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The Father Factor

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Genes or Dads?

A new study by researchers at the University of Oregon asserts that genetic factors are more important in determining when a child will first have sex than whether or not they have a father in the home. According to a BBC story on the report, "The more genes the children shared, the more similar their ages of first intercourse, regardless of whether or not the children had an absent father."

I have a few problems with their conclusions:
1) On just about everything else where there is a genetic predisposition towards a behavior, we do not allow that genetic predisposition to act as an excuse for the behavior. Think about addictions. Drug addiction has genetic markers. Yet we don't say that a drug addict therefore has no control over whether or not he uses drugs. That would be letting the genes act as an excuse for bad choices.

2) Simon Blake, from a sexual health nonprofit called "Brook Advisory Centre," while disagreeing that genes are the overriding factor, does not then conclude that father involvement is important - even though the study showed clear correlation between early sexual activity and father absence. He instead points to the need for "better education." I guess it is hard to disagree with that, but it ignores the clear father factor that exists here.

I guess this gets back to the age old "nature versus nurture" question. What do you think? Is it genes or dads?

They said it!

Having the opportunity to work with a wonderful group of high-school teens gives me plenty of opportunities to hear about the joys and disasters of being a teen. And more often than not, both the ups and downs involve family members. So last night I asked them the following question:

If you could give parents everywhere a piece of advice about parenting teenagers, what would you say?

The answers were candid and thoughtful; here is the synopsis of their responses:

  • Don't be my coach. Be my parent. Just be there and tell me I did a good job, but let the coaches do the coaching.
  • Communication is really important to avoid hurt feelings.
  • Trust us to do the right thing. You raised us right, so let us make decisions.
  • Give us space when we ask for it.
  • Notice when we do things right, not just when we do things wrong.
  • Spend time with us and really listen to what we say.
  • Don't embarrass us in front of your friends or tell people stuff about me.
  • Take time to understand what is going on in my life so you know what I'm going through.
  • Don't always be a parent...sometimes be a friend, because I tell things to friends that I wouldn't tell to my parents.
  • Listen to us, because we might say something you hadn't already thought of.
In any case, a poignant reminder that kids need moms and dads investing in them every day.

Rethinking Responsibility

Our friends at the National Campaign to Prevent Teen and Unplanned Pregnancy yesterday released a wonderful compilation of mini-essays on the definition and shape of personal responsibility vis-a-vis unplanned pregnancy. "Rethinking Responsibility: Reflections on Sex and Accountability" surveyed 29 leaders for their thoughts on this critical issue.

NFI's own Roland Warren contributed an essay on the resounding benefits of putting a ring on it.

Dad's Greatest Fear: A Teenage Girl

The teen years are scary...for everyone (have you been to a movie theater or a mall on a Friday night?!?). But I think they can be scariest for fathers of daughters. To quote Britney, she's "not a girl, not yet a woman." Teenage girls are changing in ways that dads can't understand and frankly, find quite uncomfortable. And all dads, having once been teen boys, are scared witless for their growing daughters.

I remember thinking my teen years were going to be an all-out war between me and my dad. Somehow, they weren't; we survived with relatively few screaming matches and tantrums. My father didn't say much to me about boys, but he did have this glare and this tone of voice that could instill the fear of God in anyone - including me and my homecoming date. He also had strictly imposed curfews and rules about where I could drive and with whom. Sigh...life was difficult.

A recent study shows that dads have a significant influence over their teen children. More than mom, actually. Teens with involved dads engage in fewer risky sexual behaviors - dads significantly affect the behavior of their adolescent boys and girls.

Not exactly rocket science, but a good reminder for dads who may shy away from relating to their teens, especially their teen girls. It took me quite a few years to realize that my dad was right about some things...okay, most things...he said about guys. Yes, there was some domestic strife and neither of us did everything right during those years, but I'm glad my dad braved the attitude and sulkiness and insisted on being involved.

The Father Factor Blog: News, tips, and tools for dads and those helping dads.

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