What’s the link between the frequency of school shootings and father-son relationships?

by Joseph Cohen, President and co-founder, Empowered Fathers in Action (EFA) Foundation

The signs can be seen in bullying incidents and low self-esteem, in increasing rates of teenage suicide and in the disturbingly frequent school shootings.

These incidents are all “red flags” that call attention to one aspect of parenting that continues to receive far too little attention – the relationship between fathers and sons.

The impact of fathers on the psychological well-being and social behavior of their children has been well documented. The dangerous and extreme results of boys who are allowed to grow up without the positive bond with their fathers has been documented in school shootings, bullying incidents, and increased rates of teenage suicide.

In his 2018 book, “The Boy Crisis,” Warren Farrell, Ph.D., Chair of the Commission to Create a White House Council on Boys and Men, said that the price society pays for a generation of boys without the benefit of the positive influence of their father can been seen in many ways. “We are paying the price in increased taxes,” said Dr. Farrell. “And these costs are reflected in welfare, incarceration, unemployment, and – at their extreme – in young men who join terrorist cells or become the perpetrators of school shootings.”

Journalist Peter Hasson recently captured the implications of this situation in an article in The Federalist, stating that “unstable homes produce unstable children.” Hasson also said, “It’s no coincidence that, much like the number of fatherless children, the number of mass shootings has exploded since the 1960s. Throughout the entire 1960s, six mass shootings took place. That number doubled in 1970.” He concluded by noting that “2012 alone saw more mass shootings than the sixties did.” As of May, more than 17 school shootings occured since the beginning of 2018.

According to The Importance of Fathers in the Healthy Development of Children, a report prepared for the U.S. Department of Human Services, “Children who have an involved father are more likely to be emotionally secure, be confident to explore their surroundings, and, as they grow older, have better social connections with peers. These children also are less likely to get in trouble at home, school, or in the neighborhood.” W. Bradford Wilcox, Ph.D., associate professor of sociology at the University of Virginia and the co-author of this 2006 report, and Jeffrey Rosenberg, who has handled media relations for the National Fatherhood Initiative, also stated that “numerous studies have found that children who live with their fathers are more likely to have good physical and emotional health, to achieve academically, and to avoid drugs, violence, and delinquent behavior.”

Impact of Fathers on Children’s Well-being and Social Behavior

A noted sociologist, Dr. David Popenoe, is one of the pioneers in the field of research into fathers and fatherhood featured in The Importance of Fathers in the Healthy Development of Children. “Fathers are far more than just ‘second adults’ in the home,” he says. “Involved fathers bring positive benefits to their children that no other person is as likely to bring.” Dr. Popenoe published an article in The Free Press back in 1996 entitled Life Without Father: Compelling New Evidence that Fatherhood and Marriage are Indispensable for the Good of Children and Society.

In addition, numerous other studies including The Relationship between Family Structure and Adolescent Substance Abuse published in 1996 and Father Absence and Youth Incarceration published in 1998 bolster the findings that children who live with their fathers are more likely to have good physical and emotional health, to achieve academically, and to avoid drugs, violence, and delinquent behavior.

Articles including Poverty, Paternal involvement, and Adolescent well-being published in 1996 and Putting Fathers Back in the Picture: Parental Activities and Children’s Adult Outcomes published in 2000 bolster the aforementioned 2006 report’s statement about the importance of involved fathers.

Converting Challenge into Opportunity

As a young man, I had no idea that the greatest challenge in my relationship with my father—communicating constructively—would turn out to be his most valuable gift. Decades later, after working as an inner city public school teacher and freelance journalist, I co-authored Write Father, Write Son : A Bond-Building Journey, with my son, Jared. His contribution included short stories, letters and part of the introduction which is italicized below.

Most of the book consists of letters I received when I was younger. Only the last chapter is my contribution, but the rest is my foundation. Our hearts led us to write, and it helped our relationship to grow. That is the beauty, the essence, of this book.

This book is about the power of communication, the power of words, and the influence that clear expression can have on the development of children into young adults. I didn’t recognize it at the time, but my father’s devotion to my own development allowed me to take pride in myself and strive to pursue my interests.

Within these pages lies the root of my development, caring words from my father structured into letters. It is a testament to my father, who showed me the importance of speaking my mind and confronting problems head-on. These words have shaped my experience and understanding of the world, shown me the power of language, and guided me even before I knew I was on a journey.

In contributing to this book I have come to understand that there are few things more powerful in the realm of expression than a thoughtful letter. If you can devote time to organize and construct your thoughts in the way you see most perfectly fit, not only can you say everything you need to say but your words will remain, symbols of your liveliness, as reminders and reflections to look back on.

JOSEPH COHEN is a former New York city public school teacher and journalist who recently published Write Father, Write Son : A Bond-Building Journey.

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