“Forget Batman: when I really thought about what I wanted to be when I grew up, I wanted to be my Dad.”
— Paul Asay, “God on the Streets of Gotham: What the Big Screen Batman Can Teach Us about God and Ourselves”
When we think of a typical teenage boy, hiding away in the bedroom, playing video games in front of a computer, listening to loud music or talking to friends on the phone immediately come to mind. All of the above involve earbuds or headphones and there is no chance they will hear their parents when called.
However, according to a new study, this might not always be the case. The study from Pennsylvania State University published in the journal Child Development found that kids spend less and less time with their parents in group settings as they go through their preteen and teenage years. One-on-one time increases until about age 12 then remains relatively flat before starting to decline around age 15. The time teens spend specifically with dads may have critical benefits. The more time spent alone with their fathers, the higher their self-esteem; the more time with their dads in a group setting, the better their social skills.
Susan McHale, Director of the Social Science Research Institute at Penn State says, “The stereotype that teenagers spend all their time holed up in their rooms or hanging out with friends is, indeed, just a stereotype. Our research shows that, well into the adolescent years, teens continue to spend time with their parents and that this shared time, especially shared time with fathers, has important implications for adolescents’ psychological and social adjustment.” The study tracked 200 families with at least two children over a period of seven years.
The families studied were almost exclusively Euro-American, working and middle class families living in small cities, towns and rural communities. The researchers say further studies are needed to look at more diverse samples of the U.S. population.
While increased time with Dad showed key benefits for self-esteem and “social competence,” time with mom did not show the same correlations. In two-parent families, the mother’s role as caregiver is so scripted that her involvement can easily go unnoticed and unacknowledged, researchers noted.
Meanwhile, kids whose fathers dedicate one-on-one time “may develop higher general self-worth because their fathers go beyond social expectations to devote undivided attention to them.” Time with paternal figures often involves joking, teasing and other playful interactions. Fathers, as compared to mothers, were more involved in leisure activities and had more peer-like interactions with their children, a crucial aspect of youth social development.
Why boys with ADHD need their fathers
Adolescents might look to other males in their life for guidance, but their father is the primary role model. It is critical that teens feel that their father understands and accepts them. They need to learn how to cope and to compensate — if Dad does not accept them as they are, how can they accept themselves?
In approximately 50 percent of situations, a parent, another sibling, or a close relative will have attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). That someone often is dad. He might be just as active, inattentive and off task or impulsive as his son. Ideally, this father would understand and empathize with his son while being supportive. However, there are times when a father gets angry at the child for behaviors he does not like in himself.
The need for a father’s approval is even more critical when a boy with ADHD has poor motor skills. He may be clumsy or have poor hand-eye coordination. He might not do well in the usual team sports such as baseball, basketball or soccer. This boy might have trouble playing traditional sports and socializing in a team setting. It could be hard for this child to make friends, leading him to grow lonely or isolated.
A father taking his son to practice or assisting in coaching a sports team can be a powerful message. Some martial arts programs have father/son programs. Exercising and participating in sports alongside a child helps them refocus when they become distracted.
Tips for dads
- Join the child in a physical activity he can do well in such as jogging, martial arts or bowling. Participate, coach or cheer for the child on the sidelines
- Understand and empathize with the child’s ADHD. Be supportive of his therapy
- Spend time with him. Take him with you when you go shopping. Help him with school projects or just “hang out” by reading, talking or playing games together
- Teach task skills such as basic home or auto repair. Let him be your apprentice on weekend hobbies whether it’s carpentry, rebuilding classic cars, fishing, golfing or even barbecuing — just bring him along!