School District Bans Father-Daughter Dances

Recently, the Cranston, Rhode Island school system decided to ban father-daughter activities. The school’s decision was based on a complaint from the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU). The ACLU complained to the school system on behalf of a single mother whose daughter was unable to attend a father-daughter dance. Steven Brown of the Rhode Island ACLU told news outlets that the motivation behind this complaint was what the ACLU saw as unhealthy gender stereotypes. He said, “[t]his is 2012 and they [public schools] should not be in the business of fostering blatant gender stereotypes.”
Judith Lundsten, the superintendent of the Cranston school district, in a letter says, “I acknowledge that many of these events have long traditions and for many parents, these types of gender-based events are not an issue, however, this a public school system and under no circumstances should we be isolating any student from full participation in school activities and events based on gender.” You can read more about the story here: http://usnews.nbcnews.com/_news/2012/09/18/13938087-rhode-island-school-bans-father-daughter-dances-says-they-break-the-law?threadId=3568732&pc=25&sp=25#short comment_nav
When you read articles like this, it seems like the real issue here is not blatant gender stereotyping or gender bias, but rather a fight over societal acceptance of individual choice. In fact, the disallowing of father-daughter events seems inherently gender motivated. More and more scientific research supports the notion that gender roles, particularly the father role, are a vital influence in the development of children. A recent long term study, spanning over twenty-five years by Concordia University and published in the Canadian Journal of Behavioural Science shows how involved fathers can influence the development of their children. It is reported that “[c]ompared with other children with absentee dads, kids whose fathers were active parents in early and middle childhood had fewer behavior problems and higher intellectual abilities as they grew older – even among socio-economically at-risk families.” The report went on to say, “[g]irls whose fathers were absent during their middle childhood had significantly higher levels of emotional problems at school than girls whose fathers were present.” To see more of the report, see http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2011/08/110830102551.htm.
In reality, the absence of fathers can cause significant consequences for the children affected. Just a few of these consequences include: poverty – children in father-absent homes are almost four times more likely to be poor, in 2011, 12% of children in married-couple families were living in poverty, compared to 44% of children in mother-only families (Source: U.S. Census Bureau, Children’s Living Arrangements and Characteristics: March 2011, Table C8. Washington D.C. 2011), emotional and behavioral problems – a study of 3,400 middle school children revealed that  children not living with both biological parents had four times the risk of having an affective disorder (Source: Cuffe, Steven P., Robert E. McKeown, Cheryl L. Addy, and Carol Z. Garrison. “Family Psychosocial Risk Factors in a Longitudinal Epidemiological Study of Adolescents.” Journal of American Academic Child Adolescent Psychiatry 44 (February 2005): 121-129), incarceration – a 2002 Department of Justice survey found that 39% of inmates lived in mother-only households, 46% had a family member who had previously been incarcerated and one fifth of inmates had experienced a father in prison or jail (Source: James, Doris J., Profile of Jail Inmates, 2002. Bureau of Justice Statistics Special Report, Department of Justice, Office of Justice Programs, July 2004), and child abuse – a study using data from the Fragile Families and Child Wellbeing Study revealed that in many cases the absence of a biological father contributes to increased risk of child maltreatment. (Source: “CPS Involvement in Families with Social Fathers.” Fragile Families Research Brief No.46. Princeton, NJ and New York, NY: Bendheim-Thomas Center for Research on Child Welbeing and Social Indicators Survey Center, 2010.) For more information on the consequences facing children without a father in their lives, see the National Fatherhood Initiative at http://www.fatherhood.org.
Despite such potentially devastating consequences, it is estimated today that 1 out of 3 kids in the United States will grow up without their biological father in the home. (Source: National Fatherhood Initiative). In the face of such overwhelming evidence for the role fathers play in the development of their children and the growing trend of absentee fathers, I wonder if it is really best to put aside such time honored traditions of father-daughter dances. Should we be more concerned about “blatant gender stereotypes” instead of promoting the best interest of children; the best interest of the child being clearly supported by having an active father in his or her life.
Instead of discouraging father-daughter activities, the research clearly shows that we should be encouraging a father’s active involvement in their child’s live as a means towards supporting healthy children and family restoration. Families are served best by two active parents.


  1. This is shocking to me. The fact that it did not happen via the court system is both encouraging and sad. It is encouraging because it means that there is no precedent being set. However, it is sad because the very fact that this did not result in litigation seems to suggest that the school was ready to move in this direction. While working in a school district, I saw a lot of the modern ideologies that are laying the ground work for decisions like the one discussed above taking root. In the school I worked in, there was a disproportionate concern for the child's current emotions at the expense of the child's long term success. Repeatedly, decisions were made in an effort to alleviate temporary emotional stress despite the fact that such decisions would likely have negative long term consequences. It is hard for me to imagine how "best interest of the child" has in many ways become a launching point for adult agendas that compromise the child all together.

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  3. The sobering statistics on the effects of fatherlessness reflect the truths of Romans chapters 1 and 2, which assert that God created the world in a certain fashion, and human lives and families prosper most when we conform to His design. Specifically, Romans 2:12-16 teaches that God has written His Law upon the human heart, and humans try in vain to escape the consequences of departing from His Law or the whispers of conscience when we do violate it. The poverty and higher rates of incarceration, child abuse, and emotional disturbance described above are just some of the consequences of discouraging the participation of fathers in the lives of American children, in violation of God's ideal for the human family. It is good to know that God will act as a "father to the fatherless" and will receive those whose human parents forsake them (Psalm 27:10). But parents should remember that God will hold them accountable for the temporal havoc created when they do not act in the "best interests" of their children. Social science simply confirms what Scripture has taught all along regarding the importance of the presence of both parents and their complementary roles in guiding their children to adulthood and away from some of the adverse outcomes described above.

  4. I find this article and the results extremely hard to deal with and comprehend. We are now denying children (daughters) who do have a mom and a dad the opportunity to go to school related functions that promote the "father-daughter" relationship. I understand that some children do not have both a mom and a dad but that does not mean that children who are fortunate enough to have both need to be punished. Schools could change the format of the dance to include both moms and dads instead of doing away with the dance all together. Having a father or father in figure in a child's life is extremely important and I hate to see children who have that opportunity not be able to take full advantage of it. What's next? Are we going to ban "Bring Your Father to School Day" or "Follow Your Father to Work Day" or better yet, "Father's Day"? I think they are better ways to deal with this issue and I hope we as a society do not start down a path that will be never ending. Every child should be afforded the opportunity engage in activities with their "parents" even if other children may choose not to or are not in the same position to be able to participate in such activities.

  5. The single mother in the complaint says her child was unable to attend the dance because the child did not have a father. The ACLU said the core of the complaint is to prevent the enforcement of unhealthy gender role. I do not believe that either of these arguments hold much water. The purpose of father daughter dance is not to enforce gender roles but to foster an environments where young women can spend an evening with a positive male role model. Generally, the positive male role model is the father, however this is not the only positive male role model in a young woman's life. Just because a young lady does not have a father in her life does not mean she does not have a father figure in her life. I don't see any reason why her grandfather, god father, brother, uncle, or minster cannot fill the "father" shoes. I find it had to believe that anyone would object to a young lady taking her grandfather to the dance. So long as the young ladies may take any positive male role model there is no exclusion of young ladies who do not have fathers.