Does sympathizing with terrorists make you a good father? No way. But a recent study has found the opposite: fears of terrorism may lead to bad parenting.
Participants were exposed to information of either impending terrorism or predicted safety. They were then asked to read a list of statements on parenting and indicate the extent to which they agreed with each one. Those exposed to the terrorism-related ideas reacted more positively toward authoritarian statements.
As a follow-up, 16 mothers and six fathers were shown photos of either the September 11 attacks or flowers and other non-threatening items. This was followed by a survey regarding their fears of terrorism. The parents were then given 12 minutes to explain and play a game with their children. Independent raters declared that the parents who were exposed to terrorism “were more impatient with their child” and “showed more negative facial expressions.”
It makes sense. Parents recently exposed to terrorist threats tend to be more aware of the dangers of the world. Naturally, they become more mindful of their children’s safety, but that doesn’t always manifest itself in the most positive ways. Authoritarian parenting—psychological punishment, less nurturance, exaggerated control—can have negative long-term consequences:
Such practices “seem to have considerable negative effects on children’s development,” they write, “such as problems with goal-setting and reduced academic performance, psychological and physical health issues, smoking and sexual risk-taking.”
These parenting patterns can also be passed down from one generation to another.
If you’re trying to be a better father, it might not be a bad idea to stay away from the news for a few days. But then you might actually stress out about not knowing what’s going on in the world and treat your kids badly because of it. So, basically, we’re all doomed to be terrible fathers.
Damn you, bin Laden. Damn you.