The Times

Thursday, January 28, 1999

Chat with dad turns boys into better men

by Mark Henderson
The Times

Fathers who devote time to their sons - even as little as five minutes a day - are giving them a far greater chance to grow up as confident adults, a parenting research project has found.

Boys who feel that their fathers devote time especially to them and talk about their worries, schoolwork and social lives almost all emerge as motivated and optimistic young men full of confidence and hope, according to results to be published next month.

The study, the latest from the Tomorrow's Men project supported by Oxford University and funded by Top Man, picked out youngsters with high self-esteem, happiness and confidence as successful "can-do kids", and looked in depth at their parental and social backgrounds. More than 1,500 boys aged 13 to 19 were surveyed.

"High-level fathering", it found, was much the most important factor in success. More than 90 per cent of boys who felt that their fathers spent time with them and took an active interest in their progress emerged in the "can-do" category.

By contrast, 72 per cent of those who felt that their fathers rarely or never did these things fell into the group with the lowest levels of self-esteem and confidence, and were more likely to be depressed, to dislike school and to get into trouble with the police.

The raw amount of time spent with sons was not significant. What was important was the boy's perception. Adrienne Katz, of the Tomorrow's Men project, said: "With some children, a five-minute chat at the end of a busy day can be terrific, and with others that's not enough. It is all about making the child feel wanted, loved and listened to."

The study found little difference between the positive effects of a good relationship with a father in a standard two-parent family, and with an absent father who nevertheless made the effort to make time for the family. "Whatever the shape or form of a family, if you can get it together it makes a difference."

Among the "can-do" group, three-quarters said that they felt their parents listened to them, compared with 27 per cent in the low-esteem group; 83 per cent said that their parents were helpful; and 70 per cent said they were allowed to make their own decisions.

Families who spent significant amounts of time together as a unit were also more likely to turn out confident children.

Copyright 1999, Times Newspapers Ltd.