SEATTLE – The usual 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. shift is not the only schedule that’s beneficial to a parent-child relationship, according to a University of Washington study.
The new UW study suggests that the night shift has proven to have positive effects on child behavior and relationship with parents.
“Given the strains these schedules can put on parents' sleep schedules and mental health, I had not anticipated that finding,” said Christine Leibbrand, UW sociology graduate student and author of the study. “This suggests that in two-parent families, these schedules can be important resources for balancing work and family.”
Taking information from the National Longitudinal Survey of Youth, which followed a group of nearly 13,000 parents in 1979 and their children in 1986, Leibbrand began comparing parents’ work schedules with reports of their child’s behavior. Adolescents ages five to 15 were given a 28-question survey that covered anxiety, aggression, and getting along with peers.
Leibbrand found that a mother’s night shift tended to have benefits for boys and girls, especially when they’re younger. At the same time, a father’s night shift coincided with behavioral benefits among boys.
“Positive associations between night shifts and children's behavioral outcomes suggests that parents may be using these schedules to spend more time with children or to be with their children during particularly important times of the day such as right after school,” she said. "This parental time and support could have important benefits for children and their emotional health.”
The potential benefits of nonstandard schedules, like night shifts, tend to be larger with younger kids, as this early stage in life is crucial for development and maturity, advises Leibbrand.
Leibbrand also found that a mother’s rotating or split shift was associated with greater problems among boys of all ages, including older girls. In contrast, a father’s split shift had negative impacts on boys.
“Rotating and split shifts can be very disruptive and make it really difficult for parents to make plans with children and be present on a consistent basis,” she said. “Given that stability tends to be very important for children's development, this kind of disruption could lead some kids to act out or feel depressed or anxious."
Since most of the kids aged out of the survey by 2006, how these issues affect modern day relationships is also put into question. With technology transforming the way children play and learn, not to mention the number of adults who work remotely, child behavior and a family’s quality of life is constantly changing, she added.
“Parents want their children to be healthy and happy, and will often do all they can to make that happen, including working evening or night shifts so they can spend more time with their families,” she said. “However, many parents do not have the flexibility to decide when to work, and when these work schedules are imposed on families, it's not only the parents that can suffer, but their children as well.”