Dads and Daughters

October 13, 1999

Columnist Kathleen Parker says that the "best thing a father can do for his daughter is to love her mother. A girl lucky enough to observe her first man demonstrating affection and respect for the women with whom she most strongly identifies grows up with confidence and high self-esteem."

Well, it turns out that there is another way dads can have a positive influence on their daughters: just be there. The August issue of the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology found that girls who have a close, positive family relationship (especially with their fathers) enter puberty later in life. Conversely, they found that girls who grew up without their fathers at home, or in a dysfunctional home, entered puberty earlier.

For years, there have been anecdotal examples of girls' biological clocks attuned not only to the physical environment but the emotional environment. You've no doubt heard of female roommates who, after living together for a few months, mysteriously synchronize their menstrual cycles. The same principle seems to apply to this study about the onset of puberty related to dad.

The researchers posit that the girl's unconscious timing is affected by pheromones. Girls who grow up in a stable relationship with their biological father are exposed to his pheromones, causing them to postpone puberty. Researchers aren't sure if this provided a biological barrier against incest or what it all means biologically.

What it means socially is another factor. Research has shown that girls who grow up without fathers tend to become sexually active at earlier ages, often looking for male approval in intimate relationships. This latest research simply adds another factor to the equation.

For me the research has two messages. First, dads need to love their wives and provide a positive role model for their daughters. Second, sociologists need to stop saying that fathers are optional. Here is more proof of their positive impact on the family.

I'm Kerby Anderson of Probe Ministries, and that's my opinion.