Don’t be fooled by people who say parents are out of touch with their kids’ lives.
The truth is, they may be more enmeshed in the goings-on of their children than parents have been in decade – and that may not be a good thing.
Consider a major new study from the University of California, Irvine, that finds today’s mothers spend twice as long with their kids and fathers four times as long compared to 50 years ago.
In 1965, moms and dads spent an average of 54 minutes and 16 minutes with their children per day, respectively, while the average amount of time today is 123 minutes for mothers and 59 minutes for fathers.
On its face, that may seem like a heartening trend. After all, research has found time and again that parents play a vital role in shaping their child’s future. If you had to build a successful person from scratch, one of the first things you’d do is give them a loving set of parents.
But Julie Lythcott-Haims, a former Stanford dean and the author of “How to Raise An Adult: Break Free of the Overparenting Trap and Prepare Your Kid for Success,” has some doubts that today’s parents are doing kids any favors by spending so much time with them.
She cites personal experience and statistics that find kids raised by so-called “helicopter” parents are more likely to use prescription anxiety and depression medication and engage in recreational use of pain pills as college students.
Lythcott-Haims questions whether the quality of “helicopter parenting” interactions helps kids feel loved.
“Parents might be with their children more on the sidelines of their soccer practice, driving them everywhere, next to them as they do their homework,” she tells Business Insider, “but this type of participation does not make the child feel more cared for.”
In this role, the parent is more of the chauffeur or the supervisor. The interaction isn’t intimate.
She believes the decline of neighborhoods in general also contributes to the trend of parents spending extra time with kids. People are spending less time with their community and more time isolated among their closest friends and family. Other research suggests today’s kids spend less time outside than many prisoners.
“There are fewer kids…playing outside, and this collective consciousness that we’re all taking care of each other is gone,” she says. “It’s left us with this individual sense of parents that it’s up to me to look after my child, whereas decades ago it was on all of us to look after our children.”
In the latest study, UC Irvine researchers found many of the parent interactions involved preparing meals, helping with homework, bathing, clothing, and putting kids to bed. The research team relied on the Multinational Time Use Study Harmonized Simple Files. The study is an enormous data set of diary entries from parents between 18 and 65 years old with at least one child under the age of 13. From 1965 to 2012, more than 122,000 parents participated.
Lythcott-Haims concedes the fact fathers are spending four times as much time with kids is positive. It likely signals that families are splitting household duties, particularly as more women work and fathers stay at home.
Lythcott-Haims advises parents to take an authoritative role with their kids. They shouldn’t be authoritarian per se, but they shouldn’t exactly be friends, either.
Ideally, they’ll strike a balance in creating loving boundaries. That’s how kids become capable members of society that can schedule their own appointments and handle their own finances without needing to call Mom or Dad every five minutes.
There may not be a “sweet spot” in terms of how many minutes a mother or father should spend with the child, but it’s become clear that in order to raise independent kids, parents can’t always be around.