Study: Quality Trumps Quantity in Time Spent With Kids

ByAnisa Arsenault
Associate Editor
Jan 2017
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Photo: Rob & Julia Campbell

If you’re a working mom who’s constantly guilt-ridden about missing out on time with your kids, a new study suggests you can breathe a little easier.

The study, published in the Journal of Family and Marriage, found that the amount of time parents spend with their kids between the ages of 3 to 11 has virtually no effect on how they turn out, behaviorally, emotionally and academically speaking.

“I could literally show you 20 charts, and 19 of them would show no relationship between the amount of parents’ time and children’s outcomes," says study author Melissa Milkie.

In fact, if mom’s anxious, sleep-deprived or stressed, extended time with kids could actually be detrimental. It’s moments like a shared story or meal that can have an impact, not necessarily more hours each day. Researchers found spending most of the day not doing much with children under age six can have a negative effect on parents. And kids need time to play on their own for social and cognitive development.

In spite of these findings, there’s still no definitive amount of time recommended to spend with your kids.

“I’m not aware of any rich and telling literature on whether there’s a ‘sweet spot’ of the right amount of time to spend with kids,” says psychiatrist Matthew Biel. And working moms really aren’t doing a bad job of logging quality time at all: Milkie found that working mothers today are spending just as much time with kids as stay-at-home moms did in the 1970s. (Read: You can do it all.)

So what criteria does matter when it comes to parenting? More than anything, parental income and educational level are linked to a child’s future success.

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