Active father figures have a key role to play in reducing behavior problems in boys and psychological problems in girls, according to a review published in Acta Paediatrica. The researchers also found that regular positive contact reduces criminal behavior among children in low-income families and enhances cognitive skills like intelligence, reasoning and language development. Additionally, children who lived with both a mother and father figure also had less behavioral problems than those who just lived with their mother.
"Our detailed 20-year review shows that overall, children reap positive benefits if they have active and regular engagement with a father figure," says Dr Anna Sarkadi from the Department of Women's and Children's Health at Uppsala University, Sweden. "For example, we found various studies that showed that children who had positively involved father figures were less likely to smoke and get into trouble with the police, achieved better levels of education and developed good friendships with children of both sexes."
The authors point out, however, that it is not possible to conclude what type of engagement the father figure needs to provide to produce positive effects. "However, our review backs up the intuitive assumption that engaged biological fathers or father figures are good for children, especially when the children are socially or economically disadvantaged," says Dr Sarkadi.
The researchers feel that it is important that professionals who work with young children and their families explore how actively fathers are involved with their children from an early age. "Involving them in healthcare visits and explicitly seeking their opinions when making decisions could be a good way to promote high levels of engagement," says Dr Sarkadi. "Stressing that fathers have an important role in promoting their child's social and emotional development is another good strategy."
The researchers are urging healthcare professionals to increase fathers' involvement in their children's healthcare and calling on policy makers to ensure that fathers have the chance to play an active role in their upbringing.
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Source: Acta Paediatrica