As Christmas approaches, malls and big-box stores are packed with parents seeking that special gift that will bring a smile to their children’s faces. Yet the greatest gift they can give will not be found in a store, though it does require substantial investment. The best present that parents can give is their presence: It’s a gift that will have far-reaching and long-term benefits for their children’s well-being.

As research briefs on Heritage’s demonstrate, children whose parents are present at key times in the day—when they wake up, go to school, and return home from school—are less likely to experience emotional distress. Likewise, those whose parents are more involved and responsive tend to have higher self-esteem and to be less susceptible to negative peer pressure, and those who live with both parents are less likely to exhibit hyperactivity or depression.

Parental presence and involvement is also linked to significantly decreased likelihood of behavioral risks. Adolescents whose parents talk with them about standards of sexual behavior and monitor their activities are less likely to become sexually active. And teens living in households with both parents are less likely to engage in sexual activity or to give birth when they are in high school.

In addition, youths with both parents in the home are less likely to exhibit anti-social behavior or to be involved in property crimes or acts of violence and delinquency. Teens in two-parent families are also less likely to engage in substance abuse, including smoking, drinking alcohol, and using illicit drugs. Living with both parents, likewise, increases children’s likelihood of academic success, ranging from higher levels of cognitive development as preschoolers to a greater likelihood of graduating from high school and college.

Parents’ greatest gift to their children will not be found under the tree, but it will keep on giving when the Christmas tree is but a memory.