The Grapevine

Close Father-Daughter Bond Helps Girls Beat Loneliness, Study Finds

Young girls who are trying to overcome loneliness may see significant progress with a little help from one of their parents, according to a new study. Researchers at the Ohio State University found loneliness declined faster among girls who had a closer relationship with their fathers.

The study titled "Longitudinal associations between parent-child relationships in middle childhood and child-perceived loneliness" recently appeared online in the Journal of Family Psychology and will be published in a future print edition.

Nearly 700 families (who participated in the Study of Early Child Care and Youth Development) were examined by the research team.

Both mothers and fathers were asked to rate their relationships with their child when he or she was in grades 1, 3, 4 and 5. The system of rating was meant to determine levels of closeness as well as conflict. On the other hand, the children were asked to rate how lonely they felt during grades 1, 3 and 5.

The analysis revealed, unsurprisingly, that levels of closeness between parents and children experienced an overall decline over this period. This is often a result of children becoming more independent as they develop their own social circles, spend more time outside their home, and seek more autonomy in various aspects of their lives.

Loneliness levels of the children were found to decrease as they built closer relationships with peers and developed social skills. But when comparing, the researchers found loneliness declined faster in the girls whose fathers reported higher levels of closeness.

"We found that closeness between fathers and daughters tends to protect daughters and help them transition out of loneliness faster," said Xin Feng, co-author of the study and an associate professor of human sciences at Ohio State.

But while closeness appeared to be a factor, the researchers did not see any difference based on the levels of conflict between fathers and daughters. This suggested most families do not experience conflicts that are severe enough to affect loneliness over the course of several years. 

What parents should take away from the study is the importance of spending time with their children and developing a close, emotional bond. Fathers and daughters should do so in particular, as the findings emphasized.

As for the reason why, it was suggested the relationship daughters have with their fathers simply holds more influence in such cases.

"In our society, mothers tend to be responsible for everyday care and stability for their children," Feng noted. "Fathers have more freedom to interact with their children in different ways, to challenge them and have a wider range of emotional contact. That may be one reason why fathers had more impact on their daughters."