Work-life imbalance puts strain on kids
PARENTS with demanding jobs are risking the mental health of their children, a new study has found.
One of the first studies to show that a parent's work-life imbalance affects their children's mental health has proven if parents are subjected to work stress their children are also at high risk of becoming withdrawn and suffering anxiety.
Researchers from the Australian National University and La Trobe University in Melbourne observed about 2500 working couples and their children aged from four years over a period of 10 years.
They found children were at the highest risk of mental health issues when both parents experienced conflict between their job and family time.
Six out of 10 working couples had at some time struggled to manage work and family commitments and one in seven experienced prolonged periods when one parent was not managing these commitments well.
Lead researcher Dr Huong Dinh said some children had expressed physical manifestations of their mental anguish and generally a parent's hectic work schedule would impact them within two years.
"Some even suffered headaches and stomach aches due to their worries, while others had anger issues," Dr Dinh said.
ANU Research School of Population Health's Professor Lyndall Strazdins said if parents were checking their emails after work, working longer hours or were unable to have flexibility with young children, their stress spilt over to the family.
"All parents are doing their best but when they are under enormous stress at work that impacts their mental health, which in turn means they have a shorter fuse to deal with their children," she said.
Prof Strazdins said the poor mental health suffered by children as a result of parental work stress could be reversed but it did leave a lasting impact.
"It's positive to see that there is a big change in kids whose parents took less demanding roles," she said.
"There is still a discernible difference between the children from families who had not experienced a stressful period but the mental anguish is much smaller."
The study will today be published in the international journal Social Science and Medicine.
Former Australian of the Year and youth mental health expert Professor Patrick McGorry said the results were not surprising.
"This shows the financial pressure people are under these days for both parents to work," Prof McGorry said.
"Kids need their parents to be in good mental health and employers have a responsibility to ensure that.
The Parenthood executive director Jo Briskey said the research should act as a "wake-up call" for employers.
"We need to see a real shift in workplace culture in this country that is much more family friendly and supports the careers of bothmen and women," MsBriskey said.