The more time I "hang" with my kids, the better... right?
I guess that depends. Define "hang."
- Silently sitting and watching TV together?
- Dragging our kids on errands with us?
- Sitting at the dinner table together while Mom and Dad argue about bills?
As much as we'd like to believe that "quantity time" in itself will pay off, a fascinating new study out of the Journal of Marriage and Family contends mere quantity time isn't enough. In fact, the study reveals the amount of time parents spend with their kids between 3 and 11 has virtually no relationship to how children turn out. Remarkably, the study found "one key instance when parent time can be particularly harmful to children - when parents, mothers in particular, are stressed, sleep-deprived, guilty and anxious."
Hold the phone! Does this mean we shouldn't "hang" with our kids?
Please don't stop reading at the headlines... because the report goes on to talk about teenagers.
Note the ages mentioned above: kids between 3 and 11. If we keep reading the report, the authors note one key instance in when quantity time does matter: adolescence. And I quote:
The more time a teen spends engaged with their mother, the fewer instances of delinquent behavior. And the more time teens spend with both their parents together in family time, such as during meals, the less likely they are to abuse drugs and alcohol and engage in other risky or illegal behavior. They also achieve higher math scores.
This new report isn't alone in these findings. Columbia University has been noting this connection between "quantity time" and raising healthy kids for years in their Family Dinners reports.
So what can we take away from this new report? After all, it seems to contradict conventional wisdom that the more time moms and dads spend with kids, the better.
I think this report brings several realities to light:
1. Proximity doesn't produce quantity time. If we bring our kids to the grocery store with us, ignoring them the entire time, talking on our phones, occasionally barking at them, "Put that down!"... we aren't clocking healthy bonding time. Bonding necessitates dialogue. So if you're going to drag your kids on errands with you, make it fun. Interact with them. Ask them their favorite meal and have them help you shop for it. Do more listening than talking. Make them feel noticed and heard.
2. Adolescents have different needs than kids. It's counterintuitive, because just when our teens - and even tweens - begin pushing us away... they need us the most. No, this doesn't mean smothering them or putting them on a leash. This simply means parents need to be proactive about looking for opportunities to bond with their kids. Healthy parenting requires healthy investments of both bonding and boundaries. Are you investing in both? Which bank is getting more deposits this month?
3. Don't use quality time as an excuse to avoid quantity time. If you're kids are like mine, you'll experience one or two quality time moments for every dozen times you hang out with your kids. Quality time usually necessitates quantity time. Parents need to clock quantity hours having fun with their kids, talking, laughing... listening! You never know when quality time moments will materialize.
What can you do this week to truly connect with your kid?
Jonathan McKee is the author of over a dozen books including the brand new More Than Just the Talk. He has over 20 years youth ministry experience and speaks to parents and leaders worldwide, all while providing free resources for youth workers and parents on his websites, TheSource4YM.com and TheSource4Parents.com.