Finding was part of large-scale analysis of research about the power of parental rejection
Researchers say it should help reduce the incidence of ‘mother blaming’ for trouble children
By Fiona Macrae
Published: 21:18 AEST, 13 June 2012 | Updated: 17:04 AEST, 14 June 2012
Influence: New research has revealed that the love of a father is one of the greatest influences on the personality development of a child
A father’s love is as important to a child’s emotional development as a mother’s, a large-scale study has confirmed.
Examining the cases of more than 10,000 sons and daughters revealed how a cold or distant father can damage a child’s life, sometimes for decades to come.
The review of 36 studies from around the world concluded that his love is at least as important to youngsters as that of their mothers.
Researcher Professor Ronald Rohner said that fatherly love is key to development and hopes his findings will motivate more men to become involved in caring for their offspring.
‘In the US, Great Britain and Europe, we have assumed for the past 300 years that all children need for normal healthy development is a loving relationship with their mother,’ he said.
‘And that dads are there as support for the mother and to support the family financially but are not required for the healthy development of the children.
‘But that belief is fundamentally wrong. We have to start getting away from that idea and realise the dad’s influence is as great, and sometimes greater, than the mother’s.’
His conclusions came after he examined data from studies in which children and adults were asked how loving their parents were.
Questions included if they were made to feel wanted or needed, if their parents went out of their way to hurt their feelings and if they felt loved.
Those taking part also answered questions about their personality. These ranged from ‘I think about fighting or being mean’ to ‘I think the world is a good, happy place’.
Tallying the results showed that those rejected in childhood felt more anxious and insecure as well as hostile and aggressive.
Many of the problems carried over into adulthood, reported the study published in the journal Personality and Social Psychology Review.
Crucially, a father’s love was often just as important as a mother’s. In some cases, it was even more so. One reason for this may be that rejection is more painful when it comes from the parent the child regards as more powerful or respected.
‘Children and adults everywhere – regardless of race, culture, and gender – tend to respond in exactly the same way when they perceived themselves to be rejected’
Professor Rohner, of the University of Connecticut, US, said rejection in childhood has the most ‘strong and consistent effect on personality and development’.
He added: ‘Children and adults everywhere – regardless of race, culture, and gender – tend to respond in exactly the same way when they perceived themselves to be rejected.’
Professor Rohner said that children who feel unloved tend to become anxious and insecure, and this can make them needy. Anger and resentment can lead to them closing themselves off emotionally in an attempt to protect themselves from further hurt.
This may make it hard for them to form relationships. They can suffer from low self-esteem and find it difficult to handle stressful situations.
Teaching the ways of the world: If a child perceives her father as having higher prestige, he may be more influential in her life than the child¿s mother
Professor Rohner added that research shows the same parts of the brain are activated when people feel rejected as when they suffer physical pain.
He added: ‘Unlike physical pain, however, people can psychologically relive the emotional pain of rejection over and over for years.’
His research shows a father’s input is particularly important for behaviour and can influence if a child later drinks to excess, takes drugs or suffers mental health problems.
Norman Wells, of the Family Education Trust, said: ‘This study underlines the importance of intact and stable families where both the father and the mother are committed to bringing up their children together.
‘Successive governments have failed to recognise the fact that men and women are different and that they parent differently.’
He criticised ministers for ‘pretending that one parent is as good as two, or that two parents of the same sex are as good as two natural parents of the opposite sex’.
This week, the Coalition announced penalties for mothers who fail to allow former partners to maintain a proper relationship with their children, including jail. A right to ‘shared parenting’ following family breakdown will also be enshrined in law.
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