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First-time Dads Vulnerable to Media Messages

First-time Dads Vulnerable to Media Messages

A new study finds that first-time expectant fathers may be unduly influenced by television shows that portray dads in an unfavorable light.

The University of Michigan study found some dads watch a heavy dose of television featuring incompetent dads and many came to believe that men were unimportant in their children’s lives.

“Our findings show that within the broader social context that under-prepares men for fatherhood, men are especially vulnerable to negative media messages about fathers,” said Patty Kuo, the study’s lead author and graduate student in the University of Michigan Department of Psychology.

Television content has been documented to portray a limited range of gender roles, and to frequently depict fathers as emotionally available, but also bumbling and incompetent, she said.

Kuo and co-author L. Monique Ward, the Arthur F. Thurnau Professor of Psychology, explored whether first-time expectant parents’ beliefs about gendered family roles and the importance of fathers to child development was related to their TV use.

The study appear in the journal Psychology of Men and Masculinity.

Researchers reviewed responses from 201 first-time expectant parents who completed an online survey on their daily viewing habits. Respondents averaged more than 30 hours of TV per week, including 25 percent who said their viewing habits exceeded 49 hours.

For the study, the TV listing involved 30 shows: 10 dramas (“The Walking Dead,” “Parenthood”), 13 sitcoms (“Modern Family,” “Raising Hope”), two comedy-dramas (“Louie,” “Shameless”), four animated programs (“Family Guy,” “The Simpsons”), and one reality show (“Teen Mom”).

Men watched more TV, especially shows that prominently featured fathers, than women, the study showed. In general, men perceived TV to be more realistic, which contributed to their beliefs about weakened importance for fathers.

The researchers theorize that men are not solely affected by bumbling father tropes, but there are other more attractive aspects of dad characters that may be appealing.

For example, Walter White (“Breaking Bad”) and Tony Soprano (“The Sopranos”) may not be sensitive fathers, but they are formidable and powerful men. Phil Dunphy and Jay Pritchett from “Modern Family” may not be competent fathers, but they are married to beautiful wives and adored by their families.

“Although the portrayals of these men as fathers are negative, the overall portrayals of these fathers as men are attractive because they portray these men as powerful, dominant, or sexually virile,” the researchers wrote.

The unattractive portrayals of fathers are counter to expectant mothers’ desires for an involved and equal partner.

“Therefore, women may not rely as much on these (TV) images for forming their beliefs about fathers’ roles in families,” Kuo said.

Source: University of Michigan

First-time Dads Vulnerable to Media Messages

Rick Nauert PhD

Rick Nauert, PhDDr. Rick Nauert has over 25 years experience in clinical, administrative and academic healthcare. He is currently an associate professor for Rocky Mountain University of Health Professionals doctoral program in health promotion and wellness. Dr. Nauert began his career as a clinical physical therapist and served as a regional manager for a publicly traded multidisciplinary rehabilitation agency for 12 years. He has masters degrees in health-fitness management and healthcare administration and a doctoral degree from The University of Texas at Austin focused on health care informatics, health administration, health education and health policy. His research efforts included the area of telehealth with a specialty in disease management.

APA Reference
Nauert PhD, R. (2018). First-time Dads Vulnerable to Media Messages. Psych Central. Retrieved on September 26, 2020, from
Scientifically Reviewed
Last updated: 8 Aug 2018 (Originally: 8 Feb 2016)
Last reviewed: By a member of our scientific advisory board on 8 Aug 2018
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