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For teens, fun at home with dad more important than pricey vacations

BYU study finds youth feel more family cohesion when dad makes time for everyday leisure

Fathers looking to bolster their relationships with teenage children don’t need to break the bank this summer for a major family trip.

A new study by BYU researchers says youth feel a higher level of family cohesion and functionality when dad simply spends more time playing catch, watching a movie or eating with them.

Marriott School professors Ramon Zabriskie and Neil Lundberg surveyed fathers and youth from 647 U.S. households of varying backgrounds for the study, with each family having at least one youth between the ages of 11 and 15.

“When fathers invest time in low-cost, home-based, spontaneous activities close to or in the home, youth notice the difference,” Zabriskie said. “It doesn’t have to be something big. In fact, our research shows the little activities are the most important.”

The BYU researchers looked at two types of family leisure: core activities and balance activities. Core family leisure is defined as doing activities that require little planning and little money, such as:

  • Eating a meal together
  • Playing board games
  • Watching TV and movies
  • Playing sports in the yard/park
  • Playing video games
  • Attending children’s performances
  • Gardening
  • Reading books

Balance leisure activities are those that take more time, planning and money, such as family trips.
The researchers found that the core activities contribute more to youth’s perception of family functionality and family cohesion than the balance activities. Of course, balance activities also had a positive effect.

“We spend so much effort on the big-ticket items thinking that it’s the most important thing for our families, when really, more time with our kids on day-to-day activities will suffice,” Lundberg said.

Studies have found links among father involvement and aspects of family functioning, but this study, published in a recent issue of Leisure Sciences, is among the first to examine that relationship on a broad scale with a large sample of families.

Surveyed families came from every major U.S. region and had annual incomes ranging from less than $10,000 to more than $150,000.

Lydia Buswell, then a graduate student in the Recreation Management program, was the lead author on the study. Alan Hawkins, a professor in the BYU School of Family Life, was also a coauthor.

“Too often when people think about family leisure, they think of the time they spend on vacations and neglect the leisure time spent at home,” Buswell said. “Family vacations and other balance activities can only help build a family if there is a foundation to build upon first.”

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