5 Cool Things We Now Know About Dads

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Takeaways from recent research on fathers for your Father's Day

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1. Fathers may be more responsible than mothers for teaching children about the outside world

Parents share a great deal of responsibility for shaping their kids' worldview. Some researchers think that given the male's evolutionary role in confronting threats external to the household (men are better able to pick out angry faces from a crowd than women, for instance), children may be turning to fathers for social cues about the outside world. That's in contrast to the prevailing conventional wisdom that says mothers influence kids more. Rather than trying to adjudicate the dispute, one study simply suggests that children of socially anxious fathers will also tend to become socially anxious themselves. If that's true, the burden of treatment for social anxiety could shift to men.

"The clinical practice is often to help mothers to become less overprotective towards their anxious child, and rather encourage their anxious child towards exposure," the researchers write. "But if mothers' overprotection might be in part a response to fathers' anxious behavior, and fathers might be more convincing in encouraging and modeling their child to be courageous in doing exposure, it might be more effective to involve fathers than mothers in therapy."


2. Fathers who engage in moderate physical play help their kids become emotionally mature 

Kids who are active often play rough with each other -- and that's just a healthy part of growing up. But fathers who play rough with their kids may be unwittingly making them more aggressive. In a study of 85 children aged 2 to 6, rough-and-tumble play was significantly correlated with physical aggression in the kids -- especially if the father did less to set rules and boundaries in the exchange. Fathers who assumed a dominant role in rough-and-tumble play were found to have kids who were less aggressive. Since aggressive behavior early on has been linked to chronic psychopathology in later life, researchers say fathers have a big role to play in helping children master their aggressive emotions through "controlled confrontation."


3. Your dad may have an influence on how quickly you age, even before you're born

All chromosomes are capped with what are called telomeres, which basically prevent your DNA from unraveling. As you grow older, your telomeres become shorter. What's interesting is that a man's telomere length appears to be a strong predictor for his children's -- and that's true for both male and female offspring. Mothers also have a similar effect, but it's not nearly as strong. The research, published in the European Journal of Human Genetics, suggests that at least some of your natural lifespan is inherited -- although the scientists were quick to point out that "the father-child correlations diminished with increasing age," indicating the effect of life choices on aging.


4. Kids with tough but loving dads learn to be more persistent

Are you a patient person? You might just thank your dad. According to a study by Brigham Young researchers monitoring 325 heterosexual couples and their children, authoritative parenting -- not to be confused with authoritarian parenting -- was linked to an increased ability among children to stick with a difficult task.


5. Minorities are really good at playing with their kids 

In today's media-saturated and hyper-programmed childrearing environment, making time to play with your kids can seem like a daunting task. What kind of families are best at doing it? Well, minority families, maybe. It turns out that Latino and African-American fathers are likely to be more engaged in caregiving and physical play with their children than fathers in white households, according to research from the University of Maryland. Drawing data from the Early Childhood Longitudinal Study, scientists looked at everything from parental socioeconomic data, quality of the relationship between fathers and mothers, and symptoms of parental depression. Although blacks reported the highest rates of depressive symptoms, across all races and ethnicities higher educational attainment was linked to more verbally engaging activities like reading and singing (although negatively linked to physical play). How much fathers engage with their kids, the researchers conclude, has a lot to do with the kind of engagement they undertake -- whether via caregiving, physical play, or verbal.

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Brian Fung is the technology writer at National Journal. He was previously an associate editor at The Atlantic and has written for Foreign Policy and The Washington Post.

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