Working moms and dads, take heart: all that worrying about not spending enough time with your children, according to sociologists from the University of Toronto, is wasted energy. Scheduled to be published in April in the Journal of Marriage and Family, a study has shown that the amount of time spent with sons and daughters when they are children has little impact on what kind of adults they will be, and very little impact on their adolescent lives, says Chuck Bednar writing for RedOrbit.
The Washington Post reports that the study, which was one the first large-scale longitudinal studies of parents’ time, goes against conventional wisdom. It looked at children’s academic achievement, behavior, and overall well-being. For the most part, researchers found no correlation between the amount of time parents spent with their children and the children’s outcomes, except for one area. When a parent, especially a mom, felt sleep-deprived, stressed, guilty, or anxious, that parent could actually harm his or her child in the effort to spend time with him or her.
“Mothers’ stress, especially when mothers are stressed because of the juggling with work and trying to find time with kids, that may actually be affecting their kids poorly,” said co-author Kei Nomaguchi, a sociologist at Bowling Green State University, told the Post.
The most important piece of the puzzle is, according to Nomaguchi, quality time such as reading to a child, eating family meals, and talking, but no one has yet found the perfect amount of time to spend with kids. Melissa Milkie from the University of Toronto and others have found that family income and the educational level of the mother have more to do with a child’s future outcome than the quality or amount of time spent with a child or adolescent.
“If we’re really wanting to think about the bigger picture and ask, how would we support kids, our study suggests through social resources that help the parents in terms of supporting their mental health and socio-economic status,” she told the newspaper. “The sheer amount of time that we’ve been so focused on them doesn’t do much.”
For children ages 12-18, the more a mother is engaged, the fewer “delinquent behaviors” a child exhibits, including behaviors like drug use, sex, and antisocial conduct. Kate Seamons of Newser reports that teens who spend roughly 50 minutes of engaged time with their families daily benefit from even that small amount.
Milkie also notes the amount of time that parents actually spend with their children has increased from 10.5 hours a week in 1965 to 13.7 in 2010.
Anna Sutherland, writing for the Blog for the Institute of Family Studies, reveals several caveats with the research: kids under 3-years-old were not included in the study, so debates over whether day care or parental care is better for toddlers is irrelevant; the study does not define “engaged” time, which means that activities like actively reading to a child or passively watching TV with a child were treated identically in the study.