specific areas that have been linked to positive outcomes for children -- eating meals with their children, bathing, diapering or dressing the children, playing with and reading to their children.

Findings from the study indicate that one in six fathers does not live with his children and are less likely to be involved in their children's lives on a regular basis.

This is a disturbing, since a father's involvement in the lives of his children has been shown to have a positive effect on their well-being in many areas, including increasing academic success and reducing delinquency and substance abuse.

The CDC study says a review of literature found that children whose fathers assumed 40 percent or more of the family's care tasks had better academic achievement than children whose fathers were less involved.

For children under the age of 5, the study found that 96 percent of residential fathers ate meals with their children every day or several times a week compared to 30 percent of nonresidential fathers, 98 percent played with children (39 percent for fathers not living with their children), 90 percent bathed, diapered or dressed their children every day or several times a week (31 percent for nonresidential fathers) and 60 percent read to their children often, compared to 23 percent of fathers not living in the home.

The differences in involvement were also evident for school-age children.

When dads were asked how they thought they were doing as a father, those who lived with their children were twice as likely as nonresidential fathers to say they thought they were doing a very good job.

Can children thrive without their father? Studies show they can, but life is more complicated and the chance that children will struggle is greater. The last two decades have produced significant research indicating fathers play a very important role in the lives of their children.

Children who live without their biological fathers are, on average, when compared to kids who live with their married, biological or adoptive parents, at least two to three times more likely to be poor, to use drugs, to experience educational, health, emotional and behavioral problems, to be victims of child abuse and to engage in criminal behavior. Research indicates that 90 percent of homeless and runaway children, 71 percent of high school dropouts and 63 percent of young people who commit suicide are from fatherless homes.

As a father, whether you live in the home with your child or not, don't be deceived about the impact you have on their lives. The father-child relationship is a gift.

What would happen if you made an intentional effort to build this relationship? Would we see fewer children living in poverty? Would there be a decrease in unwed pregnancies? Might fewer children be involved in gangs, criminal behavior, risky sexual behavior or drugs and alcohol? Surely your children are worth the investment of time and energy.

Don't put off until tomorrow the chance to be more engaged in the lives of your children.

Julie Baumgardner is the president and CEO of First Things First. Contact her at julieb@firstthings.org.

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