At this gift-giving time of year, parents should keep in mind that the best present they could offer their children is their presence. Findings from decades of sociological research featured at show that parental involvement has substantial positive impact in virtually every aspect of children’s lives.

Parents’ investment can be considered in terms of four “Ts”: Time, Talk, Tracking, and Treasuring their relationship with their offspring.

Time: Studies reveal that the time parents spend with their children has an impact on issues ranging from emotional health to school outcomes. Adolescents whose parents are at home when they go to bed, wake up, and return from school are less likely to experience emotional distress than those whose parents are away. Teenaged girls who experience father absence are more likely to be sexually active and to become pregnant than girls whose fathers are consistently present (and the younger they are when their father is out of the home, the stronger this association is.) In addition, students whose parents are more involved with their schooling are more likely to graduate from high school or to earn a high-school equivalency diploma, while those whose fathers engage in educational and leisure activities with them tend to earn higher grades than peers whose fathers spend less time with them.

Talk: Contrary to the misconception that peer pressure has an overwhelming influence on an adolescent’s life choices, evidence reveals that parents’ talks with them can make a difference. For example, adolescents whose parents discuss what is right or wrong with regard to sexual behavior are more likely to be abstinent than other peers, while those whose mothers talk about the consequences of smoking are less likely to use tobacco and those whose fathers discuss important decisions with them tend to exhibit lower levels of aggression and antisocial behavior.

Tracking: As might be expected, children whose parents monitor them more closely are less likely to be involved with substance abuse, and aggressive or delinquent behavior or to be sexually active. Yet, in addition to these behavioral outcomes of parents’ monitoring their children are the emotional consequences of parents’ failure to monitor, which include an increased likelihood of depression and unhappiness. This psychological consequence could be a result of the fact that monitoring is often perceived as an expression of parents’ care and concern. In fact, in one study, high-risk youths reported that they appreciated having adults establish boundaries on their behavior.

Which brings us to the final “T:” The extent to which parents treasure their relationship with their children. Youths whose parents exhibit love and responsiveness tend to have higher levels of self-esteem and internal self-control. In addition, youths who experience supportive and affectionate relationships with their fathers are less likely to engage in delinquent behavior, and those who say they have a positive relationship with their fathers are less likely to smoke, drink alcohol, or use marijuana.

One final point about the gifts of the “Four Ts:” Not only are they priceless, but they are timeless as well—their impact can bring benefits throughout the children’s life course. They are, truly, the “gifts that keep on giving.”

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