Not spending enough time with your children? No worries. A British drink maker has the answer: more than two dozen ways you can “reconnect” with your kids at the end of a long day, each of which takes 12 minutes or less.
Yes, “12 Minutes” just might become to Britain in this decade what “Quality Time” was in the U.S. in the 80s -- a short hand that simultaneously makes parents feel less guilty, and more so.
It is based on a survey of how 2000 British parents of children ages 3 to 18 spend their time, and finds that while a total of 186 minutes is given over to cooking, commuting, answering emails and doing chores, only 39 minutes each day is actually used to connect with children. In other words, parents spent a grand total of seven full days a year hanging with their kids.
That’s where the pamphlet “12 Minute Manual: A month’s worth of ideas for fun things to do after school with your kids in only 12 minutes” comes in. It was created by Ribena Plus, a division of Glaxo that makes “no added sugar” fruit juices with extra calcium. The company’s consulting psychologists determined that 12 minutes was all parents really need to re-connect with children at the end of the day.
The suggestions are charming: “Take three foods, blindfold each other and try to guess the food and see who wins!” “Make your own play dough and create scenes from their day!” “Tell each other jokes and see who laughs first -- the winner is the one that manages to keep a straight face!” (Exclamation points are Ribena’s, not mine...)
They also suggest open-ended questions you can ask to get children to really tell you about their day, which would be a welcome change for most parents: “I’ve got a great story for you but I want one in return...you first!” “Tell me some gossip...I’m all ears!” “Give you three guesses what I did today!” (If you want a laugh, go read Telegraph writer Beverley Turner’s account of actually trying these out at her house, here.)
Data from the accompanying survey, which was conducted for the company by the British firm OnePoll suggests that parents are looking for help. Forty-two percent of parents polled said they worry they are not good enough parents during the week, 25 percent say that is because they can’t find time to “reconnect” with their children in the evening, 37 percent struggle with the transition from work/school and home, and 45 percent spend at least some of that transition with their children but worrying about chores.
Enter child psychologist Claire Halsey, who presented the 12 minute number to the British press during the unveiling of the Ribena pamphlet, and sent the message that parents shouldn’t feel guilty.
"It's hard for working parents to juggle all their responsibilities and it can feel like guilt is simply a parent's lot - but it's absolutely not,” she is quoted as saying in The Telegraph. “By using clever tactics...parents can reduce the time worrying about chores and work and spend more time learning about their children's day.”
And yet. While I am in favor of anything that reduces parental guilt, helps families connect and dilutes stress at any time of day, there is something about distilling the bonding experience to a 12-minute formula that is unsettling. There’s so much more wrong with a society where parents need to interact with their children in iCal increments than can be solved by quick arts and crafts projects, even (especially?) ones with exclamation points. Too long a working day, too long a commute, too much time spent with electronics all come too mind.
It’s good advice, and will be reassuring to parents, yes. But I wish it weren't being delivered by a soda maker. And I wish we didn’t need it.