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Fathering Court-Involved Daughters: Fathers' Gender-Specific Concerns about Their Paternal Role

Article excerpt

The fatherhood literature has expanded over the past several decades, yet the role that fathers may play in their relationships with their problematic adolescents has not been fully examined. Furthermore, because previous findings have suggested that fathers of court-involved daughters may be experiencing intrapsychic and interpersonal difficulties of their own, the present study examined a range of issues that fathers might be facing in their attempts to parent a daughter engaged in problematic behaviors. Semi-structured interviews were conducted with a purposeful sample of 14 fathers who had been referred to a family-based diversion program for at-risk adolescents. Several gender-specific themes emerged from the interviews. Fathers of female adolescents, in particular, expressed feelings of uncertainty in their parental role in four main areas: (a) a deficient understanding of their daughter's "female" issues; (b) communication barriers involving topics and style of communication; (c) limited involvement due to a lack of shared interests; and (d) indecision regarding how to effectively address their daughter's problematic behaviors. Future research is discussed that would further explore the impact that fathers' parenting concerns have on their own view of their parental role, their mental health, and their adolescent's well-being as well as how familial and community-based supports could aid in improving the father-daughter relationship in families with court-involved adolescents.

Keywords: father, daughter, parenting, adolescent, delinquency, qualitative research

While scholarship on fatherhood has greatly expanded over the past several decades (Marsiglio, Amato, Day, & Lamb, 2001; Tamis-LeMonda & Cabrera, 1999), father/young child dyads have received considerably more attention than have father-adolescent relationships (Hosley & Montemayor, 1997; Updegraff, McHale, Crouter, & Kupanoff, 2001). Furthermore, one area in particular that has been neglected is the father's contribution to his adolescent's problematic behaviors (Dadds, 1995; Phares, 1999), and researchers know almost nothing about the differential roles that fathers may play in their relationships with at-risk sons versus at-risk daughters (Connell & Goodman, 2002; Phares & Compas, 1992). It has been suggested that fathers of court-involved daughters are likely to feel much less prepared to address their daughters' behaviors due to the general distancing that many fathers experience with their daughters during adolescence (Steinberg, 1987), coupled with the even more ambiguous situation that is created for fathers in terms of how these men should address their daughter's problematic behaviors -- behaviors that are much less common among daughters than sons (Chesney-Lind & Shelden, 1998).

The purpose of the paper will be to examine gender-specific issues fathers have identified regarding difficulties in fathering their court-involved daughters. First, relevant literature pertaining to fathers' individual characteristics and father-adolescent relationship characteristics found in families with court-involved versus noncourt-involved adolescents will be discussed. Second, results from a qualitative study involving interviews with fathers of court-involved adolescents will be discussed that seem to highlight fathers' feelings of uncertainty in their parental role with their daughters in four areas: (a) a deficient understanding of their daughter's situation/experience of being a female adolescent; (b) communication barriers involving topics of conversation and style of communication; (c) limited involvement due to a lack of shared interests; and (d) indecision regarding how to effectively address their daughter's problematic behaviors. Third and finally, implications for future research and family-based programming will be presented.

FATHER-ADOLESCENT RELATIONSHIPS

The study of father-offspring relationships has largely focused on the father's role during infancy (Lamb, 1997) and early childhood (Biller & Kimpton, 1997; Coley & Morris, 2002; Lewis, 1997), yet father-adolescent relationships have received considerably less attention (Hosley & Montemayor, 1997). …