Among children growing up in poverty-stricken, inner-city families, those who had fathers around them have better self-esteem and show fewer signs of depression than children without fathers, according to a new study published by cbshealthwatch.com, Sunday.
Previous research has mostly looked at the roles of white, middle-class fathers. But this study focused on 855 six-year-old children from what researchers call "high risk" families, low-income, welfare families with a parent either abusing drugs or having HIV infection. About two thirds of the kids are from African-American families.
"The presence of the father was associated with the kids doing better in learning and having a better sense of themselves," says Dr. Howard Dubowitz, author of the study and professor of pediatrics at the University of Maryland School of Medicine.
Researchers say that the study findings are contrary to some stereotypical beliefs about these high-risk families. "Many people have an image of poor, inner-city, perhaps minority families as the men deserting them or playing a very small role," says Dubowitz. "But we found almost 80% of the children identified a father or father figure in their lives."
The study also found that children who perceived their fathers as supportive feel a greater sense of social acceptance and have a greater feeling of competence. They were less likely to be depressed compared to children who did not view their father or father figure as supportive.
Researchers say the more nurturing and supportive the father or father figure, the better the children's self-esteem no matter what race or gender. It also did not make a difference if the father is a biological one or not, according to Dubowitz.
Other experts say even though some of the father figures are not the biological, it is important that they are involved in the child's development.
"There has been a lot more stereotyping than there has been examination on this," says Dr. Michael Lamb, head of the section of social and emotional development at the National Institute of Child Health and Development.
"Even though there is no legally recognized markers for [fathers]," says Lamb. "There are men who tried to fill that role and it appears that kids both recognize that and benefit from that."
Researchers call for more support and encouragement for fathers or father figures. "We need to find ways to encourage the positive and supportive role of fathers and father figures in the lives of their children," says Dubowitz.
The study is among the first to examine from a child's perspective the role a father plays in the behavioral and mental development of his children. The findings were presented at this week's meeting of the Pediatric Academic Societies and American Academy of Pediatrics Conference, in Boston, Massachusetts – Albawaba.com.
© 2000 Al Bawaba (www.albawaba.com)