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Do parents matter? Teens’ time use, academic performance and well-being

Jiri Zuzanek, Margo Hilbrecht

Research framework : The widening generation gap between parents and teens has occupied researchers’ attention since the 1920s. The expansion of this gap has been often attributed to the growing roles of mass media and peers in teens’ lives.

Objectives : Changes in the role played by parents, mass media and peers in the lives of teens are examined through the lens of time use. Time use data document the declining role of parents, but also show that constructive time use strategies can help parents to retain and enforce their role in teens’ intellectual and emotional development.

Methodology : Data are taken from the Canadian General Social Surveys (1986 to 2005) and the 2003 Ontario Experience Sampling Survey of Adolescents’ Time Use and Well-Being. Relationships between teens’ time use and emotional well-being are controlled for age, gender, and family background.

Results : Although the communication and attitudinal gap between teens and parents widened during the past decades, the situation is not irremediable. Analyses of OATUS data suggest that indirect strategies, emphasising the importance of time use routines and habitual inter-family relationships, affect teens’ academic performance and quality of life more profoundly than household rules, verbal interventions, or sporadic behavioural controls.

Conclusion : Perhaps the most powerful but underestimated leverage that parents have to protect their share of influence on teens is the social ‘osmosis’ of family values and practices. The seemingly imperceptible sharing of family values, joint activities, and parental ability to serve as a model play an important role in affecting teens’ motivational structures.

Contribution : The proposition that teens’ academic performance and emotional well-being are grounded in their behavioural routines, and that the effectiveness of parents’ interventions depends to a large extent on their ability to redress these routines or habits is supported by research findings.