Have you seen that viral video of a toddler sitting on the couch babbling with his dad about a movie they’re watching? And his dad is paying attention and responding?

What a great dad.

Recent research shows that the more dads are involved with their kids, the more likely the children are to flourish

And yet, according to the U.S. Census Bureau, 24 million children — one out of three — live without their biological father in the home. Such children are affected in many ways. For example, they’re more likely to have behavior problems, health issues and to abuse drugs and alcohol.

This applies to emotional absence too, when fathers in the home are not engaged with their children.

Divorced parents can mitigate these effects by co-parenting, where the dad stays actively involved in his children’s daily lives.

Dads parent differently from moms. Imagine, at a playground, you see a mother and father with their preschooler. The dad is gently pushing his little girl in a swing.

Dad asks, “Do you want to go higher?” and the child exclaims, “Yes, higher, push me higher!” Just as Dad prepares to give her a good push, you hear Mom say, “Be careful!”

In general, mothers tend to stress emotional nurturing and personal safety, while fathers stress autonomy and independence. Children need both.

I wish I’d known more about this when we were raising our children. I learned about the role of fathers several years ago while writing training materials for home visitors.

Dads influence their kids’ lives really strongly in several areas.

Fathers play with kids. They like to “roughhouse,” which teaches kids to control their bodies and emotions. Dads play louder. They encourage competition and independence. Dads’ tend to play more spontaneously, with less structure. Fathers are more apt to encourage their kids to embrace risk, both on the playground and in life, which gives children more capacity for ambition.

A strong relationship with dad protects kids. Children with involved fathers are less likely to become victims of sexual assault or abuse. Teens who are close to their fathers start having sex later, on average, than those who are not.

Dads tend to discipline children more firmly than moms. They stress justice, fairness and duty (based on rules), while moms stress sympathy, care and help (based on relationships). Mothers may discipline kids more because they spend more time with them, but they allow more negotiation and bent rules. Kids benefit by being exposed to both.

Fathers prepare children for the real world while mothers help protect against it.

Girls with involved fathers are less likely to take sexual risks and more likely to seek out healthy relationships. They tend to graduate from college and get the higher paying, more demanding jobs traditionally held by males. Such girls are less likely to become sexually active early in their teens, experience adolescent pregnancy, become clinically depressed or develop eating disorders.

Boys are less likely to be violent and learn how to channel masculinity and strength in positive ways. Fathers can help boys understand male sexuality, hygiene and age-appropriate behavior. Boys are more likely to grow up to be good fathers.

Dads have a strong influence on their children’s language development.

In the viral video, the dad tunes in to what his child is focused on. He takes turns talking, enables the child to sustain his attention, does not dumb down his vocabulary and is obviously having fun.

In an interview, the dad told CNN that this scene was not set up for the camera. His wife just happened to capture a normal, delightful interaction between him and his 19-month-old child.

So let’s hear it for dads!

Luanne Austin lives in Mount Sidney. Contact her at RuralPen@aol.com, facebook.com/ruralpen or care of the DN-R.

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