The ground breaking research found that there was virtually no to minimal correlation, between how much time parents spent with their 3 to 11 year old children, and outcomes. The results covered children’s academic achievement, behaviour and emotional wellbeing.
“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.
This is the era where fathers spend triple the amount of time with their kids than their 60’s counterparts did. Working mothers are also spending more time with their children, with another of Milke’s studies showing they fit in as much time as stay at home mothers did in the 1970’s.
Milke said there are many cultural pressures nowadays for what she terms “intensive parenting”. The standards for what it takes to create successful children are at an all time high leading, mothers especially, to spend less time on themselves while lavishing attention and energy on their children.
Unfortunately, the findings suggest a sleep deprived, emotionally exhausted mother could in fact have an adverse effect.
“We found consistently that mothers’ distress is related to poor outcomes for their children,” including behavioral and emotional problems and “even lower math scores,” said co-author Kei Nomaguchi, a sociologist at Bowling Green State University.
Similarly negative was evidence found in the work of Queens College sociologist Amy Hsin, who says that parents who spend lots of time at home with their children watching television or doing nothing could in fact be doing more harm than good.
The quality “engaged” time that parents spend with their kids is of more value, than “accessible” time, where parents are merely present.
There have been countless studies showing that quality time is necessary, but this study raises the question of how much quality time is enough?
“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,” said Matthew Biel, a child and adolescent psychiatrist at Georgetown University Medical Centre.
Rather than worrying about how much time parents are spending with their children this study points to the importance of focusing on improving the parents’ socioeconomic lot and mental health. A mother’s level of education and income is a stronger indicator of future success in their children.
The only clear advantage relating to quantity of parental time spent with children was for teenagers. Researchers found that at least six hours of engaged family time with adolescents, had positive associations. This was demonstrated in lower incidences of drug abuse, risky behaviour and higher maths scores.
The large-scale study is the first of its kind and due to be published in the Journal of Marriage and Family this month.