Father/Son A and B

A recent Newsnight programme, highlighted that in some areas of the country some boys are growing up without a father around or a male teacher to act as a role model. The question discussed in the programme, was whether boys need more male role models.

Psychological research shows that same-sex role models are important.  Bandura, Ross and Ross (1961), found that when children observed an adult be physically and verbally aggressive to a plastic bobo doll, they were very likely to copy the behaviour. Boys were more physically aggressive than girls but there was little difference for verbal aggression. The children were also more likely to imitate same-sex models. This study showed the impact that same-sex role models can have on children and the importance of exposing boys to good male role models.

We cannot pretend that all fathers are good role models but many are. Fathers have different skills to mothers and it is important to value these differences. They are better able to engage in rough-and-tumble play and to show their sons how to manage aggression. Fathers are more likely than mothers to play football with their sons and during such play they show their sons how to be good sportsmen. Another difference is that fathers tend to expect their sons to become independent quicker than mothers and having this balance between a father and mother’s expectations helps boys to manage the transition from dependence to independence.

Without a father or a father figure, in form of a male teacher or uncle, young boys may turn to older boys for guidance. Older boys who are not men yet may not be quite ready for the responsibility of guiding a younger boy. After all, older boys may still be forming their own identity. Without fathers or father figures boys may be more likely to be led astray. For example, if a young boy sees an older boy rewarded with respect and status for being involved in a gang, he may be motivated to copy this undesirable behaviour.

Not every child has a father around so I believe the solution is to make sure we have enough male role models in our schools, youth centres and sport centres. If we can’t recruit male teachers in our primary schools, then we should make up for this by have male sports coaches or male activity leaders come into school.

The good news is that the government is not oblivious to the issue of male role models. A playbus comes regularly to my local park and I’ve noticed that the activity leaders are all male. They bring a different activity every week, which is great. Some weeks they make dens with the children, other weeks one does craft activities while the other one plays football and they have even set up science experiments. We just need to make sure that activities like these are offered everywhere.

‘Psychology for parents: Birth to teens’ is for sale as an e-book on Amazon, Smashwords.com, Barnes and NobleKobobooks and Apple ibookstore.