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An involved father's impact is more than a few good stories, notable quips and hard-learned lessons. Science proves he's worth more.

Studies show children with involved fathers, stepdads or father figures are less likely to get in trouble with the law, tend to do better in school and are more likely to hold a job.

It comes as no surprise in a world where fathers are doubling down on parenting. Fathers today expect to be a big part of their children's lives.

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Yet, a biological live-in father isn't a requirement to pass down the benefits of fathering. Experts agree kids can get the same benefits by having a dedicated stepdad, father figure, or two moms.

"Form is not nearly as important as content," explained author and sociologist Michael Kimmel. "The gender differences are outweighed by the gender similarities."

Still, a father's influence has many factors on a child's life, notes Dr. Kyle Pruett, a child psychiatrist and clinical professor of child psychiatry at the Yale School of Medicine.

Kids with involved fathers benefit. Here are the specifics:

They're less likely to be criminals 

Kids without attentive fathers, Pruett said, are three times as likely to find themselves in the juvenile justice system before the age of 18 compared to those with involved fathers.

Kids are equipped with a wide array of problem-solving skills when they experience the discipline styles of both mom and dad.

Mothers, Pruett said, tend to use social and emotional consequences in disciplining their kids. Alternatively, fathers focus on how the child fits into the real world, warning friends or jobs are at stake if they continue bad behavior.

The different perspectives, Pruett said, give kids a broader repertoire to choose from when it comes to hashing out issues.

They're more likely to delay sex

Children with involved fathers are more likely to delay sexual activity, which means lower cases of teenage pregnancy, said Pruett.

The reason is if fathers are involved in a children's personal care, they feel valued and therefore don't need to look for love elsewhere. 

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They do better in school

Pruett said an involved father has a "profound effect," on a child's ability as a student.

A 2016 article in Sex Roles found U.S. teenagers with supportive fathers have greater optimism and self-efficacy, which translates to better school achievement. The results occurred even for fathers with little education and limited English. Daughters, in particular, performed better in math. Sons did better in language.

Science shows a father can have an immense impact on language. Among the strongest predictors of a child's language competence is his father's vocabulary, Pruett said.

Fathers, he explained, usually do not modify their speech as much when speaking to kids. Men also are likely to not finish a child's sentence, forcing children to work harder when telling their fathers what they want.

They stay at their job longer

People leave their jobs because they cannot properly solve problems or express their needs well enough.

Children with involved fathers are better problem solvers and better deal with frustration, Pruett said. 

University of Michigan psychology professor Brenda Volling adds men are more likely to engage in "rough and tumble" play with children, which theory suggests helps kids regulate their emotions.

They're less likely to gender stereotype

Children who grow up being nurtured by both mothers and fathers are less likely to gender stereotype and are more flexible when it comes to the different roles of both sexes, Pruett said.

"When you've been nurtured by man," he explained, "you don't think it's only mothers who can nurture."

The same goes for empathy. Children with involved dads are more sensitive to people who are different than them. By being involved, children see how parents succeed and fail and wind up granting forgiveness for parents' faults. They also see how men and women handle such situations differently.

So, why are we just now figuring this out?

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 So, is there something about fathers in particular that give kids these benefits? 

Volling, director of the Center for Human Growth and Development at the University of Michigan, argues fathers are "incredibly important" to children. However, there's controversy over whether these effects are unique to fathers. She said more research needs to be done.

The actions that benefit a child — affection, caring, reading and playing, for example — occur regardless of if they're given by a mother or father.

Volling suggests the reason recent studies tie these positives to fathers because society has finally given fathers the opportunity to be parents. Meanwhile, researchers have delved into the impacts of the new involved father.

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"Decades ago, we actually thought men were incapable of taking care of children, and women had to be the stay-at-home parent," she said, "but today we realize that both men and women can be effective parents."

Television commercials best display our changed attitudes toward involved dads, she said. In ads decades ago, bumbling television fathers had to be saved by mom when it came to child care. Now, a father changing diapers and making meals is just part of the scenery.

Part of that scenery, argues Kimmel, should be the resources families need to foster motherhood as well as fatherhood. Having two parents, no matter what form, makes all the difference.

Put simply, Kimmel says, "They need to feel loved and cared about and safe."

Follow Sean Rossman on Twitter: @SeanRossman

 

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