Quality Time or Quantity Time with Your Kids?

Earlier this month, the ABC network aired a special called “ScreenTime” hosted by Diane Sawyer. For six months, Sawyer and her team toured the U.S. talking to doctors, families, teachers and tech insiders in pursuit of answers to questions about how our smart phones are affecting us.  What they discovered may not surprise you:

  • Today, the average adult spends 49 days a year on their smart phone.
  • We unlock our phone 80 times a day, on average.
  • Adults are almost as bad as teens are, being preoccupied with their phone.
  • In a 30-hour period, the average teen spent almost half that time on a phone.
  • A growing number of teens are exchanging sleep time for screen time.
  • 82% of Americans say social media is a waste of time, but the majority still use it.

One of the most memorable take-aways for me was the interviews with families, both parents and kids. The adults and teens both believe their family has become a slave to portable devices. One teen said, “We don’t even know what we’re doing in our family.” Several parents acknowledged they had lost the “quality time” they once enjoyed as a family. Many moms and dads said they tried to set limits on phone use, but somewhere along the way, they gave up. Families are together and yet apart.

Which begs the question: is quality time or quantity time more important for kids?

The Age-Old Question: Quantity vs. Quality Time

This question of quality time vs. quantity time has been pondered for over a century. There are people on both sides of this debate. Some argue for a handful of high-quality interactions with a child each month, while others argue the important element is to spend a lot of hours with children, regardless of whether or not it’s “quality time.”

In reality, the question is theoretical but not very helpful.

The fact is—an adult cannot simply orchestrate “quality time” with a kid, especially if that kid is an adolescent. Quality times come few and far between as teens experience raging hormones and lots of brain pruning. You just can’t engineer it on a given day. In fact, I’ve found the more I try to fabricate it, the less likely it is to happen.

So, what is a caring adult to do?

Pursue planned quantity times. By this I mean, when you plan enough times to simply be together, the more likely you’ll experience one or two genuine interactions. Quality conversations and epiphanies come more readily as an adult and teen spend lots of time truly connected. Familiarity brings comfortability and safety, when handled well. Teens feel safe to open up when there have been enough episodes of togetherness. It’s like digging for gold. You may have to wade through lots of seemingly irrelevant details to find the “nugget” of a great conversation eventually.

In summary—plan quantity times and look for quality moments inside those times.

Five Practical Ideas to Foster Quality Interactions During the “Quantity” Times

Let me offer some ideas to set yourself up with some quality time with your kids:

  1. Go to games, matches, meets and shows to watch your kid in action as often as you can. Talk to them to ensure they know you participated and saw them. It is paramount to cross into their territory and see them on their home turf.
  2. Plan at least three dinners a week where you eat with your kids. Meal times are one of the best times to put phones away and actually talk. Kids can both answer questions and overhear parents sharing their viewpoints.
  3. Identify a new opportunity where you and your child can share something in common that you both enjoy, be it a hobby, tradition, annual trip or game. This creates a personal history you share in together that no one else shares with them.
  4. When you experience shared time, be fully present, with your phone put away. This speaks volumes to your child, who is very aware of parental distractions. but may never say so. Your full attention actually fosters quality time.
  5. Look at your calendar and schedule times you can “push pause” and join your kid somewhere in their routine. Even if it means you grab that time when it’s good for them and make up your work time later than night.

I love one of the comments a pre-school aged child made to his mother. He was trying to talk to her, while she was scrolling through social media, looking down at her phone, not at him. She replied once in a while with a nod as he spoke. Yet, clearly, she was preoccupied. The young boy finally took her face in his hands, moved it toward him and said, “Mommy—I need you to listen to me with your whole face.”

I’d say that child is asking for some quantity and quality time.

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Quality Time or Quantity Time with Your Kids?