FUKUOKA — The participation of fathers in child-rearing from babyhood decreases the risk of their children suffering from mental problems when they hit puberty, results of a recent study by Japan’s National Center for Child Health and Development indicate.
It seems reasonable that fathers’ participation from when their children are young would have a positive effect on their children’s upbringing, while also reducing the burden on moms. But why do the effects of involvement with babies last through to adolescence? The Mainichi Shimbun spoke with experts on the issue.
The study was conducted by a research group led by Tsuguhiko Kato, a division chief at the national center in Tokyo’s Setagaya Ward. It targeted households with 18,510 children born in 2001. Researchers examined the relationship between how involved the fathers were in their children’s early years, including in diaper changing and bathing, and the children’s mental health issues at the age of 16.
Follow-up surveys conducted by the Ministry of Health, Labor and Welfare and the Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology were utilized in the study. Researchers divided fathers’ levels of participation in child-rearing into four stages. They found that compared to the bottom group with the least amount of participation, mental health problems during adolescence were 7% lower in the next group up, 5% lower in the group with slightly more involvement, and 10% lower in the group with the most involvement.
Kato commented, “It was evident that it is undesirable for fathers to be completely absent from child-rearing during babyhood. It’s possible there was an impact from fathers’ involvement in child-rearing leading to better relationships with their children in the long term and reducing the burden on mothers.”
Genuine child care leave
How do experts see these results?
Yasuhiro Kozaki, a professor at Osaka Kyoiku University who serves as principal of Tennoji Elementary School, which is affiliated with the institution, commented, “Children are raised by a combination of factors, but this shows us that fathers’ participation is one important pillar. There are many such studies in Europe and the United States, but in Asia the role of fathers in child-rearing doesn’t tend to be emphasized, and there haven’t even been many studies. There is great significance in using data to show what many people somehow feel to be the case.”
Regarding the finding that involvement during babyhood has an influence even after 10 years or more have passed, Kozaki said, “Child-rearing is an accumulation of experiences. When I talk to fathers, some of them say, ‘When it comes to babies, that’s for the mom. I’ll get involved together when the child is older,’ but it is important to be involved from babyhood.”
The finding that it is important for fathers to be involved from babyhood may be effective in spreading child care leave. In fiscal 2021, the uptake rate of child care leave for men was 14%, followed by 17% in fiscal 2022. The government has set a target of raising this rate to 50% in fiscal 2025 and 85% in fiscal 2030, preparing an environment encouraging men to take part in child care.
However, rather than just focusing on numbers, it is important for those figures to be backed up by reality. Kozaki pointed out, “The issues with child-rearing by men are twofold: First, the uptake rate is far lower than that of women. The second issue is the number of days taken. Mothers take child care leave following maternity leave before and after childbirth, so it lasts for over eight months in most cases. The majority of men, however, take less than a month or sometimes just two weeks off. This is a factor in the criticism that they are ‘just taking child care leave for the sake of it’ or that it is ‘pseudo child care leave.'”
At the same time, Kozaki said, “If there are reasons in society or in companies that prevent people from taking child care leave, they must be eliminated, but it should be left up to individuals how they use the system. I don’t think every man should take child care leave.
Kato added, “There are concerns that we could see a trend in society where men have to take child care leave without problems such as long working hours being addressed, leading in some cases to increased stress which could result in inappropriate child care. It is desirable for couples and families to do as much as they can, and it is important to create an environment facilitating this.”
Source : Mainichi