The Impact of Fathers

15 03 2011

Our society is undergoing a cultural shift and the definitions of traditional family roles (that historically have remained somewhat stable) are changing. In the midst of these changes there has been recent controversy over the legitimacy of a father’s role in raising children and some have minimized the importance of fathers. In this post I argue that the presence of a loving and supportive father is important to the health, wellbeing and success of children and that our society would be remiss if we were to minimize a father’s role.

While research into the impact of fathers on their children’s future is still relatively new (Rosenberg & Bradford, 2006), there have been many important research findings that should be taken into consideration before minimizing a father’s role. I present these findings in three parts: (1) cognitive ability, (2) psycho-social well-being, (3) and the impact of a positive mother-father relationship. I follow this discussion with a presentation of opposing viewpoints.

Cognitive Ability

The role a father has on his children is important. Children who have fathers that are caring and involved achieve higher educational levels (Fatherhood Institute, 2011). There have been many studies that suggest that fathers who are involved, nurturing, and playful have children with higher IQ’s as well as better language skills and thinking capabilities (Pruett, 2000). A child aged 7-11 with an involved dad predicts positive scores on exams at age 16 (Fatherhood Institute, 2011). Involved fathers have toddlers that are better able to cope socially when they are introduced to school settings. Children with involved fathers can handle academic stress and frustration better than those with uninvolved fathers (Pruett, 2000). This holds true for adolescent youth and early adulthood as well. Some studies found that a nurturing father is associated with better verbal skills, intellectual functioning, and academic achievement (Goldstine, 1982). Involved fathers have children that are 43% more likely to earn A’s in school and are 33 percent less likely to repeat a grade (Nord & West, 2001).

Psycho-Social Well Being

Children who have an involved father are less likely to get in trouble at home, school or their neighborhood (Yeung, Duncan, & Hill, 2000) and are more likely to be emotionally secure, explore their surroundings, and have better peer interactions and connections (Yeung, Duncan, & Hill, 2000). Children who have fathers who are affectionate and playful are more securely attached, are more sociable and popular with other children (Pruett, 2000; Lamb, 2002). Fathers in general spend more time instigating playful “rough housing” with their children than do mothers which is beneficial in teaching kids how to deal with aggressive impulses and physical contact without losing control of emotions (Parke, 1996). Fathers help kids become independent and improve the likelihood that children will have self-control and act in pro-social ways (Parke, 1996). Children with involved fathers are less likely to be depressed, display disruptive behavior or to lie (Mosley & Thompson, 1995). Many studies have found that involved fathers are more likely to have children with good physical and emotional health, avoid drugs, violence and delinquent behavior (Mosley & Thompson, 1995). Where dads are involved before the age of 11, children are less likely to have a criminal record by the age of 21 (Fatherhood Institute, 2011).

Impact of a Positive Mother-Father Relationship.

A father can have a large influence on their children indirectly through the quality of their relationship with the mother (Rosenberg & Bradford, 2006). The quality of the relationship between parent affects the parenting of both parents (Lamb, 2002). In other words, if the relationship is poor the parenting ability of both mother and father decreases and vice versa. This means that when the relationship is good both parents are more responsive, affectionate, confident, have better self-control, and are better confidants and provide better emotional support to their children (Lamb, 2002). To contrast this husbands who display anger, contempt and emotionally stonewall their partners are more likely to have children who are withdrawn, anxious, or anti-social (Gable, Crnic, & Belsky, 1994).

Fathers should not be viewed as “just another adult in the home” (Rosenberg & Bradford, 2006). The research reviewed here plainly indicates the importance of fathers on a child’s development and future success. Given this research it is easy to say that fathers can influence their children for good in a variety of very important ways. The presence of a loving and supportive father can have a major impact on a child’s life. Think of your own father. The presence of a father (or lack thereof) and his parenting style (or lack thereof) has probably had lasting effects on your life.

Opposing Views

The research reviewed here does not negate the fact that some fathers are absent, emotionally distant, cruel and/or abusive and that children in these circumstances may be better off without a father than with one. Some have argued that because some fathers are abusive or absent we should give more credence to mothering. These instances of father abuse don’t mean that fathering in general should become secondary to mothering. On the contrary the outcomes reported from fatherhood abuse lend further credence to the major impact fathers have (whether positive or negative) and that fathering should remain a focus of support and intervention rather than being ignored (Rosenberg & Bradford, 2006).

Our society is in the midst of redefining many of the roles within the family unit. Non-traditional family makeup, same-sex unions, single parent households and grandparents as primary care-givers are all occurring more frequently. Some might argue that the redefinition of the family unit means that the role of a traditional father will be redefined as well. I do not argue this point. Like it or not, a redefinition of the traditional father figure is currently happening in modern society, but rather than becoming obsolete, this redefinition itself points toward the continued importance of fathers. For instance, the number of fathers solely responsible for the care of their children is growing at a rate almost twice that of single mothers, and one fifth of all single parent homes today are single fathers (Fatherhood Institute, 2011). In addition, fathers are now the main caregivers when mothers are working, in 36% of dual income families, it is the father (more than any other individual) who cares for the children when the mother is working, and rates of stay-at-home fathers are increasing nation-wide (Fatherhood Institute, 2011). Far from removing the father as an important point of interest, this redefinition of family roles should rather increase the importance of the role of fathers in modern society. Fathers should remain a focus for research, intervention and support.

What’s A Mental Disorder? NPR – Discusses the DSM.

1 01 2011

Great Article from NPR:

What’s A Mental Disorder? Even Experts Can’t Agree
December 29, 2010

The American Psychiatric Association’s Diagnostic and Statistical Manual, or DSM, updated roughly every 15 years, has detailed descriptions of all the mental disorders officially recognized by psychiatry. It’s used by psychiatrists, insurance companies, drug researchers, the courts and even schools.

The definitions for some mental disorders may change in the new edition of the DSM.
But it’s not without controversy: The proposed changes suggested this year have sparked a kind of civil war within psychiatry.

In a small condo on the beach in San Diego lives Allen Frances, who blames himself for what he calls the “Epidemic of Asperger’s.” Frances edited the last edition of the DSM, and he’s also the new DSM’s most prominent critic.

Frances is the one who put the word Asperger’s in the DSM in the first place, thereby making it an official mental disorder.

In the editions before Frances was editor, there was an entry for autism, but it was defined by severe symptoms. Frances says doctors felt the diagnosis for autism didn’t cover a more mild disorder they were actually encountering.

“Pediatricians and child psychiatrists would see kids who could talk but who had social discomfort — severe social discomfort — and awkwardness and a very restricted and impairing level of interests and activities, and they wanted a diagnosis for this,” Frances says.

A study was done to figure out how common Asperger’s was, and the results were clear: It was vanishingly rare. Then Frances put it in the DSM, and the number of kids diagnosed with the disorder exploded. Frances remembers sitting in his condo reading articles about this new epidemic of Asperger’s that was sweeping the nation.

The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, or DSM, is the official list of all the mental disorders doctors can use to diagnose mental illness. “At that point I did an ‘oops,’ ” he says. “This is a complete misunderstanding. It was distressing. Quite distressing.”

Surprising Incentives

It’s not that Frances doesn’t think that Asperger’s exists and is a real problem for some people; he does. But he also believes the diagnosis is now radically overused in a way that he and his colleagues never intended. And why, in his view, did Asperger’s explode? Primarily, Frances says, because schools created a strange unintentional incentive.

“In order to get specialized services, often one-to-one education, a child must have a diagnosis of Asperger’s or some other autistic disorder,” he says.

“And so kids who previously might have been considered on the boundary, eccentric, socially shy, but bright and doing well in school would mainstream [into] regular classes,” Frances says. “Now if they get the diagnosis of Asperger’s disorder, [they] get into a special program where they may get $50,000 a year worth of educational services.”

Disturbing Consequences

Frances worried this might cause a misallocation of school resources. And Frances points to another change he made — which, for him, has had even more disturbing consequences. Essentially, Frances and his colleagues made it much easier to get a diagnosis of bipolar disorder. And he says that created this incredible opportunity for drug companies.

“Drug companies got indications for treating bipolar disorder,” Frances says. “Not just with mood stabilizers, but also with the newer antipsychotic drugs. And they began very intensive ubiquitous advertising campaigns. So the rates of bipolar disorder doubled. And lots of people got way too much antipsychotic and mood stabilizing medicines. And these aren’t safe drugs.”

And for Frances, the lesson of these experiences is clear. Once you put a new diagnosis in the DSM, there is no controlling what will happen to it. So there’s only one thing to do:

“Anticipate the worst. If something can be misused, it will be misused,” Frances says. “If diagnosis can lead to overdiagnosis and overtreatment, that will happen. So you need to be very, very cautious in making changes that may open the door for a flood of fad diagnoses.”

As far as Frances is concerned, the new DSM is proposing too many diagnoses that are written in too broad a way, meaning that ultimately a huge number of new people will be categorized as mentally ill.

Good May Outweigh Bad

William Carpenter, one of the people behind the new DSM, disagrees. Carpenter works with the sickest of the sick at the Maryland Psychiatric Research Center. And from where he sits, this issue of overdiagnosis is a minor affair.

All around the waiting room of his office, people suffering from psychotic disorders sit in thick clothing, eyes wide, staring silently. These are the people Carpenter sees day after day — people whose problems have been misidentified and mistreated for years. That’s why one of the changes Carpenter has proposed for the new DSM is a diagnosis he thinks will help identify people with psychosis when they are in the very earliest stages of their disease, long before they ever get to his waiting room.

“If it identifies a lot of people who otherwise would not be identified, then I would think that would be a positive good,” Carpenter says.

Carpenter believes that putting this new diagnosis in the new DSM will prompt research, which ultimately could produce effective treatments.

“So there’s a potential very positive benefit,” he says. “It’s possible that it can make a remarkable difference in the long-term trajectory of their life.”

The final draft of the DSM-5 won’t be published until 2013. In the meantime, people like Allen Frances will agitate for the number of diagnoses and their scope to be reduced. And the small group of people in charge will face the difficult question of what to put in — and what to leave out.

Inequality that matters and inequality that doesn’t (some thoughts from a friend of mine).

30 12 2010

Tyler Cowen has received a lot of attention for this post on inequality in which he attempts to discern the inequality that matters from inequality that doesn’t (or inequality that is unacceptable vs. inequality that is). I’m still chewing on it, but I wanted to address his first point, which is that that “the income of personal well-being” has markedly improved over the past century.
First, the inequality of personal well-being is sharply down over the past hundred years and perhaps over the past twenty years as well. Bill Gates is much, much richer than I am, yet it is not obvious that he is much happier if, indeed, he is happier at all. I have access to penicillin, air travel, good cheap food, the Internet and virtually all of the technical innovations that Gates does…
Compare these circumstances to those of 1911, a century ago. Even in the wealthier countries, the average person had little formal education, worked six days a week or more, often at hard physical labor, never took vacations, and could not access most of the world’s culture. The living standards of Carnegie and Rockefeller towered above those of typical Americans, not just in terms of money but also in terms of comfort.
I think that’s basically true. But there are a couple of major caveats. First of all, I think he over-reaches here:
Like the vast majority of Americans, I have access to some important new pharmaceuticals, such as statins to protect against heart disease. To be sure, Gates receives the very best care from the world’s top doctors, but our health outcomes are in the same ballpark.
Health care is, in fact, one of the very things that separates a person like Bill Gates from the average American, which is why health care reform has been so important. An average middle class American may enjoy many of life’s finer things just like Gates does, but being hit by a major illness can mean bankruptcy and ruin. Gates obviously isn’t faced with that problem.

The second caveat is that much of the decrease in the inequality of personal well-being is artificial; millions of Americans can only experience those finer things by hugely over-extending themselves and going into debt.

Having said all that, I’m happier being an average Joe today than an average Joe in 1901.

Return Missionaries and Unrighteous Business

13 11 2010

A few years ago I attended an inspiring presentation at BYUI for business majors. The speaker (can’t remember his name) discussed the disappointing drop in empathy that he noted in return missionaries who entered the business field. He described how he had gone on a mission to a third world country and had seen first hand the devastating effects of poverty. The speaker shared many heart wrenching stories of righteous individuals stuck in circumstances beyond their control. He vowed to be empathetic to the plight of those in need when he returned to the states. After returning home from his mission the presenter obtained a business degree and started working for an international company. During his tenure at this company he was placed in situations where (to increase the bottom line) he had to take advantage of the poor. He eventually chose to leave and started his own company.

The speaker called on all present to (a) not forget the mission experiences had with righteous individuals in poverty (b) not lose empathy towards those in difficult situations and (c) be responsible businessmen by conducting “righteous business” that does not take advantage of the poor (such as advocating within your place of work so that decisions made do not inflict harm on vulnerable people). The presenter went on to give several examples of RM’s who had turned away from their mission experiences by becoming ruthless and taking advantage of others.

I really enjoyed the lecture. However, several of the individuals sitting next to me (all RM’s) expressed disappointment in the presentation. They made statements such as “I didn’t expect moral coaching but rather hints about how to build a company and make money.” I saw in that interaction just what the presenter had expressed, a desire for an increase in business savvy at the cost of empathy for the poor. I was disappointed and somewhat crestfallen. During the same time period I attended several lectures from business professors at BYUI who contended that one needed to take advantage of cheap third-world labor whenever possible in order to stay competitive. There was no discussion of business ethics or when such practices could be harmful.

I have known many RM’s who have succumbed to the temptation of a quick buck at the cost of the vulnerable. A couple examples include a) RM’s selling shoddy items or services (door-to-door) with the same zeal they did preaching the gospel and b) starting and/or participating in pyramid schemes at the expense of family, friends, and the gullible. Not to mention high level executives that endorse contracting to sweat shops, cutting corners on products that could injure people, unethical lending practices, or strategically taking advantage of people who are uneducated.

Have you noticed RM or LDS businessmen turning away from empathy?
What do you think about the presenters suggestions?
What makes a “righteous business” or an “unrighteous business”?
Is having a “righteous business” even possible?

Polemic Political Party

9 11 2010

A friend of mine posted this on facebook. I like some of what he had to say:

I think that the republican party is composed of people who are interested primarily in one or more of the following:

1). People who want the morality of their children to be protected.
2). People who want their nation to be protected from foreign nations.
3). People who want their freedom to be protected from socialism.
4). People who want their bank account to be protected from taxes.
5). People who are wealthy and selfish and/or lazy and don’t want to have to work or give anyone anything else.

I think that the democratic party is composed of people who are interested primarily in one or more of the following:

1). People who feel that freedom of expression/personal decision is worth protecting at any cost.
2). People who don’t want the world to be ruled by violence.
3). People who don’t want the world to be ruled by the rich and want the poor to be provided for.
4). People who believe that with the ridiculous wealth that some people and big businesses have, there is no reason that everyone ought not to have their basic necessities of health and food provided for if they find themselves unable to do so.
5). People who are poor and selfish and/or lazy and don’t want to have to work or give anyone anything else.

I see a serious problem occurring…

Both the democratic and republican party media is attempting to make the other party appear to be only composed of people in the 5th category… that is wrong and it really bothers me. I believe that the republican and democratic parties media are getting their money by stirring up the people to anger and judgment against each other. They are thriving off of creating animosity and hatred. I am embarrassed that so many of my fellow Americans have fallen in to this trap. I am embarrassed that for a time, I myself had fallen into this trap. We are different, but we are also very similar. I propose that our similarities outweigh the differences and that many of our strengths actually come from the very differences for which we fight over. But our weakness comes from the fact that we are fighting.

Please republicans and democrats, lay down your weapons of offense and judgment. Stop seeing with your scrutinizing eyes. Look for the good in those that see the world differently. Seek for compassion and empathy above the pride with which you consider yourself to be “right” and them to be “wrong”.

Most of the ideals of either party are generally “good” ideals, and most of the people are generally “good” people. There are definitely exceptions, but as a whole I am glad to belong to a nation where there are so many democrats that have such high desires to provide for the poor and fight for individual freedoms.

What is the solution?

I don’t know what the solution is, but maybe together republicans and democrats can figure it out if they will stop festering over their differences of opinion.

Maybe there isn’t a political solution– because maybe there isn’t a political problem. Maybe the fact of the matter is that we are going to be different– but perhaps this isn’t as much of a problem as we think it is. Perhaps we are trying to enforce everyone to see the way that we do politically, and maybe– just maybe, that is a mistake.

The Crossroads Nation

9 11 2010

A refreshing look at the future of America.

“the U.S. is well situated to be the crossroads nation. It is well situated to be the center of global networks and to nurture the right kinds of networks. Building that America means doing everything possible to thicken connections: finance research to attract scientists; improve infrastructure to ease travel; fix immigration to funnel talent; reform taxes to attract superstars; make study abroad a rite of passage for college students; take advantage of the millions of veterans who have served overseas.

The nation with the thickest and most expansive networks will define the age. There’s no reason to be pessimistic about that.”

Full OpEd article here:

Toward Health

4 11 2010

So I am getting older.   I have a paunch and my clothes aren’t fitting right.  My energy level is dropping and I just feel like lounging around all the time.  My kids are still young, but I am worried that I won’t be able to keep up with them as they get older.  I’m also getting older (relatively, I’m in my 30’s) and I want to be healthy and have a high quality of life as I age.    If I were to exercise more often I would have more energy, my relationship with my wife would improve (because she is very health conscious and I would be joining in one of her interests), and I would feel better about myself.  I may even be able to improve my spiritual connection and improve my mental functioning.

Yet at the same time, I am in graduate school, I am super busy at work, I have responsibilities at home and at church.  It seems like I don’t have time (although I know I could make time).   

Ahhh….just writing this has given me the impetus to exercise tonight. Mission accomplished!