Following a spate of gang shootings in London last month, in which three teenagers were killed, opposition leader David Cameron claimed part of the blame lay with family breakdown, particularly absent fathers. Now a breaking study from America appears to support his case.
Rebekah Coley and Bethany Medeiros interviewed 647 teenagers and their mothers in 1999 and then again in 2001. The sample consisted of poor urban families in which the father was not resident. The average age of the teenagers at the first interview was 12.5 years, and most were African American or Hispanic, living in Boston, Chicago or San Antonio.
Fatherly involvement appeared to have a protective effect. The teenagers who saw more of their fathers at the first interview, and/or who had more communications with him, were less likely to be involved in delinquent behaviour, such as stealing and drug use, at the second interview.
Coley and Medeiros said: “...non-resident fathers who had more regular contact and conversations with their children and who took greater responsibility for their children's care and behaviours had adolescents who showed relative decreases over a 16-month period in their levels of delinquency and problem behaviour”.
Another finding concerned the teenagers' effect on their fathers' behaviour. When teenage delinquency rose between the first and second interviews, so too did fatherly involvement, especially among the African American families. This contradicts some earlier research suggesting problem teenager behaviour can repel parental involvement. “African American fathers, faced with a history of discrimination and unequal intervention by the justice system may be more reactive to delinquent activities in their adolescents than middle-class advantaged parents”, the researchers said.
Coley, R.L. & Medeiros, B.L. (2007). Reciprocal longitudinal relations between non-resident father involvement and adolescent delinquency. Child Development, 78, 132-147.