The first of 2016’s Super Bowl ads have begun to roll out a few days ahead of the big game on Sunday – including a set of Pantene ads featuring NFL stars DeAngelo Williams, Benjamin Watson and Jason Witten styling their young daughters’ hair.
Not only are the cute TV spots proof that whipping together braids and ballerina buns takes a special skill set, they also assert that, “Girls who spend quality time with their dads grow up to be stronger women.”
It certainly makes sense, but how does it work exactly? What role do fathers play in their daughters’ development? Let’s take a peek at the psychology.
The Key Psychological Roles of Both Parents
We’ve long been told that same-sex parent is the most important figure in a young child’s life – something that can be explained by Albert Bandura’s 1977 social learning theory, in which a child will emulate a person he or she perceives to be similar.
In this way, sons look first to dad for behavioral cues while daughters look to mom, says Art Markman, PhD, a professor of psychology at the University of Texas. “Same-sex parents are often a child’s first close adult role model,” he tells Yahoo Health. “So, the parent provides an example of what adult behavior will look like and what expectations to have.”
Opposite-sex parents play some similar roles as same-sex parents, like helping a child pick up communication patterns that continue into adult life and influencing a child’s level of trust in others. But in a two-parent, opposite-sex household, dads tend to adopt specific roles in the kid’s support system, says Karla Ivankovich, PhD, an adjunct professor of psychology at the University of Illinois, Springfield.
Look to dads to lead social and physical development, helping guide a child’s (essential) playtime, games and shenanigans. “Research shows…that the father’s roles are found to be indicative of more playful and more physical interactions with their children, while mothers were found to provide more intimate, soothing, and nurturing exchanges,” Ivankovich tells Yahoo Health, noting that parental roles tend to reinforce gender roles.
However, gender roles are not a perfect mapping system for development. In a time where families and households are more diverse than ever, Ivankovich says fathers can be just as nurturing as mothers, and are no less significant in a child’s support system – especially as more women break the glass ceiling and more men stay home to take care of the kids. “Women overwhelmingly bear the brunt of the primary caregiver status, but many men are endeavoring into this domain and they are doing so with enthusiasm,” Ivankovich says.
How Dads Shape Their Daughters’ Growth
In today’s world, daddies and daughters specifically share a unique bond, says Markman, as so many aspects of the world are still dominated by men. “There are still more men in positions of leadership in companies, in government and in higher education,” he says. “That means that, as they grow up, girls need to learn what to expect from the men they encounter as they grow up and take their place in the world.”
Markman says fathers provide “an important early example” of a man’s role in society, and how interactions between the sexes should play out. “Girls also look to their fathers to get a sense of what is appropriate for men to do,” he explains. “When a father supports his daughter’s education and aspirations, whatever they may be, that helps to make it clear that other men who may not be so supportive in the future are doing something wrong.”
In many cases, a father’s modeling also impacts a daughter’s romantic relationships; a dad is a little girl’s first example of what a future partner might look like. We’ve all heard the old saying that little girls grow up to marry their fathers, right? “A father provides a roadmap for his daughter to witness the relationship between he and her mother,” Ivankovich says. “This in turn allows her to set up expectations on how she should expect to be treated.” Similarly, a daughter often watches how mom and dad interact and communicate, and draws conclusions about what her role might be in future relationships.
If a girl has a strong male role model, providing support and showing her how men should treat women in the world, she is likely to have a strong sense of self and create secure attachments, says Ivankovich. “The research shows that the type of attachment between father and daughter may influence, not only a woman’s social cognition, but also how she reacts to stressors later in life,” she explains. “But the literature shows that children, not just daughters, with an involved father have better cognitive and behavioral functioning.” (Fathers of boys and girls, take note.)
Seek Quality Time (a.k.a. Quantity Time)
Markman stresses that parents aren’t kids only influencers growing up, and every household is not the same. “It is only one of many factors that affect how children develop,” he says. “Genetic influences and peer influences have a big effect on children as well – so, the parent-child relationship does not determine how a child will turn out.”
But parent-child quality time is helpful for children trying to determine their place in the world, among so many others. “Quality time is quantity time,” says Markman. “It’s hard to plan in advance what events are going to be important, so parents just need to be around for their kids.”
Markman says that even mundane interactions are important formative opportunities. That means going to the concerts and the games, having nightly dinners at home, helping with homework, including kids in chores, taking them to the supermarket – and yes, even doing their hair. “By being there, you create quality moments,” Markman says.
Thanks for the reminder, Pantene.