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7 March 2002
Involved Fathers Minimize Adolescent Problems
by George Atkinson

Girls whose fathers are involved in their upbringing are less likely to have mental health problems in later life whilst good father relations can prevent boys from getting into trouble with the police says new research released during National Science Week 2002 which runs from 8 -17 March. 'Good father-child relationships are associated with an absence of emotional and behavioural difficulties in adolescence and greater academic motivation too' say Dr Eirini Flouri and Ann Buchanan co authors of the research. 'Teenagers who have grown up feeling close to their fathers in adolescence also go on to have more satisfactory adult marital relationships' she adds.

The ESRC funded research at the Department of Social Policy and Social Work, University of Oxford aimed to discover whether it could back up previous US research showing positive outcomes for children whose fathers were more 'involved' in their care. 'An involved father is one who reads to his child, takes outings with his child, is interested in the child's education and takes an equal role in managing his child' explains Dr Flouri. 'That does not necessarily mean that he lives with the child's mother or is even the biological father of the child' she adds.

The research also shows that a good relationship with the father or father figure can also protect against adolescent psychological problems in families where the parents have separated. 'There was a particularly strong association between father involvement with daughters during adolescence and a lack of psychological distress in adult life' says Dr Flouri. 'For boys who have involved fathers it was quite marked that they were less likely to be in trouble with the police as they grew older' she adds.

The study also showed that early father involvement is associated with continuing involvement throughout childhood and adolescence. 'At different ages fathers relate to their children in different ways but the underlying concept of father involvement is a continuous one' says Dr Buchanan. 'Generally speaking the higher the father's level of educational attainment the more 'involved' he was with his children' she adds.

Other key findings of the research included:

  • Father involvement at age 7 is strongly related to children's later educational attainment

  • Father involvement protects against adult experience of homelessness in sons of manual workers
The study was based on 17,000 children who were born in the UK in 1958 and who were followed up at ages 7, 11, 16, 23 and 33. 'The research has wide implications for work life balance questions. Since father time is clearly so important for children it is obvious that they need to become involved early in a child's life. It also raises issues about whether health education and other services involved with families could become more 'father friendly' says Dr Buchanan.




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