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Kid's bad behavior may come from dad's layoff

Work and family. This recession is showing us how closely the two are related. Newspapers also are showing us how the two are related.

Here's a great blog post by Ryan Chittum of the Columbia Journalism Review

A few weeks ago I praised a Sesame Street special, of all things, for putting a human face on the impact of the economic crisis on families. Today, The New York Times does something similar with a page-one story and audio slide show on kids whose parents have been laid off.

The Times profiles a family in suburban Houston with a laid-off father and children who have subsequently showed behavioral problems:

Paul Bachmuth’s 9-year-old daughter, Rebecca, began pulling out strands of her hair over the summer. His older child, Hannah, 12, has become noticeably angrier, more prone to throwing tantrums.

Initially, Mr. Bachmuth, 45, did not think his children were terribly affected when he lost his job nearly a year ago. But now he cannot ignore the mounting evidence.

“I’m starting to think it’s all my fault,” Mr. Bachmuth said.

It’s a good anecdotal lede, and reporter Michael Luo could have done the three-examples-and-done thing. Instead, he backs it up with reporting on several studies that have shown negative effects of a parent’s unemployment on children.

One shows a 15 percent higher chance of flunking a grade, another shows a higher risk of becoming a high-school dropout. Yet another shows such children earn less when they get to adulthood.

But Dr. Kalil, a developmental psychologist and director of the university’s Center for Human Potential and Public Policy, said the more important factor, especially in middle-class households, appeared to be changes in family dynamics from job loss.

“The extent that job losers are stressed and emotionally disengaged or withdrawn, this really matters for kids,” she said. “The other thing that matters is parental conflict. That has been shown repeatedly in psychological studies to be a bad family dynamic.”

Which fits well with the family the Times profiles, as well as with a secondary family in the story.

It’s a nuanced look at the ripple effects unemployment can have. Multiply these three families (one of whom has held up relatively well) by the millions who are out of work and it’s a grim picture of what’s going on out there right now. And it’s worth pointing out that this recession is far deeper than what we’ve typically seen and out-of-work time has been far longer than normal. That can only make things worse.

Also, see the NYT’s accompanying slide show, which uses audio interviews of the family’s own words to tell their story.

Do you see any behavioral changes in your children, positive or negative, as a result of the recession? Do you think the holidays and a tightened budget will bring on changes?