Academic journal article Fathering

Fathers' Speech to Their Children: Perfect Pitch or Tin Ear?

Academic journal article Fathering

Fathers' Speech to Their Children: Perfect Pitch or Tin Ear?

Article excerpt

This paper reviews the literature on the similarities and differences in child-directed speech (CDS) employed by fathers and mothers. The contributions that fathers are thought to make to their children's language and communicative development are discussed, and factors influencing the findings and interpretations of empirical studies of fathers' CDS are presented.

Key Words: child directed speech, fathers' contribution, children's language development


The purpose of this paper is to review research findings as they pertain to fathers' verbal interactions with their young children to determine whether they provide unique language learning models for their youngsters. The impetus to this review is the ever-expanding concern for the condition of the American family. These concerns are manifest in the national preoccupation with the quality of public educational institutions and violence in the schools and with the omnipotence and possible deleterious influences of mass media. Research has revealed the importance of the family in the overall intellectual, social, and emotional development of children (Berger, 2001). The role of the father in the family has become of increasing concern to professionals from many disciplines.

Pleck and Pleck (1997) traced the major stages in the evolution of fatherhood in the American family: the stem patriarch, the distant breadwinner, what the authors called the "dads" period, and the co-parent. The role of fathers in their children's lives has become of great concern in the past few years even as the nature and structure of the family have undergone increasing stresses (Lewis & O'Brien, 1987; Pleck, 1997). Griswold (1993) claimed that the father's role in the family has become more confused as a result of women's increasing participation in out-of-home work responsibilities. Two wage-earner families are now in the majority and, in most middle- and working-class families, two incomes are necessary to maintain a modest standard of living. Economic factors are responsible for stealing time from fathers, mothers, and their children. Factors such as a high divorce rate, step families, a lower ratio of married men, fatherhood in the absence of marriage, and court bias in assigning child custody to mothers have all conspired to stress the father-child relationship (Maccoby & Mnookin, 1992). Some studies suggest that 30-40% of preschool children live at one time or another without their fathers (Mott, 1990).

Despite these challenges, there has been a clear increase in paternal engagement, accessibility, and responsibility over the past three decades (Pleck, 1997). Further, recent statistics suggest that fathers' status as second-class parents may be changing. According to the U.S. Census Bureau (2001), the period between 1990 and 2000 saw a dramatic 51% increase in the number of single-parent households headed by fathers, compared to a 15% increase in single-mother households over the same period. Even with this asymmetric increase, however, single-father households are still outnumbered by single-mother households by a ratio of 5 to 1. Specifically, about 5% of all U.S. households are now headed by single fathers, compared to 25% for single-parent mothers (U.S. Census Bureau, 2001).

Developmentalists have been interested for years in the question of whether fathers and mothers differ in the ways they approach their children and how fathers, in particular, may influence their children's lives (Snarey, 1993). Lamb (1997) provides an excellent overview of recent research on the topic. Lewis (1997), after reviewing the literature on parental roles and their influence with their preschool children, concluded that research "... has tended to confirm the similarity between parents in the nurturance they report, their disciplinary regimes and their teaching styles in various observational settings" (p. 126).

Lamb, Pleck, Charnov, and Levine (1987) distinguished three major components of a father's role in families: interaction (direct contact with children), availability (being present and available whether or not high degrees of interaction are present), and responsibility (providing for the financial, social, educational, and health needs of their children). …

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