Fathers Are Crucial to Healthy Outcomes for Kids, Studies Confirm
As the U.S. celebrated Father’s Day over the weekend, two recent studies confirm that fathers play a central role in the mental health and behavior of their children.
In a report that compared dozens of studies conducted between 1987 and 2022, the America First Policy Institute (AFPI) found “clear correlations between children raised in fatherless homes and developmental challenges ranging from bad grades, anxiety, and suicide to violent behavior, drug use, and criminality.”
The report pointed out the extent of fatherlessness in America, with 18.3 million children who currently live without a father in the home, or about one out of every four kids in the U.S. This statistic is at odds with the overwhelming consensus among Americans of the importance of strong families. A January 2022 Rasmussen poll found that 84% “believe a strong family is foundational to a strong America and that parents should bear the primary responsibility for raising children.” Only 11% said that raising children is a “community responsibility,” as suggested by President Joe Biden a few weeks ago.
Regarding educational outcomes, the study found that children with an engaged father in the home were “33% percent less likely to repeat a class and 43% more likely to get As in school.” It also found that children without fathers in the home were up to nine times more likely to drop out of school.
As to mental health outcomes, kids in single-parent families are “twice as likely to suffer from mental health and behavioral problems as those living with married parents” and have an almost “five times greater chance of developing mood disorders.” The report further pointed to studies showing that up to 63% of youth suicides and 85% of children who exhibit behavioral disorders are from fatherless homes.
Regarding criminal behavior, the report pointed to studies showing that “fatherless kids are 20 times more likely to be incarcerated,” with some data suggesting that children living without fathers “are 279% more likely to carry guns and deal drugs compared to peers living with their fathers.” The report also noted that in a study of 56 school shootings, 82% of the shooters “grew up in either an unstable family environment or grew up without both biological parents together.”
Joseph Backholm, senior fellow for Biblical Worldview and Strategic Engagement at Family Research Council, contended that there are serious societal consequences when children grow up with a lack of love from engaged fathers.
“When children are abandoned by their father, their little minds often conclude they are not worth loving,” he told The Washington Stand. “But that doesn’t mean they stop looking for love. Instead, they look to people who will pretend to love them, for a price. In other cases, children turn to substances to help numb the pain. Fatherlessness creates a deficit of love and a crisis of identity. The violence, substance abuse, crime, and educational failures seem to be the result of what happens when children look for love and identity in the wrong places.”
In addition, new studies in the world of neuroscience are continuing to uncover the critical importance of household stability for young children. In a groundbreaking study published in the June edition of Developmental Cognitive Neuroscience, researchers analyzing how children’s brains develop have found that “household instability before age 5 increases the risk of depression by age 21.” The findings revealed that a stable father’s presence during early childhood, among other factors, “benefit long-term development of mental health and well-being.”
The AFPI report includes numerous recommendations on how to remedy the fatherhood crisis in America.
“Local churches and faith-based organizations can be of assistance in the entire fatherhood space,” it notes. “Churches are well situated to lead in this space, as they have the personnel and mentorship potential to guide fathers to their highest potential, provide community-based resources, and mentor those without fathers.”
The report goes on to maintain that “policy officials and community leaders alike can support an all-out pro-fatherhood messaging campaign to amplify the importance of fatherhood across the Nation.” As reported by Breitbart, Senator Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) is one lawmaker who has sought to pass legislation aimed at supporting families this year. “Never in my lifetime has it been harder to be a mom or a dad,” Rubio wrote in January. “Laws in our country should work to chart a new course and help parents balance child-rearing, work, and other priorities throughout day-to-day life.”
The AFPI report concludes, “To address this crisis, we must first speak openly about the problem of fatherless children. Then, we must focus on fixing it by promoting strong families, confronting cultural malaise, and sharing the joys of fatherhood. It is a tall task but a worthwhile one.”
Dan Hart is senior editor at The Washington Stand.