A new study in Journal of Youth and Adolescence found that teen girls whose parents “get in their business” are more likely to delay having sex compared to teen girls whose parents “mind their own business.” This adds to the piles of research showing that parents who monitor and nose their way into their teens’ lives end up with kids who avoid some really risky behavior (like having sex at 14 and getting drunk at 15).
But what is one of the biggest predictors of young teen girls delaying having sex? Having a dad around. This fact has been shown again and again. Dads being present really helps girls make some wiser decisions (on the flip side, a girl having sex at 14 is anything BUT a wise decision). Maybe having a dad around helps with the whole monitoring thing. One more person present to nose into the teen’s personal life. Maybe it’s something about getting positive male attention that helps girls not seek it elsewhere. It is hard to know exactly what dads are bringing to the table, but it is something.
What I always find interesting, in these studies showing the importance of a dad being present, is that it doesn’t much matter what exactly the dad does. Maybe he is cranky when the house gets loud, or he is strict, or he is lenient, or he likes to complain about everyone leaving the lights on all the time. It doesn’t matter. Just being there, being engaged, paying attention, doing the dirty work. That’s what seems to matter.
Past research has shown that dads who do the nitty-gritty work when their kids are babies – the diapers, the baths, the 2am feedings – have children who are more securely attached to them. They grow into teens who know they can depend on their dads when things go wrong. They also know dad is there to help them make better decisions, and to come down on them when they make bad decisions. Both actions help kids navigate the tricky waters of adolescence.
The bumper sticker I saw at day care today really does sum up research on fathers. Men who change diapers change the world. The bumper sticker was probably referring to a broader point about gender equality. But a lot of world-changing also happens one kid at a time.