Fathers are significant influencers in the lives of their children; they are no longer valued just for bringing home the figurative bacon. The days of detached fathering are becoming a thing of the past. Dads are more involved than ever in all aspects of childrearing. Research has found that men who are fathers are actually happier than their childless peers. Not only do dads benefit from getting involved, but there are huge benefits for children, too! The latest research points to several areas where dads have an especially profound effect on their daughters’ health and wellbeing.
Dealing with Stress
Research has found that the perceived quality of the relationship between father and daughter may influence the daughter’s ability to manage stress because lower baseline cortisol levels were detected when there was a warm relationship, and higher cortisol levels were detected when there was a strain on the relationship. Cortisol is often referred to as the “stress hormone” and is responsible for regulating changes that occur in the body in response to stress. Thus, the daughters with the lower cortisol levels tended to have lower reactivity to developmentally appropriate stressors and increased coping mechanisms to deal with stressful situations. They also found that positive interactions between fathers and daughters may influence social cognition such that when discussing social problems with peers, women with warm fathers tended to be less inclined to focus on the elements of the problem that are uncontrollable or unpredictable.
Self-Esteem and Body Image
Fathers can set the foundation for a young woman with regard to how she views herself and her body. When fathers are present and loving, young girls learn to view themselves in a positive light. Dads who show unconditional love and support for their daughters increase the probability of a positive body image. But when a dad’s feedback focuses on his daughter’s looks and talents, there tends to be a higher incidence of negative body image. Research has also proven that daughters who feel a strong emotional connection to their fathers are also less likely to be depressed or have an eating disorder, such as anorexia or bulimia.
Academic Performance and Professional Success
Not only does a positive, warm and connected relationship to one’s father help girls and women emotionally, it can have a profound effect on their success in school and in their careers. A recent US census found that girls who had a warm relationship with their fathers were 43% more likely to earn A’s and 33% less likely than other children to repeat a grade. Women are seeking careers that are similar to those of their fathers now more than ever. A 2009 study from the University of Maryland found that 20% of women currently in their 30s are following in their fathers’ professional footsteps, compared to only 6% back in the early 1900s. The thinking behind this shift is that not only are more women in the workforce now, but also their fathers are mentoring and investing more in their daughters’ futures, as well as in their relationships with their daughters.
Healthy Relationships in Adulthood with Men
One of the most significant published findings is that girls who enjoy healthy relationships with their fathers tend to have healthier, happier and longer-lasting relationships with men in adulthood. They also tended to have stronger communication skills, which promoted healthier intimate relationships with men. A study in 2010 found that the interactions with her father in a girl’s formative years could be a strong predictor of both her intimate and sexual relationships with men later. The study found that girls who did not feel emotionally close to their fathers tended to engage in more frequent sexual activity in adolescence. The reason for this may be that they are trying to fill the emotional void created by a lack of closeness and affection.
When fathers connect on an emotional level and invest in building relationships with their daughters the increase in physical, mental and social well-being is profound. Fathers have a very important role to play in building emotionally and socially healthy children. So be sure to get dad involved in coming up with your family's parenting plan. He has an important role to play!
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Byrd-Craven J, Auer BJ, Granger DA, Massey AR. The Father-Daughter Dance: The Relationship Between Father-Daughter Relationship Quality And Daughters' Stress Response. Journal of Family Psychology. 2012.
Hartwell-Walker, M. (2015). Daughters Need Fathers, Too. Psych Central. Retrieved on May 24, 2016, from http://psychcentral.com/lib/daughters-need-fathers-too/
Lawson, J. (2012, June 12). 5 Ways Fathers Influence Their Daughters. Retrieved from http://www.ldsliving.com/5-Ways-Fathers-Influence-Their-Daughters/s/68982
Lloyd, R. (2009, March 16). Trend: Daughters Follow Dads’ Footsteps. Retrieved from http://www.livescience.com/3388-trend-daughters-follow-dads-footsteps.html
Scheffler TS, Naus PJ. The Relationship Between Fatherly Affirmation And A Woman's Self-Esteem, Fear Of Intimacy, Comfort With Womanhood And Comfort With Sexuality. The Canadian Journal of Human Sexuality. 1999.
Scutti, S. (2013, June 12). Why The Father-Daughter Relationship Is So Important. Retrieved from http://www.medicaldaily.com/why-father-daughter-relationship-so-important-246744
This article originally appeared on The Committee For Children blog on June 17, 2016