Father-son relationship quality and associated adolescent risks
Hendricks, Lynn Avril
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International research over the past two decades has advanced knowledge in the study of fathers and the protective role they play in the prevention of adolescent risk behaviours. Studies have often investigated parental relationships and their influence on adolescent risk behaviours but rarely the specific role of the adolescents’ relationships with their fathers or father figures in prevention of risk behaviour.Three main hypotheses were investigated: first, that the theoretically aligned dimensions of relationship quality would be nomogically validated; second, that there would be little significance difference in the dimensions of relationship quality across groupings of father residential status; and third, that the quality of the fatherson relationship is a stronger predictor of risk behaviour than father’s residential status (whether the adolescent lived with the father or not), or whether the “father” is a biological father or not. Three samples of adolescents were included: a fatherresident group (biological fathers reside in the adolescents’ homes) (N = 196); a nonresident group (biological fathers live elsewhere) (N = 72); and a father figure group(no contact with biological father) (N = 58). The school-based sample of 331 participants all resided in a low-income area of Cape Town. Risk behaviours were investigated using the Problem Oriented Screening Instrument for Teenagers(POSIT). Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV) risk behaviour was assessed on a POSIT sub-scale designed specifically for South Africa, the POSIT HIV/STD Risk Subscale. Paternal relationship quality was measured by the Acceptance subscale of the revised Child Report of Parent Behavior Inventory, the Child-Parent Communication Apprehension Scale for Use with Young Adults, and a measure of paternal quality contact time that was developed for this study. After conducting a factor analysis the Paternal Quality Contact Time Scale was found to have three factors: the father’s availability, activities engaged in together, and the motivation of the son to spend time with his father (including the son’s enjoyment of the time spent). This provides an extension to past conceptualizations of father-son contact which commonly assessed only the amount of time and activities engaged in. The dimensions of paternal relationship quality were found to be strongly associated.Linear regressions showed that father-son communication was the stronger predictor of risk behaviours when compared to father residential status. Paternal communication was a predictive factor for mental health risk, negative family relations, educational under-attainment, aggressive and violent behaviour and HIV/STD risk behaviours for adolescent boys. These findings confirm that fathers play an important protective role with regard to the development of adolescent risk behaviours. They also confirm that paternal relationship quality plays a more significant role, specifically the dimension of communication between them, than whether fathers live with their sons or are biologically related to them. The findings suggest a need to address the issues of building relationships between at-risk youth and their fathers (be they biological fathers or father figures) through community and clinical interventions.