Fathering and School Achievement (page 2)
Some research indicates that fathers experience the same parental joys, worries, and frustrations as mothers (Entwisle, 1985; Peterson & Hennon, 2005; Thomas & Walker, 1998). There are, however, qualitative differences between mothers and fathers in how parenting is conducted. There are, as well, differences within groups of fathers. Fathers bring certain strengths to parenting. In some cases, fathers would like to change the way they father, perhaps becoming more involved, nurturing, skillful, close, and so forth. Some fathers want involvement in their children's schooling whereas others do not know how, feel alienated from school systems in general (especially if their own school experiences were not positive), or do not feel comfortable within a particular school setting. Some fathers may not realize that active school involvement is appropriate or useful.
Irrespective of other factors such as social class, family structure, or developmental characteristics and stage of the child, positive outcomes for children appear to be related to certain parenting styles. Various publications report positive developmental outcomes for children associated with parenting styles characterized by logical reasoning, clear communication, appropriate monitoring, support, involvement in the role and with the children, and love (Anderson & Sabatelli, 2003; Peterson, in press; Peterson & Hennon, 2005). Children raised with this style of parenting are observed to be successful in school, altruistic, cooperative, trusting, having good self-esteem, and better able to enter into and maintain intimate relationships. Likewise, a style characterized by being sensitive to the children's developmental needs, nurturing without being overly restricting, acting responsive without being overly controlling, and stimulating without being overly directive is related to positive academic and other outcomes for children (Bean et al., 2003; Belsky & Vondra, 1985; Bush, 2000; Dunn, 2004; Ingoldsby, Schvaneveldt, Supple, & Bush, 2004; Marsiglio et al., 2000; Peterson, in press; Peterson & Hennon, 2005; Steinberg, 2002). This is a style referred to as authoritative parenting, and research indicates that it is this style that best predicts more desirable outcomes among children, including academic success.
Research on school attendance, achievement, and adjustment indicates that various aspects of family and household environments appear to influence educational outcomes of youths. Some characteristics identified include socioeconomic status (SES), parents' employment status and educational backgrounds, family structure, and the role of the father (DuBois, Eitel, & Felner, 1994; Dudley & Stone, 2001; Marsiglo et al., 2000; U.S. Department of Education, 2000). For example, several studies, even when controlling for SES, demonstrate a relationship between father absence and poor academic performance and dropping out of school (Cunningham & Dorsey, 2004; Dudley & Stone, 2001; Dunn, 2004; Dunn et al., 2004; Henley & Pasley, 2005; Lamb, 2004; Mangum, 1999; McLanahan, 1997; Steinberg, 2002; U.S. Department of Education, 2005). Father absence is associated with poor academic attainment and school dropout, perhaps more so than the effect of poverty alone, but poverty or socioeconomic status may have a significant influence on other problems such as delinquency (Battle & Coates, 2004; McLanahan, 1997; McLanahan & Sandefur, 1994). One important aspect of father absence is the payment or nonpayment of child support. The amount of child support is positively associated with children's school grades and less behavioral problems at school. Reading and math scores and years of school attainment are also positively associated with the amount of child support paid. These associations do not appear to differ by the gender or race of the child. Overviews of research in the 1990s confirmed "that nonresident fathers' child support payments are positively associated with children's educational success" (Marsiglio et al., 2000, p. 1182).
Among teens, nonresidential fathers are less likely than are married fathers to be the primary source for discussions about school and careers (Dudley & Stone, 2001). Teens also describe their dads as being more distant than their mothers. Daughters particularly often describe their fathers as uninvolved. Possibly, fathers more often show intimacy toward their teenage children through sharing an activity or helping out in some way, such as fixing something. That is, "doing" rather than verbally expressing their love and concern.
Given the relationship between school adjustment and aspects of the family environment, including fathers' support, it would appear that a better understanding of fathering and fathers' involvement with schools might provide better foundations for enhancing children's school adjustment and success. Bronfenbrenner (1986), for one, emphasized transactions between families and schools. Factors such as the quantity and quality of contact between parents and the child's school could be consequential for academic outcomes. Although we realize that promoting this idea can create more pressure and higher expectations for father involvement, we believe that fathers' involvement in the schools and schooling of their children is important and should be encouraged.
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