Becoming a dad primes men for ditching unsavory behaviors.In a study that spanned 19 years researchers found fatherhood helps men behave better. Contrary to conventional wisdom that suggests “you can’t change a tiger’s stripes”, when men become fathers for the first time they smoke, drink and use marijuana less and commit fewer crimes.
According to David Kerr, assistant professor of psychology at Oregon State University who led the study, the positive changes in men’s behavior had nothing to do with entering adulthood.
“Controlling for the aging process, fatherhood was an independent factor in predicting decreases in crime, alcohol and tobacco use.”
Men well into their 20’s and early 30’s were most likely to change their behaviors for the better, compared to men having their first child in their teen years or early 20’s.
Kerr said men who were a bit older when they have their first child may be more willing to change.
“It is hopeful that for both older and younger men, tobacco use tended to decrease following the birth of a first child,” Kerr said. “This kind of change could have important health consequences for men and for their families.”
Past studies have shown marriage can change a man’s negative behaviors. The current study is the first to show fatherhood has benefits for reducing risky behavior in men.
Kerr says the study is important because it means the birth of a child could be a good time to help men who engage in high risk behaviors.
“This presents a unique window of opportunity for intervention, because new fathers might be especially willing and ready to hear a more positive message and make behavioral changes, “Kerr said.
The study, which appears in the current issue of the Journal of Marriage and Family, suggests fatherhood is a prime time for intervening with men who commit crimes, overuse alcohol, smoke or use drugs. Becoming a father for the first time is found to lead to fewer negative behaviors in boys – meaning you just might be able to change a tiger’s stripes. Babies can turn boys to men.
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