The role of dads in how their kids develop friendships and social skills is more important than we think
We understand the crucial role our parents can play in how we form as people and in our relationships with others, but a new study finds being rejected by our fathers may have a bigger impact in certain aspects of our lives, including the quality of our friendships and development of social anxiety.
Researchers from Pennsylvania State University looked at whether parental rejection predicted changes in that child’s social anxiety, which can then predict future impacts the quality of their friendships. They published their findings in the Journal of Youth and Adolescence and discovered that kids had been rejected by their fathers had greater social anxiety than those whose fathers didn’t reject them.
Of course you may be thinking, yes, of course a child being rejected by a parent would cause myriad problems in all aspects of their lives, including socially and in their ability to form solid friendships, but the study didn’t have the same results with other family members.
“We found that father rejection, but not mother rejection, predicted changes in social anxiety,” study author Hio Wa “Grace” Mak said in a statement. “Fathers aren’t usually included in family research, so it’s important to know more about fathers and how they influence adolescent friendship and loneliness.”
Researchers looked at data from 687 two-parent families with children in middle school. The mothers, fathers, and children were assessed at three different ages when the children were in sixth, seventh, and eighth grade. And while researchers found rejection by both the mother or father was associated with increased loneliness, a father’s rejection was the only one associated with social anxiety.
According to the Social Anxiety Institute, social anxiety is the “fear of interaction with other people that brings on self-consciousness, feelings of being negatively judged and evaluated, and, as a result, leads to avoidance.” In the United States alone, social anxiety disorder is the third largest psychological disorder in the country, after depression and alcoholism with about 7 percent of the population suffering from some form of social anxiety.
Social anxiety can cause feelings of self-loathing, fear of being criticized, being the center of attention and also how we form friendships. According to the study, friendships formed in our youth are critical and set the foundation for future relationships. Without those skills sets developed early in life, it can impact how we connect with others and could cause more depressive symptoms to develop as we age.
The study highlighted that in adolescence, “fathers’ closeness and involvement is a stronger predictor than mothers’ closeness and involvement in protecting youth from psychological distress.” With all the information out there talking about the critical role we moms play in our kid’s lives, it’s nice to see science finally highlighting the importance of a father’s role. This isn’t to say every well-adjusted adult had a father figure in their lives, but being rejected by our dads can impact how we see ourselves and those around us.
“I think these findings suggest that we should also reach out to families to help them support this sense of belonging and connection. We might be overlooking the family as an important piece of cultivating these healthy peer relationships,” researcher Gregory Fosco said.