Quantity vs. Quality

When it comes to spending time with your children, what’s more important?

As a busy culture we find often ourselves running between work, school, music, and sports, juggling our time trying to fit everything in. Even as we are trying to get everyone where they need and want to go, the question of “Am I doing enough?” remains. Well, a recent study published in the Journal of Marriage and Family can shed some light. Building relationships, utilizing quality moments of connection, not quantity, is what emerging research is showing to be most important for both parent and child well-being.

Research explains the amount of time caregivers spend with their kids between ages 3 to 11 has only a small effect on them. In fact, it appears the sheer amount of time caregivers spend with their kids has virtually no relationship to how children turn out. That’s not to say that parent time isn’t important--it’s just that the quantity of time doesn’t always appear to matter. According to the study, when parents are stressed, tired, guilty or anxious, mom and dad time can actually be harmful for their children. When it comes to quality, however, doing things like reading together, having dinner together, and talking one-on-one has positive outcomes.

Importantly, there is one instance the study noted when the quantity of time parents spend does matter: during adolescence. Researchers identified the more time teens spend engaged with their mother, the fewer instances of delinquent behavior. Additionally, the more time teens spend with both their parents, such as during meals, the less likely they are to abuse drugs and alcohol and engage in other risky or illegal behavior. The study found positive associations for teens who spent an average of six hours a week engaged in family time with the parents.

So how can we fit this into our already crazy schedules?

  1. Add it to what you already do—when spending quality time, turn off the radio and chat. Ask about the highs/lows of their day. Tell them about yours. Have them tell you one funny thing that happened in their day or one thing they are looking forward to.
  2. Enjoy dinner together-without electronics- as many days as possible. Children can plan menus, help in the kitchen with preparing items, or make a silly centerpiece for the table.
  3. Institute family game night. Rotate who chooses the games each week so everyone gets a turn to be in charge.




Milkie, M., Nomaguchi, K., Denny, K. “Does the amount of time mothers spend with their children or adolescents matter?”. Journal of Marriage and Family Journal of Marriage and Family 77 (April 2015): 355–372