What's the relationship between fatherlessness and violent behavior 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.
As a matter of fact, the two phenomena are closely interrelated. Bear with us while we try to explain why.
There are many reasons fathers are important in the lives of young children, 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. This is one of the ways they gain self-confidence and learn to gauge their own strength. Dad is the one who can help them out 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 – always in a safe and controlled environment, of course – 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'll probably feel driven to go out and "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'll probably end up demanding it in some pretty unhealthy ways.
You can pretty much count on it: a young gang member who totes a gun and becomes involved in street violence is desperately screaming, "I am somebody! I want you to pay attention to me!" Sadly, the kind of attention he gets is usually something quite different from what he had in mind.
If this is a pressing issue in your own family, or if you'd simply like to discuss this subject at greater length with a member of our staff, feel free to call Focus on the Family's Counseling department for a free consultation.
National Center for Fathering