Child psychologist Penelope Leach says sleepovers at dad’s “may damage brain”

To begin, from my previous articles I have received feedback that I am not exactly a stickler for providing support for my claims. I respect that, so one of my goals in this article is to be 100% factual. Citations. Notations. Look here to find this. Look there to find that. I’m going to do it right and from a certain perspective: this entire article is about how we support our claims and where we find support for our cause.

Bestselling author and “child psychologist” Penelope Leach made statements to the effect that a child’s separation from their mother (i.e., by allowing a child to sleep over at their father’s house in cases of shared custody) could lead to the child experiencing permanent brain damage and psychological issues. This was reported in both the Independent and here:

Child psychologist Penelope Leach says sleepovers at dad’s ‘may damage brain’.

Oliver James, another “child psychologist” and TV presenter, supported Leach’s claims by adding, “[I]n most cases, you should do nothing to disrupt the relationship with the primary caregiver. To do so can affect the child’s brain development.… After the age of three, it becomes more debatable about whether children will be damaged by living between two homes and by the age of about six, I don’t think it’s a problem.” These quotes can be found in the article referenced above.

While James is saying that the issue is loss of contact with the primary caregiver, the title of the article is “Child psychologist Penelope Leach says sleepovers at dad’s ‘may damage brain.’” That’s the claim being made here: contact with dad causes brain damage. If that wasn’t the claim and it was simply a matter of loss of contact with a primary caregiver, then we could say that having a nanny or dropping the baby off at your parents’ house for a night away or any loss of contact with a young child causes brain damage. These statements and that article, however, were about none of those scenarios.

The fact that James (in his uncited claim) added that by the age of six it doesn’t matter may appear conciliatory; he’s essentially saying that contact with dad, after the most important developmental years, is possibly okay. By then the brain is well-formed enough to defend itself from whatever damaging impact a father’s contact can bring to bear.

Since Penelope Leach and Oliver James provide no supporting evidence to these claims—not a single study—I thought I would take it upon myself to interview some people who never had to suffer through brain-damaging contact with fathers in their early youth.

Where would I find a group of such people who would be easily accessible, willing to talk to me, and all contained within a small area? According to a number of different studies: prisons. According to the statistical study “Father Absence and Youth Incarceration,” the likelihood of being incarcerated is a fairly simple formula. Fatherless + not rich = imprisoned and angry.1

So if I wanted to find a large group of people who never had their brains damaged by contact with their fathers in order to find for Penelope Leach and Oliver James the real-world, stringent academic data that would support their claims, prison would be the best place to go. That’s where I went.

It was a clear summer day, and the sun sparkled off of the newly built county prison’s brick walls. The first thing that struck me was how aesthetically pleasing and modern this relatively small prison seemed in comparison to most of the other buildings and houses in this economically depressed area. Strange, since the road leading to it was lined on both sides by old, boarded-up buildings crumbling into nothing, as though this was a wasteland in which the only shining tower was a monument to incarceration surrounded by the relics of a past-gone era of industry and involvement. But enough of that. I was on a mission to speak with as many people not suffering from father-induced brain damage as I could find.

I knocked on the front door to the prison, it opened, and I asked the guard: “Is there anyone in here who never had contact with their father?”

I noticed in his eyes the weariness of a man trapped in a job he didn’t really care for, in a world he didn’t really care for, suffering from the exhaustion of not knowing how to change it.

“Take your pick,” he said. “None of these people had fathers.”

“Citation, please,” I said. “Do you have evidence to support that claim?”

“Do you want to talk to someone or not, asshole,” he replied.

We went to lockup, and through a thick bulletproof window I selected my test subject like a young princess selecting a bright, shiny new car.

I spotted one—scars, tattoos, and an aggressive, violent manner that screamed, “I do not suffer from father-induced brain damage.”

“I want to talk to that one,” I told the guard. He went about arranging it.

Twenty minutes later I sat in a small, concrete-walled room painted a dull yellow. A guard stood behind me, a thick pane of glass in front of me and beyond it, the young man’s angry scowl staring back.

“Hello,” I said.

“Fuck you,” he said.

“My name is Jack.”

“Razor Blade.”


“My name is Razor Blade, motherfucker,” he said.

“Oh. Hello, Razor Blade. Let’s just jump into this. According to Penelope Leach and Oliver James, in situations where parents are not living under the same roof, early childhood contact with fathers leads to, what I have termed, father-induced brain damage. Am I correct in assuming you never had any contact with your father?”

“Fuck you.”

“Yes, fuck me, Razor Blade, but can we continue with my study?”

“You know what I would do to you if you were in here?” Razor Blade said, moving closer to the glass.

“Well, you wouldn’t rape me because according to feminists, men don’t have to worry about that,” I said. “Or anything else, for that matter. But seriously, Razor Blade, I’m here to talk about you, not me. Can I assume you never had contact with your biological father?”

“Fuck you.”

“Does that mean yes?”

“Fuck YOU!”

“I think that means yes. As an aside, I find it fascinating that you are able to communicate using only two words. So, obviously, you do not suffer from father-induced brain damage. Can you tell me about all of the positive aspects of not suffering from this ailment?”

“I run cell block D. I have my pick of the bitches in here.”

“By bitches I assume you mean men who have been overtly feminized through the course of living in a hyper-violent, anxiety-ridden environment. Strangely enough, at the same time, you as well have been feminized by that same environment, though you don’t realize it. This feminization has pushed you into filling an overtly and unrealistically dominant, violent, and rage-driven role. I also imagine that you, not suffering from brain damage, understand that this situation is only possible in a culture where healthy, productive relationships between men and other men, as well as men and children, have been deemed unnecessary, damaging, and even pedophilic. The situation you are in is not entirely but to no small part the end product of a culture that holds little value for men beyond a number associated with a bank account, their willingness to equate being a man with doing anything that a woman asks, and, if not that, quietly accepting a legal system that seeks to rob or incarcerate them and does so more successfully and in greater numbers than any other culture in the world. Razor Blade, you are the monster that feminists scream about when they cry, “RAPE,” and they made you by destroying the influence that fathers have in the lives of their children. But I have to admit, I’m not seeing brain damage here. I’m seeing soul damage. What do you think about that?”

“Citation please,” he said.

“You got me there, Razor Blade, “ I said. Just as I had looked into the guard’s eyes, I looked into Razor Blade’s—there was the weariness of a man trapped in a cage and a role he didn’t really care for, in a world he didn’t really care for, suffering from the exhaustion of not knowing how to change it.

That’s when I abandoned my efforts to find the evidence to support Penelope Leach and Oliver James’s comments because even if spending time with a father leads to this mysterious ailment of father-induced brain damage, it is a good thing.

As I drove through the wasteland surrounding that shiny prison back to my home, I felt fantastic. This forty-year feminist-launched attack on men and reality has led to so much dust and decay, so many shiny prisons, so much fatherless-induced soul damage. I felt fantastic because I had found my citation and study in the dust of the crumbling city and along with it a chance to rebuild and redefine. In the dust is a chance to create better relationships between men and women. In what has been broken is the chance to gain a better understanding of what it means to be a man beyond the insane notion that this is found at the end of a leash attached to an unreasonable feminist’s hand. If women would hope for a greater love and appreciation from the men in their lives, maybe they’ll look into the dust of their broken relationships and have the courage to see that this love and appreciation ultimately comes from that father-induced brain damage. It’s a man’s thing, and there simply needs to be some change to secure it. I just wish Razor Blade and that guard could have come with me. The answers are not in that prison, but in the dust.

And for anyone that would like to read some studies that directly counter Penelope Leach’s and Oliver James’s comments, see the list below:

A father’s involvement improves verbal skills:
Radin, N., 1982, “Primary Caregiving and Role-Sharing Fathers,” in Non-Traditional Families: Parenting and Child Development, edited by M. Lamb, Hillsdale, NJ: Erlbaum, pp. 173–204.Father’s involvement reduces behavior problems in school:
Amato, P. R., and Rivera, F., 1999, “Paternal Involvement and Children’s Behavior Problems,” Journal of Marriage and the Family, 61, 375–384.

Father’s involvement improves math skills (especially for girls):
Radin, N., and Russell, G., 1983, “Increased Father Participation and Child Development Outcomes,” in Fatherhood and Family Policy, edited by M. E. Lamb and A. Sagi, Hillside, N.J.: Lawrence Erlbaum, pp. 191–218.

Father’s involvement improves school testing results for children:
Biller, H. B., 1993, Fathers and Families: Paternal Factors in Child Development, Westport, CT: Auburn House.

Father’s involvement increases childhood curiosity in very young children, which then translates into the pursuit of personally fulfilling work as an adult:
Pruett, Kyle D., 2000, Fatherneed: Why Father Care Is as Essential as Mother Care for Your Child, New York: Free Press.

Father’s involvement increases motor and impulse control:
Abramovitch, H., 1997, Images of the “Father” in The Role of the Father in Child Development. M. E. Lamb, Ed., New York: John Wiley & Sons.

Father’s involvement after divorce shows a causal relationship with their child’s grades:
National Center for Education Statistics, October 1997, Fathers’ Involvement in Their Children’s Schools; National Household Education Survey. NCES 98-091R2. Washington, D.C.: U.S. Department of Education.

Father’s involvement in very early childhood (even as a non-custodial father) shows marked improvement in a child literacy and reading skills:
Bredekamp, S., and Copple, C., 1997, Developmentally Appropriate Practice in Early Childhood Programs. Washington, D.C.: National Association for the Education of Young Children.


[1] Cynthia Harper, University of Pennsylvania, and Sara S. McLanahan, Princeton University, cited in “Father Absence and Youth Incarceration,” Journal of Research on Adolescence 14 (September 2004): 369-397.

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