The Dad Factor: Why Teenagers Need Dads
This weekend was Father’s Day here in Australia. While the focus of Father’s Day is to honour and say thanks to dads for all they do, it got me thinking about exactly what it is we, as dads, do for our kids.
More particularly, I am reminded about how important dads are for teenagers and how significant their impact is. Dads make such a difference to the type of adult a teenager becomes, whether they acknowledge it or not. In an age when the role of the father is increasingly unclear and often ridiculed or mocked, it is worth restating why dads matter.
How Teens Benefit From Dads
Improved Self-Esteem & Mental Health
Research consistently demonstrates teenagers with dads who are actively involved in their lives have improved self-esteem and lower instances of depression than those who don’t. Teens with attentive fathers are at less risk of developing a negative self-image.
Conversely, teens who grow up with Dads who are harsh or neglectful are at greater risk of developing depression or other mental health problems. If dad is depressed, teens have an increased likelihood of displaying depressive symptoms.
If a teenager has a dad who relates to them and other family members in a caring and loving manner, there is a good chance they will have fewer relationship problems in adolescence and later in adult life. Dads provide a model of how relationships work, it is an example that is imprinted deeply into a young person’s psychological DNA.
Shape Belief Systems
While I have no scientific research to back up the claim, my overwhelming observation is that the father shapes a teenager’s worldview, and spiritual beliefs much more than the mother. Ironically, mothers seem to be the ones more concerned with this aspect of a teenager’s development, but it the fathers behavior and view that convey the importance or otherwise of certain values and beliefs.
Boys Learn About Being a Man
There is a saying that goes “link a boy to the right man and he seldom goes wrong.” The wisdom of this saying is demonstrated time and time again when I see young men who have grown up with an attentive, committed and loving father.
Dads are the primary example to their sons of what it means to be a man. This is true whether fathers are intentional or completely unaware of their impact. Young men learn from their dads about what it means to be responsible, ethical, caring, and appropriate. More specifically a teenage boy watches how his dad treats women, uses his physical strength, values his work, relates to kids, and expresses friendship with his mates. These observations will form the default option for teenage boys as they become men.
Girls Learn What to Expect From Men
The other old saying is “girls marry their fathers.” Have a look at a woman’s husband and in a majority of cases you will get some idea of the type of father she had.
Girls learn from their fathers what they should expect from a man. As teenage girls experiences how she is treated by her father and observes how he treats her mother, she develops a blueprint or a benchmark of what to look for in a male.
This is why girls who have abusive fathers marry abusive men, girls who have absent fathers marry workaholic men, and girls who have attentive fathers end up with attentive husbands.
Dads set the standard. If you want your daughter to be treated well by men, then dad needs to start relating to her in the way he hopes she will be treated.
Must Do List for Dads of Teenagers
Spend time with your teenager: Being in the house at the same time doesn’t count. Carve out time in your week to just be with your teenager
Find Common Interests: Do stuff together! This is especially true for Dads and their Sons. Sometimes it can take a bit of effort to find something you both like, but persistence will pay off. Whether it is bike riding, cooking, following your favourite “team,” photography, or beating each other at Xbox, the activity is just a means to developing the relationship.
Tell Them You Love Them: As teenagers get older physical displays of affection may not be received as well as they once were. But dads can show their love in other ways; picking your teen up late at night, watching their sport on every weekend, making a special breakfast every Saturday morning, offering to fix what ever it is that is broken.
Stay Connected: In the digital age staying in touch is easier than ever. Your teen might not want you posting on their Facebook wall, but the occasional text message or note via email is a great way of keeping the lines of communication open.
Ask Them Questions: Don’t expect your adolescent child to be responsible for prompting conversations. Be an adult; take responsibility for the communication in the relationship. Teens struggle with sentences sometimes, never mind instigating meaningful conversations. Ask about how your teen is going, ask about issues you think they might be wrestling with, ask if there is anything bothering them, just ask them something. Sometimes you might only get a grunt and shrug, that’s okay. Don’t stop asking.
Model Respect: Dads need to treat themselves and their children’s mother with respect and dignity. Teenagers will follow their dad’s example. If dad is dismissive and rude to mum, then his teenagers will think it is okay to disrespect mum. If fathers fail to look after themselves then teens, particularly boys, will be less inclined to take care of themselves.
Not Every Teen Has a Dad
As I write this, I am acutely aware that the opportunity of having a dad is not one that every young person gets. In a world where things often don’t turn out as we hope, kids grow up without their dads for all sorts of reasons, many of which cannot be helped.
If your teenager doesn’t have a dad in their life, it is not the end of the world. Teens will take their cues from whoever it is that fills the role of caregiver.
That said, if at all possible it is definitely helpful to find an older male who can play a role in your teenager’s life. He doesn’t need to become their parent, but he can be someone who is involved, and close enough to the family, that your teen gets to observe and interact with him on a regular basis. Seeing an adult male in action, learning what is expected and what to expect from a real life example helps your teen fill in some of the important gaps that might otherwise not be there.
If you have some thoughts about what your dad did that was helpful for you, or you have some other insights about being a dad then please share them with us all in the comments section below.