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On Fathers Day, some thoughts on fathers

Today is Father’s Day. Two articles follow, from the Wall Street Journal and the Post and Courier.
We think they say it all.

Life with Father: What kids get from time with Dad
By Sue Shellenberger

Amid Father's Day celebrations this week, many young dads will be harboring a little secret guilt. They feel they should be more like moms - traditional ones – that is, who spend a lot of time at home. My e-mail bears evidence: One father, a salesman, writes that he feels guilty for not taking paternity leave, but he fears damaging his career. Another says he's scared about long-term effects of his heavy business travel and on his two small children.

If a dad can’t be Mr. Mom, what can he be? A growing body of research offers new insight. Fathers can have a distinct impact on children beyond that of mothers and in many cases without regard to the fact that and they often spend less time with their kids, researches say. Specifically, dad’s early play and the way they talk to their toddlers are emerging as special “father functions” that have a particular and lasting effect.

The findings are not just about the parent’s gender per se. Mothers and fathers stimulate children through the same psychological processes, researchers say. But mothers can only do so much: fathers have an additional impact over and above that of mothers. Also, men have a tendency to behave differently with children. After defining good parenting for decades as what warm nurturing mothers typically do, researchers now are also beginning to see how behaviors characteristic of fathers can shape children too.

Fathers tend to engage kids in more rough-and-tumble play. For example researchers say this can have a powerful positive impact on children, fostering curiosity and teaching them to regulate emotion and enjoy surprises. Thom Singer of Austin, Texas, says “I'm much more physical in a playful way” with his two children, 10 and 5. “I’ll wrestle. I’ll tickle them and when it's time for bed. They get on the Piggyback Express”.

A 2004 study by Catherine Tamis LeMonde, at New York University and others, found the link between fathers’ warm stimulating play with their two year olds, and better language and cognitive skills and the children a year later, independent of mothers’ behavior. The effect endures into adolescence. Dads who play with toddlers in stimulating and encouraging ways, tend to have children with healthier relationships at age 16, surpassing mothers’ effects, says a 2002 study in the journal Social Development.

As children grow older, focusing playfully on the activities your child loves and needs, is a path to high-impact fathering, says Roland Warren, president of the National Fatherhood Initiative, a Gaithersburg Md. nonprofit advocacy group.

Washington, DC executive Jay Young makes the most of time with his son Jared, an avid sports fan, by targeting activities the child loves. To fuel his interest in math, Mr. Young sometimes calls Jared to red during the day to play math games asking such questions as, “If Lebron James plays two games and scores 20 points in each, how many total points did he score?” He believes kids pick up cues from their fathers and so far, Jared loves math.

Father also tend to shape language development. Fathers typically don't “talk down to the children as much as mothers”, using larger words, says Kyle Pruett and author and clinical professor of psychiatry at Yale University. A study last year at the University of North Carolina found a link between fathers who used varied vocabulary with their 2 year olds and more advanced speech at age 3, even though the fathers spoke less often to the children. Mothers’ vocabulary didn't have a significant impact, perhaps because there weren't enough differences in the high verbal skills of mothers in this middle-class sample, researchers found. It was talkative dads who gave the kids an edge, Dads also tend to handle misbehavior differently, stressing real-world consequences. Where moms might say, “If you misbehave you’re in trouble with me”, Dads more typically say, “Knock it off, nobody will like you, you will never get a job if you behave that way, Dr. Pruett says.

In a 2006 study, led by Jacinta Bronte Tinkew of Child Trends in Washington, DC.. close supportive fathering was linked to less teen risk-taking and delinquency.

Sue Shellenberger
Wall Street Journal
June 14, 2007

Absence of fathers, hurts self image of young girls
Kathleen Parker

When it comes to figuring out what's gone wrong with our culture. We can usually rely on the American Psychological Association (APA) to catch on last. Thus it came to pass a few the days ago, that the APA released its findings that American girls are sexualized. And that's bad.

If you missed the headlines, it may be because of stiff competition from the breaking news that Anna Nicole is still dead and Britney is still disturbed.

Irony doesn't get to be ironic when it's that conspicuous.

The APA report found that girls are sexualized in nearly every medium and product- from adds and videogames to clothing, cosmetics and even dolls. Anyone who has walked down an American street in the past few years has seen the effects. Little girls dressed as tartlets and teens decked in bling, while Mom takes pole dancing lessons at the gym.

We shouldn't need a scientific study to tell us that sexualizing children is damaging, but apparently common sense isn't what it used to be. We can now assert with confidence that most of the primarily girl pathologies - eating disorders, low self esteem and depression - will can be linked to oversexualization that encourages girls to obsess about body image and objectify themselves.

That said, some of the report's findings are… odd. One claim for instance, is that girls who worry about body image performed poorly in math. The research that led to this conclusion involved putting college students in dressing rooms to try on and evaluate either a swimsuit or a sweater. While they waited alone for 10 minutes wearing their assigned garment, they were given a small math quiz.

Apparently female near-nakedness and cognitive thoughts are incompatible. But you know that. The young women in swimsuits performed significantly worse than those in sweaters. There were no differences among the young men. Researchers concluded from this that” thinking about the body and comparing the sexualized cultural ideals disrupted mental capacity”.

I’m not a psychologist, but isn't it possible that wearing a bathing suit isn't conducive to math testing rather than that bathing suits made them so unhappy with their bodies that they couldn't do math? Paging Larry Summers.

If nothing else, I think we can conclude that girls shouldn't wear bathing suits to take the SAT. While finding ways to desexualize girls would be a welcome development to sane adults, one wonders why there is no comparable concern about the effects of a sexualized culture on boys.

Although boys are not sexualized the same degree - a study of magazine ads are over a 40- year period found that 85% of sexualized children pictured were girls –surely the incessant barrage of sexual imagery and messages cannot be healthy for boys either.

The APA report makes brief mention the boys and men, and even women can be negatively affected by the sexualization of girls. The APA researchers confirmed what porn studies also have found - that boys and young men constantly exposed to idealized versions of females may have difficulty finding an “acceptable” partner and enjoy intimacy with a real person.

Nevertheless, there seems to be in unspoken sense that males are getting what they want with 24/7 sex messaging. Implicit is the notion that males are incapable of nobility, or that they might suffer from an objectifying culture that commodifies the human yearning for intimacy.

Also missing from the report is the single factor that seems most predictive of girls self-objectification - the absence of a father in their lives. Although the task force urges parents to help their daughters interpret sexualizing cultural messages, there is little mention of the unique role fathers play in protecting their girls from a voracious sexualized culture.

Fathers, after all, are the ones who tell their little girls that they’re perfect just the way they are; that they don't need to be one bit thinner; that under no circumstances are they going out of the house dressed that way.

It can’t be coincidence that girls’ self objectification - looking for male attention in all the wrong ways - has risen as father presence has declined. At last tally, 40% of all fathers weren’t sleeping in the same house as their biological children.

The APA is calling for more education, more research, forums, girl groups and web sites to tackle girl sexualization. But my instinctual guess is that getting fathers back into their daughters’ lives and back on the job would do more than all the forums and task forces combined.

Ultimately, it is a daddy thing

Post and Courtier
March 2 , 2007

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