Spend less time with your kids

No, seriously.  At least, that is, if you are doing it out of some misplaced guilt that they need lots of “quality” time with you.  Here’s what I wrote about my latest theory of parenting a couple years ago:

Exactly.  They are making the choice to over-do it.  The person quoted here “never saw” his parents but grew into a successful professional.  Not that Caplan or I are advocating you never see your kids, but life as a parent doesn’t have to be an overgrown octopus (and you’re looking at somebody who hardly worked yesterday because I spent the morning at the pediatrician and the afternoon watching the kids while Kim attended an IEP meeting)…

So, from whence the title of this post, you may be wondering?  Can’t say I’ve fully implemented it (nor will I) but influenced by the idea of High Intensity Interval Training for fitness (much less time, much higher intensity), I suspect that there’s really something to be gained from this approach in parenting.  Insofar as you want to create strong, positive memories and a strong positive bond (that, you can do, its the type of person they become where your influence is limited), it would seem there’s something to be said for short bursts of high-intensity parenting.  I’ve tried this in limited doses.  Evan and Sarah love rough-housing on the bed (and I’m a fan myself).  Sometimes I’ll just really go at it with them (also, piggyback rides) for about 10 minutes or so and spend the next twenty doing what I want (writing blog posts) guilt free, instead of just playing something lower intensity (obviously, not only in the physical sense, but in my commitment to it– I go all out when we rough house)  for 30 minutes.  I don’t expect anybody to do any research on this, but my naive hypothesis is that this approach is probably just as effective, if not more so, for strong parent-child bonds.   I feel confident that Evan and Sarah are going to have really fond memories of these fun, but very short, times.

Okay, Sarah just climbed onto my lap because she’s so attached to me.  This is certainly low-impact time, but she’s happy with it (personally, I could do with typing much more efficiently at the moment– though it is nice to be loved so much).  Anyway, now there’s new research to really drive home the point that it’s not the quantity of time you spend with your kids, but the quality:

Though American parents are with their children more than any parents in the world, many feel guilty because they don’t believe it’s enough. That’s because there’s a widespread cultural assumption that the time parents, particularly mothers, spend with children is key to ensuring a bright future.

Now groundbreaking new research upends that conventional wisdom and finds that that isn’t the case. At all.

In fact, 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 effect on adolescents, according to the first large-scale longitudinal study of parent time to be published in April in the Journal of Marriage and Family. The finding includes children’s academic achievement, behavior and emotional well-being. [emphasis mine]

First, I have to say this “conventional wisdom” has always been somewhat belied by just paying attention to reality.  I’m 43 and in my generation our parents did not obsess about spending time with us like so many modern parents do, and we’re not a generation of psychopaths.  And it was certainly even less time in the previous generation.   More:

“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. . . . Nada. Zippo,” said Melissa Milkie, a sociologist at the University of Toronto and one of the report’s authors…

In fact, the study found one key instance when parent time can be particularly harmful to children. That’s when parents, mothers in particular, are stressed, sleep-deprived, guilty and anxious.

But, here it all is, nicely distilled:

That’s not to say that parent time isn’t important. Plenty of studies have shown links between quality parent time — such as reading to a child, sharing meals, talking with them or otherwise engaging with them one-on-one — and positive outcomes for kids. The same is true for parents’ warmth and sensitivity toward their children. It’s just that the quantity of time doesn’t appear to matter.

So, go ahead, spend time with your kids and enjoy it.  But as for misguided efforts at sheer quantity of time that are going to stress you out, just don’t.  Just make sure the time you spend with your kids is worthwhile and you’re all good.

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About Steve Greene
Professor of Political Science at NC State http://faculty.chass.ncsu.edu/shgreene

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