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What Are the Benefits of Father Figures for Boys?

by Erica Loop, studioD

One out of every three children in America lives in a home without their biological dad, according to the National Fatherhood Initiative. A father figure -- whether he's the child's biological dad, a step-dad or another close male adult -- can help reduce boys' behavioral problems, provide a positive role model and even help boost the child's academic outcomes.

Help Prevent Bad Behaviors

The presence of a father figure in a boy's life can decrease behavioral issues and even lead to the reduction of later criminal behavior, according to Rick Nauert, Ph.D., senior news editor of PsychCentral. The experts at the National Fatherhood initiative note that research on children born to and living with single mothers and who do not have a father figure have higher levels of aggressive behaviors than those with an adult male at home. While the research doesn't find a specific conclusion when it comes to why father figures reduce bad behaviors and how much involvement is necessary, having a positive male in your child's life can make your young man less likely to act out in unwanted ways.

Reduce the Risks of Substance Abuse

An active and present father figure in a boy's life may have a positive connection to saying "no" to substance use. A research review of adult males by the Friends Research Institute in Baltimore notes that having an attachment to a father figure -- whether biological or not -- can reduce the likelihood of developing substance addiction in young men, according to the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. While there's no one specific reason why boys who have a father figure are less likely to become addicts than those without, a positive adult make provides emotional support, helps to shape the boy's identity and can influence their values when it comes to beliefs about right and wrong.

Provide Educational Advantages

When fathers -- or father figures -- show active involvement in a child's education, the student is more likely to get higher grades. Boys who live in a fatherless household and have no access to a positive father figure often have lower test scores, lower grades and lower IQ scores than those with actively involved males who are present at home or in the child's life. Although the biological father isn't necessary to see educational benefits, the "figure" must include a male who has a substantial presence in the child's life and not just a teacher he sees once in a while or an uncle who visits occasionally.

Help Boys Build Self-Esteem

While dads, or other males in a child's life, aren't solely responsible for self-esteem development, having a father figure can impact a boy's view of himself and his confidence. A present and supportive father figure can benefit boys, young and old, by helping them to have a stronger sense of competence, according to the University of Maryland Medical Center. The attention that a father figure provides, his positive role modeling and the sense of belonging that he can provide all contribute to the development of a boy's sense of self and self-esteem.

About the Author

Based in Pittsburgh, Erica Loop has been writing education, child development and parenting articles since 2009. Her articles have appeared in "Pittsburgh Parent Magazine" and the website PBS Parents. She has a Master of Science in applied developmental psychology from the University of Pittsburgh's School of Education.

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