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Parents' Shift Work Can Be Good -- or Bad -- for Kids

MONDAY, June 25, 2018 (HealthDay News) -- Many parents no longer work traditional "9-to-5" jobs. And their nonstandard shifts do affect their child's behavior, new research suggests.

The impact varies according to age, gender and which parent works when, according to researchers from the University of Washington.

Millions of Americans work evening or night shifts, most commonly in health care, law enforcement and the service sector. These shifts, with consistent hours, can offer families some degree of flexibility, which can have a positive effect on kids' behavior.

But when parents work inconsistent hours, or rotating shifts that vary from week to week, problems can arise, the study authors found.

"Workers often struggle to carve out the work/life balance they want for themselves, and in dual-earner families, balancing partners' schedules remains an issue for many families," said study author Christine Leibbrand. She's a graduate student in the university's department of sociology.

For the study, the researchers used data from the U.S. National Longitudinal Survey of Youth, which began following a group of nearly 13,000 people back in 1979, as well as its Child Supplement, which tracked the children of these participants starting in 1986.

Previous research has shown that nonstandard work shifts, particularly among single-parent households and lower-income families, can spell trouble for kids' behavior.

The new research focused on two-parent households in which one parent had a job that required working a nonstandard shift. The children ranged in age from 5 to 15, and their attitudes were gauged by surveys.

The researchers found that:

  • A mother's steady night shift tended to have benefits for boys and girls, especially when they're young.

  • A mother's rotating shift, or a split shift, was associated with greater problems among boys of all ages, and among older girls.

  • A father's rotating or split shift was associated with more behavior problems among girls, particularly younger ones.

  • A father's night shift tended to coincide with better behaviors among boys.

The reasons for these gender differences remain unclear. The researchers suggested that fathers may simply be more involved in their sons' lives. In addition, parents who are forced to work irregular hours may have more stress and less energy, which makes it harder for them to meet their children's needs.

Technology is continuously changing how adults work and what types of jobs they have, as well as how children learn. These trends could affect families' quality of life and children's behavior, the study authors noted.

The researchers suggested that employers and policy makers provide families with greater job flexibility, such as paid family leave and access to quality child care.

"Most parents want to spend time with their children and want to find a way to do that," Leibbrand said in a university news release. "We should be prioritizing people's well-being and balancing of work and home life."

The study was published in the June issue of the Journal of Family Issues.

More information

The American Academy of Pediatrics has more about the importance of family routines.

SOURCE: University of Washington, news release, June 20, 2018

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