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Why Children Need Nurturing Fathers

A recent survey of more than 1,600 teenagers by Harvard found that almost twice as many 14-to-18-year-old boys and girls feel comfortable opening up to their mothers (72%) as to their fathers (39%) about anxiety, depression, or other mental-health challenges. The gap suggests that fathers can become much more involved at home, offering the kind of emotional support that many children today so urgently need.

Intimacy between a parent and a child acts as a protective buffer against the day-to-day challenges of life. In a 2021 study published in the Journal of Family Psychology researchers found that closeness with fathers was associated with fewer weight concerns, higher self-esteem, and fewer depression symptoms for both boys and girls.

A paper published in January of 2023 highlighted the role that dads play in building a child’s skills in regulating emotions. Fathers who were involved in caregiving and play, and who reacted with warmth and greater sensitivity to a child who expressed emotions, were significantly more likely to have children with better emotional balance from infancy to adolescence. Those skills in children are linked, in turn, with higher levels of social competence, academic achievement, and resilience. Conversely, poor emotional regulation skills are linked with anxiety, depression, and behavioral problems.

Boys can be especially affected by whether fathers are part of the emotional equation. Our culture often tells men that softer emotions are weak, so fathers may have to give sons explicit “permission to feel.” Because many men didn’t grow up with an emotionally warm male role model, they may lack confidence in their own abilities to be sensitive caregivers, which can hold them back.

The bottom line is that a strong fatherly connection helps young people to manage their emotions and deal with mental-health crises.


Jennifer Breheny Wallace, “Why Children Need Nurturing Fathers,” Wall Street Journal (3-4-23)

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