by Dr Kevin Wright
Father’s Day is on 17th June this year. On average, people in the UK spend three times more on Mother’s Day than Father’s Day [see here] . It could be argued that this reflects how much the role of the father is valued compared to the role of the mother.
Are we undervaluing the role of the father? Well, research shows the father-child relationship is an important one, In fact it can be more influential than the mother-child relationship. This is especially true for the 8-12 year old child as they try to make sense of the outside world. At this age, the child – especially the male child – may see the father as representing that outside world. The child may see the father as more representing how to deal with the outside world than the mother so, for example, it has been found that children model their coping strategies more on the models they get from their fathers than that they see from their mothers.
A poor role model or emotional unavailability of the father, particularly to their sons, can have severe repercussions for development, especially if he is the oldest child having to deal with the arrival of a sibling. He may see this baby as usurping his position as the sole focus of attention of the mother. He may experience a grief reaction at the loss, part of which is to feel angry. This loss can be ameliorated if a father is physically and emotionally involved with the older child.
In the absence of positive male role models, sons often drift aimlessly and may end up in gangs. This not only is a problem for society, but allows a boy to waste his life to criminality, mental illness, substance abuse and even suicide.
The solutions to these issues are no doubt complex, but a sensible start would be more investment in things like supportive parenting classes for fathers, more male teachers in primary schools, more male support workers (e.g. social workers, youth workers, psychologists and mentors), to provide a long-term way of working differently with boys and men. At present there are no financial incentives for males to stay as in these careers in the long term, so experienced workers are lost to other careers. And there is little support for fathers to be more involved as carers of their children.
Parents, especially fathers, may need help to know how to support their children at school. Schools need to enable fathers in this and not marginalise them in their parental roles. Schools can help fathers by, for example, having parent/child classes to model how to encourage/value their children through their development. Employment conditions need to be such that fathers can feel supported and encouraged to be carers of their children, particularly their sons, otherwise the cost to society is huge if the sons drift dangerously astray.
School support/counselling services should rethink ways to encourage boys to access emotional help. Boys may find it very challenging to talk about their feelings, but they might find it easier to express themselves through writing, or via technology/avatar programmes. It might make entering the process more appealing if ‘therapy’ and ‘counselling’ could be rebranded as something more appealing to boys. Without a doubt, we need to be more imaginative in the ways that we address the issues facing boys.
Society needs to wake up to how important fathers are to their children. Fathers need to know their role is important and need to be helped to understand how to be involved with the care of their children from the moment they are born and need to be supported to fulfil their role in bring up their children. Often they don’t fully realise how important their involvement is for the positive emotional development of their children, particularly for their sons.
Recognising the importance of fathers in the wellbeing of boys would be a step in the right direction for us all, for to look after the boy is to look after the man.
About the author
Dr Kevin Wright is a Chartered Counselling Psychologist. He will be presenting his poster ‘A Boy’s Journey away from gang life to being a man. Critical stages of development & intervention’ at the <Male Psychology Conference, 22-23 June/p>
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