Evaluating the Success of Caucasian Fathers in Guiding Adolescents

Article excerpt

A generation ago fathers were characterized as the "forgotten contributors to child development" (Lamb, 1975). The dominant view then was to consider fathers as responsible for influencing children in four ways. First, they were expected to be the main source of income. Currently, 80% of women from two-parent families are employed and contribute to the finances of their household (Shellenberger, 1999). Second, fathers were supposed to provide emotional support for wives who assumed the primary responsibility for child care. However, for every family constellation, supervision of children is being transferred from parents to surrogates (Jackson & Davis, 2000). Third, fathers were advised to perform some housework chores to ease the workload of their spouse. Nevertheless, surveys have consistently determined that most fathers are reluctant to follow this recommendation (Kamo & Cohen, 1998). Finally, fathers were supposed to contribute to the education of their children by continuous interactions with them (Grossman, Golding, & Pollack, 1988). Yet, most youth still spend much less time with fathers than with mothers (Lamb, 1997).

Fortunately, new conditions have emerged that enable fathers in the present environment to better define what is expected of them. A paradigm which urges the acquisition of parenting skills has generated considerable interest in research on father potential. As stereotypes of fathers erode, family educators become more able to address previously lost opportunities to help men increase the benefits they can provide children. A National Center on Fathers and Families has been established (www.ncoff.gse.upenn.edu). Most research about fathers tries to identify common strengths and detect learning needs as a preliminary step toward creating intervention programs. Some aspects of parenting that fathers of adolescents express confusion about are: communication, time management, teaching, frustration, satisfaction, and information needs.

Communication

Effective communication skills allow parents to convey personal beliefs and values while they learn about the concerns and priorities of their children (Larson & Richards, 1995). Good communication between parents and teens is necessary to promote development, but this task presents greater difficulties during adolescence than does interaction at earlier ages. Cognitive and emotional changes are believed to be the reasons adolescents seem overly sensitive to criticism from adults, inclined to misinterpret parent remarks, eager to gain privacy, and less willing to share feelings than when they were younger (Galinsky, 1999; Lewis, 2000).

The receptivity of children to parents' ideas and values could originate in the reciprocal cooperation and openness a parent shows toward the feelings and opinions of the child. In this way parent willingness to attentively listen to a child without distraction or interruption can provide a model for how respectful patterns of communication are established and maintained (Levine, 1997). There often are large discrepancies between what fathers and adolescents view as decision-making options for teens, leading to increased tension, conflict or alienation (Strom, Amukamara, Beckert, Strom, Moore, Strom, & Griswold, 2000).

Use of Time

Successful families may exhibit common strengths whether they are first-marriage couples, step-parents, or single parents of any racial or income group. One of these strengths appears to be spending sufficient time together (Daly, 2001). Time is so crucial because it impacts on all the other traits of a healthy family. Communication, learning, and emotional support decline whenever a family loses control of how it manages time. This may explain why 70% of a national sample of parents reported wanting to spend more time with their children. When invited to identify the most difficult aspect of raising children, 83% of parents agreed it was "being too busy" and "lacking control of their schedule. …