Why dads matter

Dad isn’t dispensable, write Lois M. Collins and Marjorie Cortez in The Atlantic. A third of American children are growing up without their biological father. It’s not just a benign “alternative family.” It’s bad for kids.

More than half of babies of mothers under 30 are born to unmarried parents, they write. Forty percent of married couples divorce.

Father-absent families are four times more likely to be poor, the Census reports.

When couples split, Dad usually moves out. Often a new man comes in. And then leaves. Children in such homes experience an average of more than five “partnership transitions,” one study found.

Most children deal with “family churn” and end up OK, said Andrew J. Cherlin, author of The Marriage-Go-Round and director of John Hopkins’ Population Center. But the more transitions a child endures, the worse off he or she typically is, Cherlin said.

“Dad also helps with impulse control and memory and enhances a child’s ability to respond effectively to new or ambiguous situations, for boys and girls,” said Warren Farrell, author of Father and Child Reunion. Children who are close to their fathers tend to achieve more academically, while kids with absent fathers are more likely to drop out. Fathers are the biggest factor in preventing drug use, Farrell said.

The time a father spends with his child predicts how empathetic a child will become, according to a proposal for a White House Council on Boys and Men.

Children who lack contact with fathers are more likely to be treated for emotional or behavioral problems. Girls with absent or indifferent fathers are more prone to hyperactivity.

When fathers are involved, girls are less likely to become pregnant as teens and boys are less likely to become teen fathers.

Simply improving the job market for young adults, especially men, would do wonders to stabilize families—particularly those just starting out, Cherlin said. Experts have been surprised by the real drop in divorce among the college-educated, who still can get good jobs. He said young people need more job training opportunities and apprenticeships, especially if they’re not college-bound. Making sure tax policy doesn’t discourage marriage and providing a modest earned income tax credit for disadvantaged childless young adults would also encourage formation of stable relationships, he added.

“I didn’t have a dad in the house,” President Obama said as he announced the My Brother’s Keeper initiative to help young black males. “And I was angry about it, even though I didn’t necessarily realize it at the time. I made bad choices. I got high without always thinking about the harm that it could do. I didn’t always take school as seriously as I should have. I made excuses. Sometimes I sold myself short.”

District monitors students’ social media posts

In hopes of preventing violence, drug abuse, bullying and suicide, a suburban Los Angeles school district is monitoring middle and high school students’ social media posts, reports CNN.

Glendale is paying $40,500 to Geo Listening to track middle and high school students’ posts on Twitter, Facebook and other social media.

When the idea was piloted last spring, monitoring identified a suicidal student. “We were able to save a life,” said Superintendent Richard Sheehan.

Recently, a student posted a photo of what appeared to be a gun, but turned out to be fake, Sheehan said.

“We had to educate the student on the dangers” of posting such photos, Sheehan said. “He was a good kid. … It had a good ending.”

Geo Listening sends a daily report to principals on which students’ comments could be causes for concern.

A 12-year-old Florida girl committed suicide after months of bullying on social media, her mother says.

Pushing drugs in school

Diagnosed as hyperactive in first grade, Ted Gup’s son was prescribed Ritalin and Adderall, Gup writes in the New York Times.

In another age, David might have been called “rambunctious.” His battery was a little too large for his body. And so he would leap over the couch, spring to reach the ceiling and show an exuberance for life that came in brilliant microbursts.

When he was older, he sold his Adderall to classmates, who saw it as a performance-enhancing drug.

As a 21-year-old college senior, he was found on the floor of his room, dead from a fatal mix of alcohol and drugs.

“I had unknowingly colluded with a system that devalues talking therapy and rushes to medicate, inadvertently sending a message that self-medication, too, is perfectly acceptable,” writes the grieving father.

Now psychiatrists have defined grief as depression, which “runs the very real risk of delegitimizing that which is most human — the bonds of our love and attachment to one another.”  Gup does not plan to take a pill to dull his grief for his son.

Poverty rises, but kids are doing OK

Child poverty is up — but so is “child well-being” — according to the Foundation for Child Development. Child well-being is up more than 5 percent since 2001 in the index, which evaluates 28 factors.

Families are struggling to pay the bills with “falling median income and less secure parental employment, all shown to be associated with higher chronic stress on children and families,” notes Education Week.

From 2001 to 2011, the percentage of children living in families below the poverty line has increased from 15.6 percent to 21.4 percent; a third of this increase in child poverty occurred between 2001 and 2007—before the most recent recession.

But other things improved.

. . . Last week’s horrific school shootings in Connecticut notwithstanding, children as either the victims or perpetrators of violent crime has fallen more than 60 percent from 2001 to 2011. Likewise, the index shows children are less likely to do drugs or become parents as teenagers. They are more engaged in their communities and have slightly better educational attainment, though growth in preschool enrollment has stalled since the recession.

“Parents got a lot more active in the lives of their children,” says Kenneth C. Land, a Duke sociology professor who was the lead researchers. It’s not just affluent “helicopter parents,” Land says. “Even parents of more down economic status are monitoring their children more and being more involved.”

Failing students get college aid

Failing students lose federal college aid — but it takes a year or more. In California’s Central Valley, 25 percent of Pell Grant recipients fail to make “satisfactory academic progress.”

Also on Community College Spotlight: Low community college tuition  deters teen drinking, drug abuse and high-risk sex, according to a new study. Why? Teens who see college as affordable don’t want to risk the future, an economist speculates.