Saved by the… baby?

November 9, 2011, 4:24 pm Emma Fahy Davis Practical Parenting

It’s official, becoming a father really does make men grow up

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As the cliché goes, behind every good man is a good woman, but according to a new study, perhaps the truth lies a little deeper.

The study, which followed 200 males aged between 12-31 over a 19-year period, found that the fatherhood had a ‘transformative effect’ on men, reducing the incidence of destructive behaviour. Becoming a father for the first time coincided with a decrease in alcohol use and smoking, and a reduction in criminal activity.

Previous studies had shown that marriage had a positive effect on men’s behaviour, but the results of this new study show that fatherhood has an even greater impact, and the results were even more pronounced in the group aged in their mid-20s and early 30s. Scientists believe this is because older men have had more chance to mature, and are more willing to embrace their new role as a dad.

‘These decreases were in addition to the general tendency of boys to engage less in these types of behaviours as they approach and enter adulthood,’ says study author Professor David Kerr, assistant professor of psychology at Oregon State University. ‘Fatherhood was an independent factor in predicting decreases in crime, alcohol and tobacco use.’

Some of the changes may be a result of messaging during pregnancy and immediately after birth, for example health warnings of the dangers second-hand smoke poses for infants. The study suggests that men have a primal desire to be the best father possible, and such messaging educates them on practical ways to achieve this.

According to Professor Kerr, 'Fatherhood can be a transformative experience, even for men engaging in high risk behaviour. This presents a unique window of opportunity for intervention, because new fathers might be especially willing to make behavioural changes.'

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