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Saturday, June 16, 2012


Are you tenacious on the job front? Tireless on the playing field? Do you keep chipping away at a pursuit you believe in, even when everyone else seems to say "no"?

You may have your dear old dad to thank for that eternal persistence.

A new study published in the Journal of Early Adolescence found that dads are in a unique position to instill persistence and hope in their children, particularly in the pre-teen and teen years.

Researchers from Brigham Young University analyzed 325 families over a four-year period, when fathers responded to questionnaires regarding their parenting style, and children ages 11 to 14 responded to questions about school performance and attaining goals. Fathers who practiced authoritative parenting, defined as providing feelings of love, granting autonomy and emphasizing accountability to a child, were more likely to have kids who developed the art of persistence, which led to better outcomes in school and lower instances of misbehavior.

Dads who ruled with an iron fist and an authoritarian style (harsher and more punishment-based parenting) had less persistent children.

"Fathers have a direct impact on how children perceive persistence and hope, and how they implement that into their lives," said Randall Day, professor in the School of Family Life at Brigham Young University and co-author of the study. "It's important to say that moms can do this, too, but it turns out that when fathers use authoritative parenting, they have an impact on how their adolescents perceive themselves and how persistent they are in their lives."

Day calls these types of dads "heart beat fathers" because of their consistent presence in the ordinary day-to-day interactions with their kids.

Researchers said the study joins a growing body of research that suggests fathers are uniquely important to children's self-regulation and self-esteem. While that is not to say mothers do not instill these values, men and fathers may take on this role more often because of societal acceptance and expectations.

"Our study suggests fathers who are most effective are those who listen to their children, have a close relationship, set appropriate rules, but also grant appropriate freedoms," said Laura Padilla-Walker, co-author of the study and associate professor in the School of Family Life at BYU.

"Persistence is an important character trait to teach to our children and is meaningfully related to teen outcomes over time," Padilla-Walker continued. "We focus so often on things like genetic intelligence that I think it's refreshing to be reminded that good old-fashioned 'sticking with it' is really important, too."

The characteristics that make up authoritative parenting allow children to "stick with it" by instilling accountability, along with freedom to make their own choices and mistakes, in a supportive environment. The style combines direction and guidance with expectations and respect, Paul Miller, associate professor of psychology at Arizona State University, wrote in an email.

"When held accountable in a supportive way, mistakes do not become a mark against their self-esteem, but a source for learning what to do differently," continued Miller. "Consequently, children are less afraid of making mistakes, are more inclined to try to make better choices in order to demonstrate that they can accomplish and live up to the expectations they share with their parent(s)."

About 52 percent of the fathers in the study showed above-average levels of authoritative parenting.

"While this study has fathers who are the participants, the study is more about the types of parenting practices than the gender of the parent, and this the authors recognize," said Miller.

Dr. John Walkup, professor of psychiatry at Weill Cornell Medical College and NewYork-Presbyterian Hospital, said values are often broken up into "hard" and "soft." Men tend to stereotypically demonstrate hard values, like leadership, determination and overcoming adversity, and women tend to take on the soft, which include empathy, support and caring.

"Children need both types of values in their lives," said Walkup. "Either parent can teach either. I love this article. I think dads can be underappreciated at times, but I'm glad we're identifying moms in playing a role in this value of persistence, as well. I'm struck all the time in clinical work how parents figure out how to share these value systems."

For those dads who want to incorporate more authoritative parenting into their style, Day encouraged parents to simply listen.

"Spend more time listening at a deep level and less time trying to give lectures or solve the problem," said Day. "Authoritative parents show encouragement by regularly having their children talk to them."

While the study focused on children from two-parent homes, study authors plan on following up their research by examining what day-to-day actions affect children most.

By MIKAELA CONLEY (@mikaelaconley)

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