A study of 111 inner-city African American families in New York has found that when a male cohabiting partner is active in daily family activities and at the same time provides firm parenting, adolescent children are less likely to exhibit behaviours such as withdrawal, depression and anxiety.

In the research led by Rex Forehand at the University of Vermont, the adolescents reported on the male cohabiting partner’s involvement and parenting; biological mothers reported on the adolescents’ problem behaviours. The mothers reported a second time about one year later.

When a male cohabiting partner was a “polite stranger” in the household – neither involved in daily child-rearing nor setting consistent rules – adolescents had the highest level of problem behaviours.

The authors conclude: “This finding suggests that, for Black families living under difficult conditions, an actively parenting male cohabiting partner can confer benefits for an adolescent. … [Such a parent] in a Black low-income cohabiting family with an adolescent should be encouraged to help with daily child-rearing activities and/or with setting and enforcing rules in the home.”