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Monday, September 10, 2012

Does Dad Time Really Impact Self-Esteem? How About Mom Time?

Gambel's Quail parents teaching babies to drink water

Moms and Dads...

It really matters little which animal species you study to see the impact of a parent.  In the animal kingdom sometimes it is the mother who guides and cares for the young, sometimes it is the father and sometimes it is both. Anthropologists compare and contrast patriarchal and matriarchal species, as well as cultures and societies.  In a perfect world each child has the love, attention and emotional support of two parents. But the world isn't perfect and many life events occur and a child can find oneself in a one parent household; however, that does not mean that this child cannot grow and prosper in every sense of the word. What improves one's chances to face life with confidence and optimism in reaching goals is self-esteem.

What is self-esteem?

Maybe some readers think of the term self-esteem as a relatively new psychological term; however, the first time that it was discussed in psychological literature was by William James when he published the Principles of Psychology in 1890. According to James, self-esteem is born when the individual splits his "global self" into two parts: "knower self" and "known self". Most dictionaries will define self-esteem simply as: a realistic respect for or favorable impression of oneself.  It is self evaluation and it is affected by how we look at ourselves and how we feel others view us.

What affects or controls our self-esteem?

Self-esteem would seem to evolve as a child matures. It probably has very little to do with one's stature in life; that is, happy and successful people are found in every socioeconomic strata. The one contributing factor that scientist seem to agree upon is the overwhelming importance of parental influence on a child's self-esteem. Of course, other influences can be how our peers treat us, how we feel about our body image, finding contentment and a sense of success when we attempt to learn a new skill.

New study highlights the importance of spending time with Dad...

Late last month the results of a seven year study that looked at shared time spent with teens and their parents were published in the journal Child Development.  CNN quotes Susan McHale, director of the Social Science Research Institute at Penn State:
"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."
 Here are the study's parameters:
  • Nearly 200 families were tracked for 7 years
  • Most of the families studied were exclusively European American, living in small cities, towns and rural communities and came from working and middle class. 
  • Each family studied had at least two children
Reported results:
  • The amount of time that kids spend with their parent in a group setting lessens as they go through the pre-teen years and teenage years. 
  • One-on-one time increases up to about the age of 12, remains stable to about age 15 and then starts to decline. 
  • Parent group setting time with children between the ages of 8 to 15 was typically seven to eight hours per week. 
  • Weekly one-on-one time for mothers was about 75 minutes, while father's one-on-one time was just over 60 minutes.
  • Increased time with Dad showed key benefits for self-esteem and "social competence", while Mom time did not show the same correlations. 

Researcher's observations...

The researchers offer the following suppositions as to their findings:
  • In two-parent families the mother's role is so scripted that a mom's involvement may go unnoticed.
  • Children may develop higher self-worth based on one-on-one time with their fathers, because their fathers go beyond social expectations when devoting undivided attention to their children.
  • Fathers are more involved in leisure activities with their children and have almost "peer-like interation" with their children.
  • Or it might be that the fathers that spend this one-on-one time with their child actually are drawn to a child who already has a higher self-worth. 

Going forward...

As with most research, in the end we always have more questions to ask.  We all can agree is that family and parents are important.  Self-esteem is important, as most researchers suggest: "Low self-esteem occasionally leads to suicidal ideation and behavior. These can include self-imposed isolation, feelings of rejection, dejection, insignificance, and detachment, and increased dissatisfaction with current social relationships. A lack of social support from peers or family tends to create or exacerbate stress on an individual, which can lead to an inability to adjust to current circumstances. Drug abuse and forms of delinquency are common side effects of low self-esteem."

A message for parents

There is a golden rule- "Do unto others, as you would have others do unto you." Dating back to 1780 BCE (Before Common Era) man has referenced this basic rule and it is a rule that every parent can or should understand. We all want to be treated with respect, we want to learn how to live and love and grow. It is this basic respect, even for our infants, that can and does lay the foundation for self-esteem. This past February a wonderful singer passed away at a young age. Whitney Houston suffered from the disease of addiction, but many years ago she recorded a powerful song that touched on how to parent - "show them all the beauty they possess inside."

In closing, take a minute and enjoy Whitney Houston singing "The Greatest Love of All!"

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