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How Your Dad's Age Might Help Explain Your Social Life
If you've always felt approximately two steps behind in the social skills department, it could be because of your dad: New recently published inJournal of the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry (JAACAP)suggests your social skills could depend how old your dad was when you were born.
Knowing that children born to men over 35 have a greater risk of developing autism, a developmental disorder; and schizophrenia, a mental disorder; researchers wanted to see whether a father's age could affect the social skills of childrenwithoutthese disorders in more subtle ways. So they asked parents of 15,000 twins between the ages of 4 and 16 to fill out behavioral assessments about their kids.
When researchers compared the assessments to each child's father's age at conception, they found no developmental differences in conduct problems (i.e., fighting with and bullying other children), emotional symptoms (i.e., having many worries, being nervous in new situations), hyperactivity (i.e., fidgeting, being easily distracted), or peer problems (i.e., getting on better with adults than other children), regardless of a father's age.
However, researchers noticed a difference in kids' prosocial behaviors, (i.e., helping others, acknowledging others' pain, sharing, and being considerate) among children of relatively young and old fathers: In early childhood, kids born to dads younger than 25 years old or older than 51 years old started out exhibiting the most prosocial behaviors. And although all children displayed more prosocial behaviors as they aged, the progress was markedly more pronounced in kids with middle-aged dads compared to those with relatively young or old dads.
"Our hypothesis is that those children may have slightly different ways of picking up social skills than offspring of middle-aged men," says lead study author Magdalena Janecka, PhD, fellow at the Seaver Autism Center for Research and Treatment at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai in New York City. "Typical social behaviors may emerge at a slightly different time and show different developmental patterns. "
Researchers think kids with young dads end up exhibiting similar delays in social skill development as kids with older dads for different reasons. "Patterns in offspring of very young fathers are more likely due to environmental factors, whereas those in children of older fathers [could exhibit similar traits] due to genetic factors," Janecka says.
In other words, it's possible that kids of young dads are affected by the way they are raised, while dads who put off fatherhood until later in life may be genetically programmed with developmental delays they pass on to their children.
If your dad was particularly young or old, it could explain why you found social situations during adolescence more challenging than people born to middle-aged dads — or why you felt less empathy than others in your early teens. (Not your fault!) Meanwhile, if your dad was middle-aged when he had you, it could explain why you became increasingly considerate as you aged. 😇
Still, this new research doesn't prove a dad's age prevents his kid from developing social skills on schedule, or promotes proper development. And no one's saying it explains exactly why your high school social life sucked (or why you slayed boy-girl parties back in the day). "Our study measured prosocial behaviors, which is only one facet of how one copes in social situations," Janecka says. "It would be really difficult for us to extrapolate to complex issues, like relationships and confidence in social situations."
Of course, more research is needed to suss out exactly how your dad's age at conception affects you now.
The Bottom Line
You can't change when your parents decided to have you, and you probably shouldn't let this study guide your baby-making. ("Our study definitely should not influence men's decision about the timing of their fatherhood," Janecka says.) Still, the results sure take some pressure off moms, whose age had no effect on the social skills of kids in this study.
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