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As teens grow older, they naturally assert more independence. But this independence does not undercut their time with Mom and Dad. It’s a little-known fact that teens actually continue to value their time with their parents and that this time contributes to their social and emotional growth.

A study published recently in Child Development followed 200 youngsters for seven years from age 11 to age 18. Each of these kids was the eldest child in a middle-class or working-class family and each had a sibling about three years younger. In five home interviews with the teens, their parents, and the sibling, and 35 phone interviews with the teens themselves, researchers explored the amount of contact between parents and children and the teens’ interactions with their peers.

Here’s what the researchers found. The amount of time that teens interacted with their parents while their friends were around did indeed decrease in the middle and late teen years. But the time that teens and parents interacted alone (without the teens’ friends present) actually increased in early and middle adolescence. This suggests that even while teens are growing in independence, they still rely on conversations with Mom and Dad. In addition, the fall-off in interaction in late adolescence was less for the second-born sibling than for the first born. The younger child continues to have a high degree of personal contact with her parents throughout the teen years.

The researchers found that this contact matters. For both the first-born and the second-born children, time spent in conversation with parents was related to better satisfaction with peer-relationships and had higher self-esteem. This was especially true when teens spent time with their fathers.

So what does this mean for you and your family? The take-home message here is that even though it might seem like teens are growing away from you and that they don’t give you the time of day when their friends are around, they still value your company. It’s important to find times when just you and your teen are together, and share conversation or activities. This is even more important if you’re the father.

A solid adult relationship with your child and your child’s own social skills and happiness may depend on strong and supportive interactions now, during the teen years. Make it happen!

© 2012, Patricia Nan Anderson. All rights reserved.