Thursday, 8 March 2007

Teenage delinquency and absent fathers

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.

Post written by Christian Jarrett (@psych_writer) for the BPS Research Digest.


ian121 said...

Hm interesting & goes against what the perception would be of whites being more involved than blacks. Still it seems like it's more of a male thing than a black/white thing, especially with the lack of role models with absent fathers - thus getting involved in gangs.

Wonder how girls without fathers fare? At least they have their moms, right? How much do you think the media has to do with this?

Anonymous said...

It is indeed a black thing...and it is a poverty issue, not an issue of males, or lack thereof. If a family has two income earners, are educated and live in a "good" neighborhood, I can almost guarantee the issue of fatherlessness would not be an issue! This is all correlation, and a very poor one.

Anonymous said...


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*The term "fatherless" is used here as it is in current research and policy rhetoric by the U.S. federal government, DHHS and the National Fatherhood Initiative, most U.S. states in connection with child custody law and policy, and various family values and fatherhood interest policy and lobbying groups.

Research: Dean Keith Simonton, Scientific Genius: A Psychology of Science. Cambridge University Press (1988) ("Exceptionally achieving individuals in virtually every human endeavor are more likely to have lost a parent... Roe (1952a) learned from her examination of notable contemporary scientists that 15% had lost a parent by death before age 10. Broken down by field, this happened to 25% of the biologists, 13% of the physical scientists, and 9% of the social scientists. To place this figure in perspective, Roe referred to data showing that only around 6% of college students lost a parent by age 10. Roe also mentioned Bell's (1937) work on illustrious mathematicians, in which around one-quarter had lost a parent before age 10 and nearly one-third before age 14... parental loss can occur by means other than orphanhood, such as alcoholism, abandonment, and divorce...").

For more research, see the liz library.


Anonymous said...

I find it quite irratating when I see comments relating to a racial issue, and of course our wonderful, non-educated American citizens tend to make personal acusations. As studying psychology and sociology it has been proven that a fathers absence particularly effects the daughter in drastic ways, absence of mothers primarily effects the son. Its ironic that most of the names listed whose father was absent are politicians, goverment officals, basically people who are quite powerful or have great influence. This does not suggest that these individuals were at all clean people. As a matter of fact, most of us know that more than 75%, if that little, on that list have a troubled childhood. Don't use bullshit as proof its proof of ignorance.

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