Adolescent boys with harsh, remote fathers are at greater risk of delinquency and substance abuse than their counterparts, according to a new study.
Researchers interviewed 1,216 male first-time juvenile offenders from Philadelphia, Pa.; Jefferson Parish, La.; and Orange County, Ca., asking them about their relationship with the person they considered their farther. All had been arrested on misdemeanor charges such as theft and vandalism.
According to the researchers, juveniles who reported their fathers were either harsh or rarely present engaged in more offending behavior, and were involved in more substance abuse than those who said they had “high-quality” relationships with their dads.
The influence of the mother-child relationship was found to have no effect on the results.
The population sample was ethnically diverse, and ranged in age from 13 to 17. Blacks represented 37 percent, Latinos 46 percent, and whites 15 percent.
Published in the January 2018 issue of Journal of Adolescence, the study was conducted by Cortney Simmons of the University of California, Irvine; Laurence Steinberg of Temple University; Paul J. Frick of Louisiana State University; and Elizabeth Cauffman, also of the University of California, Irvine .
The youths were initially interviewed six weeks after their first arrest, and then interviewed again six months later. The questions began with requesting participants to identify their precise relationship to whomever they considered to be their father, whether biological, adoptive, or otherwise.
Further questions included, “How often does your father/mother let you know he/she really cares about you?” and “How often does your father/mother get angry at you?” on a scale of one to 4. Researchers focused on youth reporting a high level of hostility and a low level of warmth in their relationships with their fathers.
Two subsamples of the participants were developed, called the “absent-father” and the “harsh-father” groups. Latino youth represented 50 percent of the harsh-father group, while Black youth comprised 53.95 percent of the absent-father group.
Participants were also asked to report on details of their households and their parents’ level of education. Approximately 29 percent the sample population reported not having a parent with a high school degree. Roughly 36 percent reported having a parent with a college degree or some level of vocational training after high school.
The researchers noted that “absent” father is a vague designation. Residing outside the child’s home doesn’t indicate in itself the level of contact the father has with his children.
“We accounted for the possible continuum of father involvement by combining both youth identification and household composition to define father absence.”
Only those who indicated they had no father figure whatsoever were included in the absent father group.
The authors commented that policymakers and advocates should reflect on the varied quality of father-child relationship before they attempt to encourage the engagement of absent fathers in their children’s lives.
“It may be irresponsible to encourage fathers to be involved without acknowledging the importance of the quality of the father-child relationship,” they wrote.
The full study, entitled “The Differential Influence of Absent and Harsh Fathers on Juvenile Delinquency” can be downloaded here.
This summary was prepared by TCR news intern John Ramsey. Readers’ comments are welcome.