Children’s experiences and relationships within the family are more important now than ever. Over the past 2 decades, crucial advances have been made in the world of research on family and peer relationships and their effects on human development. Here, we hope to shed some light on research about family connections and in a follow-up article we will share some tips on creating quality family time.
An article in the UK’s Independent newspaper revealed how family connections are just “as important as money to help children succeed” in life. The article explains how children from families who are “not socially well-connected risk falling even further behind their more advantaged peers…following a new report highlighting the lack of opportunities available to disadvantaged young people”. Those most vulnerable, including adopted/foster care children, are greatly impacted by strong family relationships and nurturing care and benefit the most. A twenty-five year study on the effects of family connection revealed that strong positive family connections (measured during adolescence) were associated with better self-acceptance and positive relationships at midlife (Bell and Bell, 2009).
Research also tells us that the time we spend with our children is crucial to their healthy development. More than the newest toy or the latest tech gadget, children tell us what they want most is our TIME! An article published by Susan Pish at Michigan State University reveals that “a strong family finds that opportunities for quality time emerge from quantity time” and that “the more time you spend together, the better chance you have of sharing quality experiences”. Examples of good quality time include eating meals together, talking about the events of the day, sharing joys and defeats, doing household chores together and more! Pish recommends that “families…schedule one evening every week for special family activities…(and) doing things a child or spouse wants to do also sends a strong message of love”. The author points out that it is a good idea to identify the things family members want to do together and focus on key interests in order to maintain engagement.
How much time should families spend together? That varies from family to family, according to Pish. She explains that “families with young children usually spend the most time together because young children need a great deal of physical care and guidance (whereas) families with teenagers may spend less time together because teens naturally want to spend more time with their friends”. Teenagers are famous for seeking independence from their parents, but research shows that many teens who continue to spend time with their parents throughout their teenage years experienced positive effects on their well-being, according to some Penn State researchers. In a study funded by the Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development, researcher Susan McHale, who is a professor of human development and director of the Social Science Research Institute at Penn State, found that “the stereotype that teenagers spend all their time holed up in their rooms or hanging out with friends is, indeed, just a stereotype.” McHale’s research shows that, well into the adolescent years, “teens continue to spend time with their parents and that this shared time, especially shared time with fathers, has important implications for adolescents’ psychological and social adjustment.”
In summary, just like a fingerprint, every family is different and unique with a certain set of circumstances to deal with. What works for some may not work for others and healthy families keep a good balance between “too much” and “not enough” time together. How can families spend quality time together? In part 2 of our series on the importance of family connections, we will share our top tips for staying connected!