Thursday, July 17, 2014

Do Fathers Matter?

“Do Fathers Matter? is structured as a timeline of a child’s life — early chapters address conception and pregnancy, and then the book journeys through infancy, early childhood, and adolescence. For each stage of development, Raeburn describes how a father contributes.


In pregnancy, genes passed along by the father help a fetus draw in more nutrients from its mother. These genes allow the fetus to release hormones that elevate its mother’s blood pressure, increasing the amount of blood that goes to the fetus, and to raise its mother’s blood sugar so more sugar-rich blood goes through the placenta.


“The fetus is not just passively receiving nutrients from its mother,” he said. “It’s actually sending out control signals, and it got that ability from genes that it got from its father.”


After the child is born, it’s the father’s presence, not only his genes, that matters. Raeburn cites research from Nadya Panscofar of the the College of New Jersey and Lynne Vernon-Feagans of the University of North Carolina. They found that fathers have a greater impact than mothers in expanding their children’s vocabulary.


“What they think is going on there is that families where mothers spend more time with their kids, they’re much more attuned to the kids’ language, so they don’t use words that the kids don’t know as often,” he said. “Fathers, who might spend less time, are more likely to use many more words, and that stretches kids.”


“I’m glad to know my involvement is a good thing. But that’s not why I spend time with my kids. I do it because I like it.”

And then comes adolescence. One of the more striking findings described in the book shows how good fathers help their daughters transition from childhood to adulthood. Girls whose fathers are absent or almost always absent go through puberty sooner than their peers whose fathers are present.


The book discusses research by University of Arizona’s Bruce J. Ellis, who first established this connection, and has since attempted to find out why it happens. Is it genetic or environmental? Ellis answered this question by studying families with two daughters, some with divorced parents and some with parents who remained married. He found that younger sisters in divorced families with badly behaved fathers — in other words, girls who’d spent more time without their father present — got their first periods about a year earlier than their older sisters.


“The conclusion was that growing up with an emotionally or physically distant father in early to middle childhood could be a ‘key life transition’ that alters sexual development,” Raeburn wrote.”


How dads improve their kids’ lives, according to science


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