Impact of fatherlessness on boys: Focus On The Family

Q: What’s the relationship between fatherlessness and violent behaviour among adolescent boys? I’m wondering about this because statistics show that an increasing number of children are growing up in homes where no father is present.

Graeme: As the CEO of a family-help organisation in South Africa I can testify that these two phenomena are closely related. There are many factors and dynamics, but one of them has to do with the specifically masculine way in which men tend to play with their kids.

As you’re probably aware, moms and dads play differently. Boys have an inborn need to engage in rough-and-tumble activity from an early age. It’s one of the ways they gain self-confidence and learn to gauge their own strength. Dad is the one who can help them in this area. Mom may worry that “someone will get hurt” when father and son start wrestling on the floor, but there’s an important sense in which that’s precisely the point. A friendly scuffle with Dad – in a safe and controlled environment – goes a long way towards teaching kids about appropriate boundaries in play. And in the process, fathers are afforded a great opportunity to affirm their sons’ strength and skill.

So what happens when a boy grows up without this kind of interaction with his dad? This is where the connection between fatherlessness and teen violence rears its ugly head. If a boy doesn’t learn about appropriate boundaries in physical activity, and if he doesn’t get the masculine affirmation he needs from his father, he may feel driven to “prove” himself somehow. He’ll enter the adolescent years with a deep-seated need to let others know that he’s a person who deserves respect. And he may end up demanding it in some pretty unhealthy ways.

Q: I realise that I need to “be the parent” when it comes to setting boundaries for my kids’ media and entertainment consumption.  I’m guessing that they won’t be overjoyed with having rules and guidelines, but is there a strategy or an approach I can take that is more likely to be effective in getting them to “buy in”?

Graeme: When establishing media standards, one point that’s particularly helpful for kids to understand is that they’re not alone in needing to have boundaries in their lives. Discipline in all areas of life is healthy and necessary. In fact, when it comes to labelling entertainment as “acceptable” or “out-of-bounds,” almost all of us do it to varying degrees. With movies for instance, many use the FPB ratings as their film-viewing boundary-marker. Others may contend that they have no boundaries at all, but the truth is, even these individuals have their limits.

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Once your children realise that establishing boundaries is healthy and universal, then the natural question and discussion ensues of determining where to draw that line. I’m not a fan of relying on gut feelings, “Uncle Joe,” or ratings as they are often misleading and untrustworthy from a discernment perspective. A better guideline is to ask: “Will I become a better person if I play this video game, listen to this song, or watch this TV show or movie?” “Will it inspire me? Will it encourage me to a life of greater virtue, sacrifice and service of others?” “Will it be of benefit to my ‘inner’ self, my thoughts, and my decision making?” If the answer is “no,” then help your kids learn that this is where to set the boundary.

Fortunately, with a bit of research (see pluggedin.com), there are a lot of media products that fall within the “acceptable” and healthy consumption category.

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