Time: Quality Time or Quantity Time?

Time with your children builds the foundation of an intimate, secure, and irreplaceable relationship with them. More than the material things that a sixty-hour workweek or a second income may be able to buy, children need generous amounts of time with each of their parents on a regular basis. Some parents think they can give quality time without large quantities of time, but it is impossible to schedule “quality” time. Children share what’s on their mind when it comes to mind–which is why quality moments typically occur during quantity time. In addition, children experience many small events each day that have an impact on them. So parents who spend generous amounts of time with their children are best able to understand and address their fears, hesitations, and actions.

Distinguished child development expert Mary Ainsworth observes: “It’s very hard to become a sensitively responsive mother if you’re away from your child 10 hours a day.” And, contrary to what many parents believe, the need for appropriate and strong attachments with parents doesn’t go away as a child grows older. The National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent Health, a survey of 90,000 seventh through twelfth graders released in 1997, revealed that adolescents with strong emotional attachments to their parents and teachers are much less likely to use drugs and alcohol, attempt suicide, engage in violence, or become sexually active at an early age.

Still there are parents who are going to strive for quality time with their children due to the fact that they are unwilling to make the lifestyle changes that will allow them to invest in quantity time with their children. Internationally recognized child psychology expert, Dr. James Dobson, doesn’t buy into the myth of having to choose between the virtues of quantity and quality. “We won’t accept that forced choice in any other area of our lives,” he observes, “so why is it only relevant to our children?”

To develop stronger, healthier relationships, say the authors of a study conducted by the Atlanta-based Boys & Girls Clubs of America, requires that parents give their children time and involve themselves in activities their children enjoy. “Kids are saying that they want the activities to be more fun-focused, more interactive,” said Roxanne Spillett, the organization’s president. “Fun is an essential ingredient.”

The findings of this study–the result of one thousand telephone interviews with parents and children in the same families–document patterns I noticed in my practice for years. Fifty-two percent of parents admit they don’t spend enough quality time with their children, and 57 percent of children believe their parents’ work gets in the way of meaningful time. Virtually any time parents and kids spend together is good time. But if you choose to try to give your children quality time without quantity time, you may end up providing neither.