Time Alone with Fathers Boosts Teens' Self Esteem
Dads, men, male mentors, uncles, grandfathers are so important in the lives of children. Increasingly, research confirms what most of us already thought: men who spend focused time with their children make a valuable contribution to their kids’ happiness and psychological health. And the father effect is important for teenagers too.
Researchers at Pennsylvania State University, lead by Dr Susan McHale, Professor of Human Development, looked at the time that teenagers spend with their parents by studying 181 families over a seven year period. Examining factors like how much time children spend with their parents together and one-on-one, and whether birth order and gender affected time together, the researchers found that time spent with parents is likely to have a positive impact on teenagers' feelings of self-worth and their levels of social competence.
Spending More Time With Teens One on One
Although teenagers naturally tend to spend less ‘social’ time with their families as they mature, the Pennsylvania University study indicated that teens mostly maintain the same levels of more ‘intimate’ or one on one time with their parents, confirming previous research: “parents and youths choose to maintain their more intimate interactions and forgo their less intimate ones in a way that serves youths’ needs for both connectedness and autonomy.” In fact, children in this study also tended to increase their social time with parents during early and middle adolescence.
Spending Individual Time with Fathers Benefits Teenagers
Looking at how teenagers reported on their feelings of self-worth – often referred to as self-esteem - the study showed that teens who spent more one on one time with their fathers had higher levels of general self-worth, and higher levels of social competence. Findings from the study indicated that increases and decreases in social time with fathers were directly linked to increases and decreases in social competence in their children. Teenagers who have healthy self-esteem and are accepted by their peers are expected to usually have good relationships with their parents, but this research goes further by showing that time spent with parents has its own positive influence on children’s psychological wellbeing.
The researchers came up with a number of ideas about why time with mothers did not show the same levels of influence on teens’ self-worth as time with fathers. While noting the need to replicate the results and conduct further studies, some possible explanations include that “the mother’s role as caregiver is so scripted that her involvement can easily go unnoticed and unacknowledged” and that teens particularly notice and benefit when fathers “go beyond social expectations to devote undivided attention to them.” Another possible explanation was that fathers tend to get involved during leisure time and use “joking, teasing, and other playful interactions”; this is partly because they are often not as involved as mothers in the more mundane daily activities of child-raising.
Of course, this study did not minimise the importance of mothers’ involvement and noted for example, that other studies have shown that teenagers who spend more time with their mothers tend to experience lower levels of depression. However, it is important for communities and workplaces to understand the importance of fathers or male carers having the time to get involved one on one with their children, even during the teenage years. We would love to hear from you about how you make the time to spend with your teenage children and the kinds of activities you find are the most enjoyable for your teens when they spend time alone with you.