Family Fact of the Week: Fathers’ Involvement Helps Teens Delay Sexual Activity

Collette Caprara /

A new study published in the journal Pediatrics adds to a body of research showing the importance of fathers in protecting children against negative outcomes, from lower academic achievement to poverty.

The study found that teens who have close emotional relationships with their fathers are more likely to put off sexual activity. The findings also show that teens delayed sexual activity if their fathers had disapproving attitudes toward teen sex.

This study adds to a long line of research linking fathers’ presence and involvement with teens’ well being. Besides delayed sexual activity, adolescents who have close relationships with their fathers tend to have higher levels of psychological health and are less likely to experience emotional distress, such as sadness and loneliness. (continues below chart)

The emotional and psychological benefits of the father–child relationship are complemented by behavioral outcomes—both in terms of risky behavior and antisocial tendencies. Youths who report good relationships with their dads are less likely to use alcohol, tobacco, or marijuana and are less likely to engage in delinquent behavior. Adolescents whose fathers are more involved are also less likely to exhibit aggressive behavior.

Having a married father in the home is also the number one protector against child poverty.

Sadly, this good news regarding fathers’ positive influence may be diminished by current family trends. Today, four out of 10 children in the United States are born to unmarried mothers. The data is even more troubling for minorities: More than half of Hispanic children and more than seven out of 10 black children are born to unwed mothers. According to Census data, 24 million children in America are living in households without their biological fathers.

The fraying of family bonds puts children, communities, and society at risk. Marriage and family are critically important to promoting positive outcomes and helping children avoid social ills that can so often lead to poverty. This recent study, once again, underscores the importance of policy that supports and promotes marriage and family.