Most parents ideally prefer to spend their evenings eating and talking to their kids before they tuck them to sleep every night. However, odd shifts, such as night and evening shifts, are becoming increasingly prevalent in society, forcing parents to simultaneously adopt the role of a night shift worker and a parent. Work shifts that don’t keep the conventional 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. framework are found to increase the likelihood of delinquent behaviors in kids, according to a recent study.  

The prevalence of parents working odd shifts has led to the development of the term "latchkey kid” — adolescents who care for themselves before or after school, on weekends, and during holidays while their parents work, says the Examiner.com. These kids are commonly seen carrying house keys as a means to let themselves in and out of their homes while their parents are away at work.

The absence of a parent in the household during dinner hours or after school could negatively impact parent-child relationships, which introduces challenges for many families. The limited amount of quality time spent with the child and the lack of supervision in the household welcomes unhealthy behavior in kids such as vandalism, hurting others badly, theft, and skipping school.

Publishing in the Journal of Family Issues, a team of researchers from North Carolina State University, evaluated the effects of household work arrangements on family functioning and delinquency. Data retrieved from a national sample of nearly 2,000 adolescents between the ages of 10 and 17 years old was used for the study’s sample size. Information about parent work schedules, self-reporting from the children on their relationships with their parents and self-reporting from the children on delinquent behaviors were also obtained from the nationally representative data.

The researchers defined non-standard work schedules as anything outside the conventional “9-to-5,” such as working night or evening shifts. Three sets of households with different numbers of parents and work schedules were evaluated in the study. Two-parent households where both parents worked standard, 9-to-5 jobs; households where one parent worked a standard schedule and one worked a nonstandard schedule; and households where both parents worked nonstandard schedules, helped the researchers get a diverse set of participants for the study. In addition, single-mother households, where the mothers worked a standard schedule, and where the mothers worked a non-standard schedule, were also analyzed.

Children in two-parent households where both parents work nonstandard schedules were found to have weaker bonds with their parents, compared to children in households where both parents work standard schedules. However, these children did not report higher levels of delinquent behavior. Weaker bonds and delinquent behavior was strongly associated with children of single mothers who work non-standard schedules.

Households where the father worked a 9-to-5 and the mother worked a non-standard schedule were the ones to foster the strongest family relationships and displayed lower levels of delinquent behavior. "Specifically, in households where the father works 9-to-5 and the mother works a nonstandard schedule, adolescents reported higher levels of closeness to their parents than households where parents both worked standard schedules,” said Josh Hendrix, lead author of the paper and a Ph.D. sociology student at NC State in a news release. The researchers did not find an advantage when the father worked a non-standard schedule and the mother worked 9-to-5.

The authors of the study place emphasis that their findings are not meant to blame single mothers or tell people to stop working a non-standard job if that is what is available. Rather, they suggest the need for social institutions to take this trend into account in order to accommodate the needs of the parents.

“Research indicates that approximately one in five workers works a non-standard schedule and we need support systems — such as after-school programs — to accommodate the needs of those families,” said Dr. Toby Parcel, senior author of the paper and a professor of sociology at NC State in the news release. “That’s just one example. What about households with parents who work swing shifts or night shifts? Addressing their needs is an important challenge we must face.”

Children, especially teens, whose parents work odd shifts are at an increased risk for delinquency since they are left more unsupervised in comparison to youngsters. Poor academic performance is also reflexive of this situation because children are less likely to receive homework help from their parents during the evening and may be less involved in school events due to inflexible work schedules.

In a similar study carried out by the WZB Berlin Social Research Center, researchers found children are more susceptible to suffering developmental and behavioral problems from parents who work weekends and night shifts. This trend was found to be prevalent in low income or single-parent families and when parents worked odd shift hours on a full-time basis.

Concurrently, the studies suggest the need for financial workplace, childcare, and other community support systems for these parents. In the meantime, parents who are forced to work these shifts could choose to leave their child with a trusted family member or friend to watch over them while they are gone.

To learn how to foster strong parent-child relationships, click here.

Sources:

Hendrix JA and Parcel TL. Parental Nonstandard Work, Family Processes, and Delinquency During Adolescence. Journal of Family Issues. 2013.

Andrews S, Dockery A, Han WJ et al. Parents’ Nonstandard Work Schedules and Child Well-Being: A Critical Review of the Literature. Journal of Primary Prevention. 2013.