Adolescence can be an especially stressful time. However, a series of recent studies suggests that having a supportive father may help reduce that stress, especially for teen girls. “Recent research indicates that father attributes are associated with psychobiological activity in young children,” said Jennifer Byrd-Craven of the Department of Psychology at Oklahoma State University, and lead author of the study. “The present studies examine the association between the quality of father– daughter relationships and daughters’ morning stress system activity, baseline stress system activity, and stress response to self-disclosure with a friend.”
A stressful family dynamic has been shown to cause girls to develop insecure attachments and engage in sexual activity earlier, while positive family dynamics have been shown to result in just the opposite. “Warmer relationships, characterized by emotional support and consistency, are associated with delayed pubertal maturation, monogamy, and heavy maternal investment,” said Byrd-Craven. “Familial relationships have been shown to be related to the activity of the hypothalamic–pituitary–adrenal (HPA) axis and its primary glucocorticoid product, cortisol.” Therefore, for her study, Byrd-Craven examined the HPA axis activity to determine stress levels.
In her first study, Byrd-Craven found that girls who had a poor relationship with their fathers had more emotional volatility and less inhibition than those who reported close, supportive father-daughter relationships. In the second study, Byrd-Craven found that perceived father-daughter relationships, good and bad, directly impacted cortisol levels. “Consistent with our hypothesis, warmer father– daughter relationships were associated with lower baseline cortisol levels,” she said. “By contrast, more negative father– daughter relationships were associated with higher baseline cortisol levels.” Byrd-Craven believes that girls who have been exposed to nurturing, warm fathers throughout their lives have developed the tools necessary to manage stress better than those who have not. In sum, Byrd Craven added, “On the basis of our results, it is suggested that HPA regulation, through warm father– daughter interactions, may serve to influence social cognition such that when discussing social problems with peers, women with warm fathers would be less inclined to focus on the elements of the problem that are uncontrollable or unpredictable, components of cognition that reliability elicit a strong HPA response.”
Byrd-Craven, J., Auer, B. J., Granger, D. A., & Massey, A. R. (2011, December 19). The Father–Daughter Dance: The Relationship Between Father–Daughter Relationship Quality and Daughters’ Stress Response. Journal of Family Psychology. Advance online publication. doi: 10.1037/a0026588
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