Frequently Asked Questions Seal of Approval Theoretical Model History
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Children, Youth and Family Consortium


William J. Doherty, Ph.D.
Family Social Science Department
University of Minnesota

Decline in children's free time in past 20 years1:

  • 12 hours per week decline
  • Specific areas of decline: playing (25% decline), unstructured outdoor activities (50%)

Increased in same period1:

  • structured sports time (doubled)
  • passive, spectator leisure--not counting television, but including watching sports (fivefold increase, from 30 minutes per week to over three hours)

Decline in family activities

  • Household conversations (100% decrease)1
  • Family dinners (33% decrease in families who say they have them regularly)2
  • Vacations (28% decrease in number of families taking one)2
  • Only beginning to be studied
  • In a 2000 national poll, 21% of teens rated "not having enough time together with parents" as their top concern. This tied with educational issues as their chief concern..3
  • Children age 9-14 who have more regular dinners with their families were found to have more healthful dietary patterns, including more fruits and vegetables, less saturated and trans fat, fewer fried foods and sodas, and more vitamins and other micronutrients. (Results held after statistical controls for household income, maternal employment, body mass index, physical activity, and other factors)5

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1. Sandra L. Hofferth, "Changes in American Children's Time, 1981-1997." University of Michigan's Institute for Social Research, Center Survey, January, 1999. National probability samples of American families, using time diary data.

2. Robert Putnam, Bowling Alone: The Collapse and Revival of American Community. New York: Simon and Schuster, 2000. National probability samples of married couple households, using survey questions.

3. Global Strategy Group, Inc., Talking With Teens: The YMCA Parent and Teen Survey. Final Report, April, 2000. National probability sample of teens that asked for their chief concerns.

4. Council of Economic Advisers to the President. "Teens and Their Parents in the 21st Century: An Examination of Trends in Teen Behavior and the Role of Parental Involvement." Report released May, 2000. Analysis of the large, federally funded Adolescent Health Study, using a national probability sample of adolescents and parents.

5. Gillman, M.W., Rifas-Shiman, S.L., Frazier, A.L., Rockette, H.R.H., Camargo, C.A., Field, A.E., Berkey, C.S., & Colditz, G.A. (2000). Family dinners and diet quality among older children and adolescents. Archives of Family Medicine, 9,235-240. A questionnaire using 24 hour recall mailed to children of participants in the ongoing Nurses Health Study II.



Doherty, William J. (2000). Take Back Your Kids: Confident Parenting in Turbulent Times. Notre Dame, Indiana: Sorin Books, paperback.

Doherty, William J. (1997). The Intentional Family: Simple Rituals to Strengthen Family Ties. New York: Avon Books, paperpack.

Rosenfeld, Alvin, and Wise, Nicole (2000). Hyper-parenting: Are You Hurting Your Child byTrying Too Hard? New York: St. Martin's Press. Website:





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