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Study on Amount of Time Spent With Kids

Good News: Study Finds One Less Thing For Parents to Feel Guilty About

If you're a parent, you've undoubtedly felt guilty about how much time you are spending with your kids. It's never enough, right? Wrong.

First off, the average number of hours parents spend with kids per week has nearly doubled since 1985, rising from 11.8 hours then to 20.9 hours as recently as 2010. But more importantly, when it comes to promoting positive academic achievement, behavior, and emotional well-being, it's not about the quantity of time you spend but the quality of that time.

"It appears the sheer amount of time parents spend with their kids between the ages of 3 and 11 has virtually no relationship to how children turn out, and a minimal affect on adolescents," The Washington Post reported from the first large-scale longitudinal study of parent time, completed by the Journal of Marriage and Family.

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In fact, being stressed about how much time is being spent with kids — a particularly common problem for working mothers trying to juggle career responsibilities — can be doing more harm than good.

"We found consistently that mothers' distress is related to poor outcomes for their children," coauthor Kei Nomaguchi, a sociologist at Bowling Green State University, said of the often guilt-ridden attempts of parents to spend as much free time as possible with their kids.

The moral? Instead of clocking hours of "accessible time," when parents are physically available to their kids, focus on making the most of "engaged time," when parents and children are actively doing something meaningful together.

Here, a few tips to make it happen:

  • Stop feeling guilty. It's a hard habit to break, but don't waste time and energy feeling guilty about the amount of time you spend with your children. Relax — you're off the hook!
  • Be present. When it's clear your children are due for some parental interaction, put down the smartphone and turn off the TV. Electronics can severely worsen the quality of your interactions. Instead, save Internet usage for when your kids are otherwise occupied.
  • Make a routine of doing things together. Whether that's family dinner at the table or just reading your child's favorite book together, creating regularly repeated activities can help ensure your time with your kids is quality . . . even if it's just for a half hour a few times a week.
  • Leave stress at the door. If you have a ton of work to do tonight, just take the time to do it. Worse would be not getting to that deadline, feeling anxious and tense, and taking it out on your family.
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