Engaged and present fathers help improve teens’ behavior and well-being, study finds

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Experts say the benefits are even better for low-income families

Recent studies have shown how important it is for kids to spend time with their dads, and now researchers from Rutgers University are exploring why this bonding time is just as important through adolescence. 

According to findings from a new study, older children and teens are more likely to have better overall well-being and behavioral outcomes when their dads are present and engaged in their day-to-day lives. This was especially true for low-income families, where economic demands make it difficult for dads to spend a lot of quality time with their kids. 

“On average, children in lower socioeconomic status families tend to have more behavioral problems and their fathers have lower levels of overall involvement than those in higher socioeconomic status families,” said researcher Lenna Nepomynaschy. 

The positive effect of more quality time

To understand the positive effect that more quality time with dads can have on adolescents, the researchers analyzed data from over 5,000 kids born to low-income families between 1998 and 2000. They tracked the kids’ behavioral outcomes and well-being through the time they turned 15 while also paying particular attention to how involved their fathers were in activities like helping with homework, playing, or providing meals. 

The researchers learned that when fathers in low-income families were able to be more present and engaged in their kids’ lives, the kids had much better behavioral outcomes. Having a present father figure cut down on problematic behaviors, like skipping school or throwing tantrums. 

According to Nepomynaschy, there are significant behavioral differences between kids from low-income families versus those from higher-income families, and the economic necessities of the family often make it difficult for fathers to spend time with their kids in a meaningful way. However, these findings highlight the importance of what that time together can mean for kids’ emotional and behavioral development. 

Moving forward, the researchers hope that the results from this study compel policymakers to consider what legislative changes are possible that could benefit families in need. 

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