Newswise — Fathers who do not live with their children can still have a positive effect on them if they stay involved in their lives, according to researchers at Boston College.
A study in the January/February issue of the journal Child Development found that when nonresident fathers are involved with their adolescent children, the youths are less likely to take part in delinquent behavior such as drug and alcohol use, violence, property crime and school problems like truancy and cheating.
"Nonresident fathers in low-income, minority families appear to be an important protective factor for adolescents," said Rebekah Levine Coley, professor of applied development and educational psychology at Boston College and the study's lead author.
"Greater involvement from fathers may help adolescents develop self-control and self-competence, and may decrease the opportunities adolescents have to engage in problem behaviors."
The BC researchers looked at a representative sample of 647 youths and their families over a 16-month period, gathering information from the adolescents and their mothers. The families were primarily African-American and Hispanic, and most lived in poverty. The youths were between the ages of 10 and 14 at the start of the study.
Taking into consideration adolescents' demographic and family characteristics, the researchers found that when nonresident fathers were involved with their children, adolescents reported lower levels of delinquency, particularly among youth who showed an early tendency toward such behavior.
They also found that adolescent delinquency did not lead fathers to change their involvement over the long-term. But in the short-term, as teens engaged in more problem behaviors, fathers increased their involvement, suggesting that nonresident fathers may be getting more involved in an effort to stem their children's delinquency. This finding was most prevalent in African-American families and contrasts with the pattern in two-parent, middle-class, white families, where parents often pull away and become less involved in the face of adolescent delinquency.
The research was funded, in part, by the W.T. Grant Foundation, the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development, Office of the Assistant Secretary of Planning and Evaluation, Administration on Developmental Disabilities, Administration for Children and Families, Social Security Administration, and the National Institute of Mental Health.