Creating Versus Negating Togetherness: Perceptual and Emotional Differences in Parent-Teenager Reported Time


Objective: We examine discrepancies between parents’ and adolescents’ reports of the quantity and the quality, or emotional valence, of time spent together.

Background: The question of how much time parents spend with children is vital to scholars and families. Although parents’ reports of time with children are taken as standard and reliable, assessing different family actors’ perspectives on time together is important to consider.

Method: Using the perspectives of 15–17‐year‐old adolescents and of parents with teenagers aged 15–17 years, we examine reports of parent–teen co‐presence (“in the room with”) and emotions during daily activities. Data are from American Time Use Survey time diaries (2003–2018) and the 2010, 2012, and 2013 Well‐Being Modules.

Results: There are considerable perceptual discrepancies in the amount of time reported as together. Parents report nearly an hour per day more than teenagers do—with the weekly gap equivalent to about an entire school day. Though the perceptual gap is sizeable, the emotional one is not: both generations experience reported time together as more meaningful, happier, and less stressful than time apart, partly due to the nature of activities and presence of other people. Social statuses, including parental employment and educational attainment, pattern perceptions of time together and well‐being during reported co‐presence.

Conclusion: Ultimately, generational position and social statuses shape perceptions of co‐presence in the form of “creating” versus “negating” classifications of togetherness.

Journal of Marriage and Family
Dana Wray
Dana Wray
Ph.D. Candidate

I am a sociologist researching family, work, and social policy.