Parents' time with children triples since 1970s

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The Independent Online

The time parents invest in their children has more than trebled over the past three decades, according to a new study that allays concerns about parents short-changing their children because they are working more.

The time parents invest in their children has more than trebled over the past three decades, according to a new study that allays concerns about parents short-changing their children because they are working more.

Parents are spending more time reading, doing homework or on planned leisure activities with their children, says the research by Professor Jonathan Gershuny for the Institute of Social and Economic Research at the University of Essex, and The Future Foundation, which concentrates on "quality time" or activity time.

Parents are devoting an average of 85 minutes a day to each child compared with 25 minutes in the mid Seventies, it says. By 2010, this figure is predicted to reach 100 minutes, as parents juggling commitments give higher priority to their families.

Professor Gershuny said that the quality time referred to in his study varied from "caring for a very small child to talking and discussing problems with older children." He analysed data from the weekly diaries made by more than 2,000 people in 1961, 1975, 1985 and 1995.

The rise in "quality time" reflected the parents' conviction that their children were exposed to more danger than they were 30 years ago, he said. "Children have lost their licence to roam and spend far more time being accompanied by adults". He added: "Parental attitudes have changed. Instead of thinking children should be seen and not heard, parents see it as their job to spend time with their children."

Among the other contributors to the rise in "quality time" was a change in domestic arrangements that meant less time was spent on cooking and housework, he said.

Figures from the Office of National Statistics show that the proportion of British families with two working parents has risen from 52 per to more than 70 per cent in the last 10 years alone.

The research, which is published today and commissioned by Abbey National, includes interviews with 1,000 adults across three generations on their attitudes to parenting.

Less than 10 per cent of those questioned said they were spending less time with their children than their parents had with them. Two-thirds said they spent more time reading or helping their children with homework, while 70 per cent said they spent more time on planned activities with their children outside the home.

Men are more involved in their children's lives than their fathers and grandfathers, the research says, with two-thirds of those interviewed saying they spent more time talking through problems with their children, as well as having fun.

Ruth Dean, a marketing consultant and her partner Hugh, a landscape gardener, decided to change their working arrangements when their first child was born. She works from Monday to Thursday and he works Fridays and Saturdays. They live in Beckenham, Kent, and have a daughter, Alice, aged three, and a son, Harry, aged one. Both parents enjoy their work but they also prefer being able to spend more time with their children.

"When I get home from work it is my time with the children. We read or practice writing, play board games or do jigsaws for a couple of hours before they go to bed," Ms Dean said. "On Fridays, I take them swimming or we have a day out and Sunday is the day we spend together as a family," she said.

Ms Dean was brought up in a small village: "My mother was always around because we lived above a shop but I spent a lot of time in big gangs of kids roaming around and always walked to school on my own." She spends more time individually with her children than here mother did, but insists this is necessary to help them with increased pressures at school. "It changes the way you play with your children. It's more educational," she said.

"The independence I had is good for children but I would never dream of letting Alice walk to school on her own it. It is just too dangerous," she said.

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