Persistence Is Learned from Fathers, Says Study

A new study found fathers teach their children the virtue of persistence.

ByABC News
June 14, 2012, 6:59 PM

June 15, 2012— -- Are you tenacious on the job front? Tireless on the playing field? Do you keep chipping away at a pursuit you believe in, even when everyone else seems to say "no"?

You may have your dear old dad to thank for that eternal persistence.

A new study published in the Journal of Early Adolescence found that dads are in a unique position to instill persistence and hope in their children, particularly in the pre-teen and teen years.

Researchers from Brigham Young University analyzed 325 families over a four-year period, when fathers responded to questionnaires regarding their parenting style, and children ages 11 to 14 responded to questions about school performance and attaining goals. Fathers who practiced authoritative parenting, defined as providing feelings of love, granting autonomy and emphasizing accountability to a child, were more likely to have kids who developed the art of persistence, which led to better outcomes in school and lower instances of misbehavior.

Dads who ruled with an iron fist and an authoritarian style (harsher and more punishment-based parenting) had less persistent children.

"Fathers have a direct impact on how children perceive persistence and hope, and how they implement that into their lives," said Randall Day, professor in the School of Family Life at Brigham Young University and co-author of the study. "It's important to say that moms can do this, too, but it turns out that when fathers use authoritative parenting, they have an impact on how their adolescents perceive themselves and how persistent they are in their lives."

Day calls these types of dads "heart beat fathers" because of their consistent presence in the ordinary day-to-day interactions with their kids.

Researchers said the study joins a growing body of research that suggests fathers are uniquely important to children's self-regulation and self-esteem. While that is not to say mothers do not instill these values, men and fathers may take on this role more often because of societal acceptance and expectations.

"Our study suggests fathers who are most effective are those who listen to their children, have a close relationship, set appropriate rules, but also grant appropriate freedoms," said Laura Padilla-Walker, co-author of the study and associate professor in the School of Family Life at BYU.

"Persistence is an important character trait to teach to our children and is meaningfully related to teen outcomes over time," Padilla-Walker continued. "We focus so often on things like genetic intelligence that I think it's refreshing to be reminded that good old-fashioned 'sticking with it' is really important, too."

The characteristics that make up authoritative parenting allow children to "stick with it" by instilling accountability, along with freedom to make their own choices and mistakes, in a supportive environment. The style combines direction and guidance with expectations and respect, Paul Miller, associate professor of psychology at Arizona State University, wrote in an email.

"When held accountable in a supportive way, mistakes do not become a mark against their self-esteem, but a source for learning what to do differently," continued Miller. "Consequently, children are less afraid of making mistakes, are more inclined to try to make better choices in order to demonstrate that they can accomplish and live up to the expectations they share with their parent(s)."