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Influence of positive fathers continues as children transition to adulthood, BYU study finds

By Andrea Whatcott

Deseret News

Published: Saturday, June 18 2011 11:47 p.m. MDT

Mike DeMie watches his daughters Emilee, Andee, and BreeAnn play with his granddaughter Kali Friday, June 17, 2011at his home in Riverton.

Scott G. Winterton, Deseret News

After raising five sons and a daughter, Richard Call's face and hands understandably show wear and tear. Talking about those children, the hard lines soften and smile.

Call's parenting style has shifted as his children have become adults, but he remains their father; the reward for his continued involvement in their lives is a force for good.

Fathers like Call can have a major impact on their emerging adult children between the ages of 18 and 29 by balancing warmth with high expectations and encouraging independence while providing support, according to a new study by BYU professors Larry Nelson and Laura Walker.

Nelson and Walker previously found that young adults 18-29 self-describe that time as a period in which they are legally adults but do not feel fully adult.

"Parents are now realizing that their jobs are not done when their child is reaching 18 and graduating from high school," Nelson said. "How they choose to parent at this time matters, and we're seeing that in the outcome of their children."

The study found that when fathers implement positive parenting styles with their adult children, young adults flourish. However, when fathers employ negative parenting styles, such as attempting to control or be indulgent, or when they are uninvolved, their young adult children flounder.

With three of his six children in college, Call enjoys a good connection with his grown children, the type of relationships that allow him to be supportive but not intrusive.

"They have their own lives, but they do seek counsel," he said. "I listen a lot and give advice where asked for."

Mike DeMie, a father of three emerging adults, has also enjoyed a strong relationship with his children and has found his children to be transitioning well to adulthood.

"Growing up is tough," DeMie said, "but they are pretty well-adjusted, especially compared to the rest of the world."

Though DeMie finds it difficult at times to step back and allow his children to conduct their lives, he waits for them to come to him.

The change in the parent-child relationship was a welcome one for Call, as he has been able to interact with his children more as a peer than a director of their lives.

"I like having conversations with them; they're very bright and up on things going on in the world," Call said. "I learn from them, and we enjoy working side by side."

In this extended transition time between adolescence and full adulthood, emerging adults can encounter risks that necessitate parents to be there and help them through this time period, while still allowing the child to make their own choices.

"I try to let them make their own decisions and experience the consequences of their choices," Call said.

For those parents who choose to terminate their parental responsibilities and remain uninvolved as their children enter adulthood, the effects can be devastating, according the Nelson's study. Out of the fathers who participated in the study, 18 percent were labeled as uninvolved, and their children experienced higher levels of depression, anxiety and impulsivity.

Children whose fathers were labeled controlling or indulgent — 7 percent of dads — were more inclined to drink, have lower self-worth and exhibit lower levels of kindness.

For Brandon Sara, 23, having a father to counsel with and respect his choices has created an increased bond between the two. Sara's father, though a busy executive and active member of his church congregation, always took the time for his children. Sara attributes his successful transition into adulthood to his father's supportive role in his life.

When Sara turned 18, he felt the shift of responsibility. During childhood and adolescence, Sara's father had taught him what was right and wrong, and as an adult, it was up to Sara to apply the lessons his father taught.

"It caused me to want to do it because I should, not because I was going to get in trouble," Sara said. "When I do something wrong, I am more inclined to take responsibility for it."

Nelson can't say for sure, but it is his belief that parents who espouse positive parenting styles with their emerging-adult children are the types of parents who have always done so. "They seem to understand what's important in emerging adulthood and what is appropriate for this stage," Nelson said.

After years of positive parenting, DeMie, however, attributes the success of his children to themselves. "I think a lot of their smooth transition into adulthood is part of who they are," DeMie said. "We helped direct them, but they are still who they are."

One of the most profound findings from the study, according to Nelson, was what young adults believed it would take to achieve adulthood.

"Young people tell us they want to develop a closer relationship with their parents in order to feel like an adult," Nelson said. "So when parents are doing these positive parenting things, their children are thriving and the relationship becomes closer. The child becomes more self-reliant, and it doesn't have to come at the expense of the relationship.

"In fact, it improves it."

Email: awhatcott@desnews.com

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