As children grow up, they become increasingly distant from their parents and while some parents think that the dwindling time spent with their teenager is simply a sign of their child's budding independence and evolution into adulthood, new findings suggest that private parents-child encounters during the time of adolescence are especially important for an individual's development.
Researchers studied 200 families over seven years and found that teenagers who spent more time with their parents were more likely to have better social skills and higher self-esteem, especially if its time spent with Dad.
The study published in the journal Child Development finds that while the time teenagers spent with their parents from early to late adolescence declined overall, the time was mostly "social time", that was shared with other relatives or friends.
However, surprisingly, results from the study revealed that one-on-one time with a parent, whether completing homework assignments, watching television or going out actually increased in "early to middle adolescence" at the age of about 15.
Lead author Professor Susan McHale believes that the one-on-one time children spend with parents is crucial to wellbeing in adolescence.
Researchers noted that the parents in the study, who were all married and had at least two children, spent more time with their second child as they got older and had less conflict with them, suggesting that parents learned from their experience with their first child.
They found that the older child spent on average eight hours a week of social time with their mother and seven with their father, while the younger child spent on average eight and a half hours a week with Mom and seven and a half hours a week with Dad.
After testing the strength of the stereotype that teenagers assert their independence by avoiding their parents, researchers found that adolescents actually still wanted a close relationship with their parents, but in more concentrated periods.
"While adolescents become more separate from their families, they continue to have one-on-one opportunities to maintain close relationships with their parents," McHale said.
She added that the parent-child connection with self-worth and social skills was particularly strong for teens who spent more alone time with their dads, possibly because father-child time was more likely to involve fun activities and joking around, or because the mother's role is so ingrained in a child's life that the benefits of mother-child time "can easily go unnoticed and unacknowledged".
At the beginning of the seven-year study, the oldest children were about 11 and the second oldest were about eight, and researchers studied children by administering personality questionnaires and regular interviews, both on the phone and in person, every year.