Christmas, the quintessential celebration of family time, and New Year’s, a day of resolutions, provide a great opportunity for parents to ensure that family togetherness lasts the whole year—by pledging to spend more time with their children and their activities. As decades of research have revealed, the more time and activities families share together, the more likely children are to thrive.
From a child’s earliest years, a mother and father’s involvement sets the stage for academic achievement. Preschoolers whose parents read to them often typically score higher in terms of cognitive development. And, on average, those children who receive more cognitive stimulation at home score higher on IQ tests and are less likely to exhibit hyperactive or antisocial behavior.
In addition, children whose parents are more involved with their activities during elementary school are more likely to graduate from high school, while adolescents with more involved parents are more likely to pursue higher education. Children of all races and ethnic backgrounds are more likely to succeed academically if their parents are more involved. Even parental involvement in simple leisure activities is associated with an increase in children’s academic performance.
Parental involvement, communication, and supervision are, likewise, linked to youths’ behavior. Adolescents whose parents talk with them about standards of sexual behavior and monitor their activities are less likely to become sexually active. In addition, youths whose parents talk with them about their concerns and encourage their interests are less likely to exhibit behavioral problems or to engage in acts of violence. Likewise, teens who frequently have dinner with their families are less likely to use drugs or alcohol.
Finally, mom and dad’s involvement is also linked to the emotional well-being of children. Youths whose parents are present in the home when they come home from school, at dinnertime, and when they go to bed are less likely to experience emotional distress, and those with responsive and involved parents tend to have higher self-esteem and are less susceptible to peer pressure.
Parents’ concern, involvement, and communication are truly priceless gifts and ones that they, alone, can give. At the same time, public policy—ranging from initiatives to strengthen marriage and augment parents’ role in educational decisions—should be forged to promote the unique and essential role that parents play in their children’s lives.
As families gather over the next few weeks to celebrate Christmas and New Year’s, policymakers should remember and honor the most effective social program in the nation: strong families. From decreasing risky teenage behavior to increasing children’s academic success, intact, married families are integral to maintaining a thriving civil society.