Unfortunately, we have all heard of other grievous acts of unwarranted, violent behaviour by youth and teens in all parts of Canada. No one incident is any less important than another. Each has many victims, some bearing physical scars or worse, many carrying emotional and psychological scars for the rest of their lives.
As has been the case in most of these instances, the immediate reaction has been to attempt to address the act itself. In the case of gun-related violence, this usually results in banning or further restricting handgun access. It is highly unlikely that these actions will resolve the occurrence of these problems.
To attempt to reduce or eliminate these unacceptable behaviours, we must look at some of the possible root causes and put our resources there. From one perspective, a root cause is the need for fathers to be actively involved in the raising of their children. As Kate Fraher recently wrote:
mothers and fathers do things differently with their children. Both roles are important and necessary in the nourishing and upbringing of our children.
The evidence has been growing that fathers have a vital role to play in the upbringing of their children. If, as the courts are fond of saying, we are truly concerned about what is in the best interest of the child then we need to sort fact from fiction and account for our actions. In her research “What do Fathers Contribute to Children’s Well-Being?” Suzanne Le Menestrel, a researcher with Child Trends, a non-profit, non-partisan research organization, states: “Warmth, closeness, and nurturance are important aspects of a healthy parent-child relationship regardless of whether the parent is a mother or father. But research also suggests that fathers contribute to their children’s healthy development in ways that are unique from mothers. For example, in one study of young children’s cognitive development, fathers promoted their child’s intellectual development and social competence through physical play, whereas mothers promoted these skills through verbal expressions and teaching activities.” 
Other research shows that when fathers are actively involved in the daily lives of their children there are very positive outcomes. Consider that “[r]esearch has shown that fathers, no matter what their income or cultural background, can play a critical role in their children’s education. When fathers are involved, their children learn more, perform better in school, and exhibit healthier behaviour.” 
The research goes further in answering the question, “As a divorced dad, can I make a difference?” The answer is yes, “[e]ven when fathers do not share a home with their children, their active involvement can have a lasting and positive impact.” 
And it doesn’t end there. “Higher levels of father involvement in activities with their children, such as eating meals together, going on outings, and helping with homework, are associated with fewer behaviour problems, higher levels of sociability, and a high level of school performance among children and adolescents.” 
Is Canada unique in this problem? Hardly. Steven Malanga, Senior Fellow at the Manhattan Institute, writes about the problems that the city of Newark, New Jersey is experiencing.  According to his article, “60 per cent of the city’s children are growing up without fathers” and the vast majority of these are “born directly into poverty.” In the United States, the information available from the National Institutes of Health (NIH), shows “that teenagers without a dad around are almost twice as likely to be depressed as teenagers from an intact married family. They are more than four times as likely to be expelled from school and three times as likely to repeat a grade. Drug and alcohol abuse is much more common. On top of that, they are also more likely to have sex before they are married–setting the stage for yet another fatherless generation.” 
It is apparent that the “greater the fathers’ involvement was, the lower the level of adolescents’ behavioural problems, both in terms of aggression and antisocial behaviour and negative feelings such as anxiety, depression, and low self-esteem…Those all sound like attributes that should not only be endorsed, but actively pursued.” 
Still following the trend lines? How about early pregnancies with teenage girls? Yes, education is a factor, but having dad around makes for a strong positive effect in reducing teenage pregnancies. “Even when controlling for differences in family background, father absence was associated with the likelihood that adolescent girls will be sexually active and become pregnant as teenagers. This association was strongest for daughters whose fathers were absent when they were younger. Compared with the pregnancy rates of girls whose fathers were present, rates of teenage pregnancy were seven to eight times higher among girls whose fathers were absent early in their childhoods and two to three times higher among those who suffered father-absence later in their childhood.” 
And what are the Canadian statistics telling us? Statistics Canada states, “For most of the past 30 years, divorce has been on the rise, common-law unions have been increasingly frequent and marriage seems to be gradually losing ground.”  Furthermore, there is a “growing instability in the unions of today’s Canadian women”, with the same trend observed for men. 
Unfortunately, from 1995 to 2001, lone parent families made up almost 14 per cent of all families in Canada.  This is no small number, but what is even more startling is that “41 per cent of all children living below the official [Low Income Cut Off] were in this type of family.” 
Will the active daily involvement and participation of fathers solve all the woes of today’s youth – unfortunately not. Young adults will make their own decisions, their own mistakes and bear the consequences of their choices – good and bad. However, the social science research is clear, when fathers are actively and regularly involved in their children’s lives, kids are less likely to participate in the negative aspects of life around them.
What can we learn from this? We can acknowledge the significant role that fathers play in the raising of their children. We can actively discuss the importance of fathers and mothers in pre-marital counselling. We can remember this when marriage and family counsellors are actively involved in pre-family and family situations. We can take this into account in the unfortunate cases when divorce breaks up a family. Family courts can take into account the importance of the role that fathers and mothers play in the raising of their children – and truly consider this when determining what is in the best interest of the children.
If we really want to address many of the challenges of youth involved in early pregnancy, violence, substance abuse and success in education, we need to look beyond the plethora of proposed band-aid solutions and nurture our children from their earliest moments – by both their mother and father. Politicians, social bureaucracies, non-governmental agencies and churches alike need to take note.
This article was contributed by Dave Quist, Executive Director, Institute of Marriage and Family Canada.
- ^ CTV Toronto. (2007, August 7). Men charged in Toronto boy’s death appear in court. Retrieved from http://toronto.ctv.ca/
- ^ Le Menestrel, S. (1999, May 1). What do fathers contribute to children’s well-being? Child Trends Research Brief, p. 1. Retreived from http://www.childtrends.org/Files/dadchild.pdf
- ^ The National Centre for Fathering, U.S. The National Center for Fathering, U.S. Department of Health, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. (2000, June 1). A call to commitment: Fathers’ involvement in their children’s learning. Retrieved from http://www.ed.gov/
- ^ Ibid.
- ^ Le Menestrel, p. 2.
- ^ Malanga, S. (2007, August 9). City without fathers: Behind Newark’s epidemic violence are its thousands of fatherless children. City Journal. Retrieved from http://www.city-journal.org/html/eon2007-08-09sm2.html
- ^ Rebecca Hagelin quoting Pat Fagan. (2006, June 13). Life with — and without – father. Heritage Foundation. Retrieved from http://www.heritage.org/Press/Commentary/ed061206c.cfm
- ^ Carlson, M.J. (2006, February). Family structure, father involvement, and adolescent behavioural outcomes. Journal of Marriage and Family, 68(1): 137-154.
- ^ Ellis et al. (2003). Does father absence place daughters at special risk for early sexual activity and teenage pregnancy? Child Development 74(3): 801-821.
- ^ Statistics Canada. (2002, July). Changing Conjugal Life in Canada, General Social Survey- Cycle 15, Catalogue no. 89-576-XIE. Retrieved from http://www.statcan.ca
- ^ Ibid.
- ^ Ibid.
- ^ Kerr, D. & Beaujot, R. (2001, May) Child poverty and family structure in canada. Population Studies Centre, University of Western Ontario, p. 10.