The apple whizzed by her head so fast you could barely see it. Not to be outdone by her brother, Kristin grabbed a particularly putrid rotting apple from the ground and lobbed it at Drew with the greatest of delight. Ah, these are the moments family memories are made of!

It was a perfect crisp fall day accentuated by a cloudless sky of the clearest blue. We drove about 90 minutes from our home in DC to the beautiful Virginia countryside to pick apples. Along for the adventure was our "son" (ok, not really our son, but we love him like one), Michael; our two teen boys, Drew and Nick; and our 12-year-old daughter, Kristin. My husband and I had been planning the trip for several days anticipating family time filled with the simple pleasures in life. We were not disappointed.

When you take three teenage boys and one younger sister on a road trip you've got to make a conscious decision in advance that you are going to have a great time filled with the joys of teen-male antics - if you don't, you're likely to go stark raving mad. It's also helpful if the little sister is a tough little cookie. Our group has spent many hours of togetherness in the family van on such jaunts and everyone sort of figured out their roles, mischievous tricks, defensive measures, and counter-attacks long ago. As my once-little children continue to grow older and taller and more occupied with their own activities and friends, I've come to relish such adventures.

How many more fall days are there for us to be together? It breaks my heart to realize that there's only what is left of this season and then just one more autumn for us to enjoy as a family. Drew is a junior in high school and will be headed off to college much too soon, only to be followed by Nick and Michael the next year. I'm learning the hard way - and as so many parents before me have - that childhood is fleeting.

In today's incredibly busy, media-saturated world I find it is ever more difficult to carve out time for our family to spend together. Even arranging family dinners can be a "hassle" - and sometimes, you get "hassled" a bit by teens who think they're too mature for such togetherness. But coordinating schedules, turning off the tube, pushing other activities and homework aside, letting the dirty laundry sit, and ignoring all the other distractions of life that often rob us of the opportunity to be together are not only worth the effort, shutting out the world and concentrating on family is an essential element in producing healthy, happy kids.

The world has become a dangerous place for children. There's terrorism at home and war abroad to worry about. And so many negative influences attack their sensibilities every day that the only way they're going to find their way is if parents take the time to show them. Teaching kids values such as courage, and integrity, and how to rise above a sex-crazed culture that threatens their futures doesn't just come from having serious chats - it also comes from having wacky fun on a family road trip or from the simple act of eating together on a regular basis.

My colleagues at The Heritage Foundation have combed through massive amounts of social science research from peer-reviewed journals and found that kids whose parents spend time with them are less likely to smoke, abuse drugs, drink or engage in sex. You can peruse the research yourself for free at www.familydatabase.org. Heritage researchers have also found that the best place for men, women and children is in a loving home environment. (This research, and more, is available at no charge on www.heritage.org.)

Our instincts tell us that individuals who live in loving families that spend time together make for better individuals - but how many of us actually live like we believe it? How many moms and dads have forgotten that what kids really want isn't another television or more "stuff." What they really want - and need - is time with you.

The trips don't have to be expensive or filled with endless planned activities and tours, and the meals don't have to be fancy. They just have to be. Whether it's taking the time for a walk in the park, a picnic, biking, or doing something a bit more unconventional like providing the perfect environment for apple-bomb wars, you'll be instilling in your children loving memories, values and a sense of security. And, like anytime you give such blessings to others, you'll end up feeling pretty blessed yourself.


Rebecca Hagelin is a vice president of the  Heritage Foundation.

First appeared on WorldNetDaily.com

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