Published on 07/02/09

Planned family time good for children and parents

By Stephanie Schupska
University of Georgia

Activities don’t stop just because it’s the summer. Between camps, sports and work schedules, parents need to make sure they’re planning time to spend with their children.

A full schedule doesn’t just cause stress for children. It can also hurt a family’s relationship and lead to sleep loss – among other problems, said Ted Futris, a relationships specialist with University of Georgia Cooperative Extension.

“We overschedule ourselves,” he said. “If both children and their parents are constantly going, when are parents engaging in discussions with their kids? Parents need to be making a conscious decision to schedule time together on a regular basis.”

Eating together

Mealtimes are one way for families to connect.

“It could be only 30 minutes a day,” Futris said. “We need to at least preserve family mealtime in an overscheduled week, because that is essential.”

Futris gets his sons up and eats breakfast with them before heading to work. He and his wife also make sure to eat dinner together as a family.

Teens who eat dinner with their families five or more times per week have lower rates of teen smoking, drinking, illegal drug use and prescription drug abuse, according to a 2007 study by the National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse at Columbia University.

“There are no silver bullets. Unfortunately, the tragedy of a child’s substance abuse can strike any family,” said CASA president and chairman Joseph A. Califano Jr. “But one factor that does more to reduce teens’ substance abuse risk than almost any other is parental engagement, and one of the simplest and most effective ways for parents to be engaged in teens’ lives is by having frequent family dinners.”

And that meal doesn’t have to be supper. Futris said families can just as easily relate over a morning Pop-Tart. The most important part is that parents are checking in on their kids and showing that they’re paying attention to what their kids are saying and doing.

“Parental monitoring is so important for adolescent development and risk-taking,” Futris said.

Setting limits

As parents pay attention to their child, they’re more able to set limits that meet their child’s needs.

“The most effective parenting style is one in which parents set limits that are appropriate for their children and give them freedom within those limits,” said UGA Extension child development specialist Diane Bales.

She says it’s more than just establishing limits. Parents also need to stand tough on them, because testing the limits is one way that children establish security.

A child’s limits also need to change with age so that a parent is “not treating a 15-year-old like a 5-year-old,” Bales said.

Being consistent

Consistency, it turns out, may be more important than the quantity or quality of time that parents spend with their children.

“It’s important that you have the time so parents can connect and follow up on the day-to-day activities of their kids,” Futris said. “You need to show that you’re paying attention.”

To show they are paying attention, he said, parents should ask children open-ended and specific questions.

A “how was your day?” may only get a grunt in return, he said. A question about a friend, a sports activity or a map project at school requires a child to give a slightly longer answer.

“Parents who remember what’s going on convey to their children that mom and dad care enough to remember what’s happening,” Futris said.

(Stephanie Schupska is a news editor with the University of Georgia College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences.)

Stephanie Schupska is the communications coordinator with the University of Georgia Honors College.