Q&A: Fatherlessness and violent behaviour


What’s the relationship between fatherlessness and violent behaviour 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.

Answer: There are many factors and dynamics, but one of them has to do with the specifically masculine way in which men tend to play with their children.

As you’re probably aware, mums and dads play differently. Boys have an inborn need to engage in rough-and-tumble activity from an early age. It’s one of the ways they gain self-confidence and learn to gauge their own strength. Dad is the one who can help them in this area. Mum 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 – in a safe and controlled environment – goes a long way towards teaching children 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 may feel driven to “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 may end up demanding it in some pretty unhealthy ways.

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