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Flexible, but not all there

29.02.2008
Flexible working hours mean that adults are spending more time at home. But in many cases, they are so busy with their mobile phones and PCs that their children feel that they are not quite all there.

The work life regulates grown-ups' time in many ways, but we seldom hear how it affects their children. Brita Bungum of SINTEF Technology and Society recently defended her NTNU doctoral thesis entitled “Children's time and parents' work life”, which studied the children of working parents and looked at how work affects their everyday life.

Available but “not there”

“When parents have regular working hours from eight to four, their children have a clear view of their everyday life. They know when their parents are at work and when they are free. Such parents also seem to put their work to one side when they are free. If they are distracted, it is because they are tired,” says Bungum.

However, children find that parents with flexible working hours are more distracted. The gap between their parents' work and leidure time is also less predictable. Even if they are physically present, things can be as “Jan” puts it: “Each of them sits with their PC in the living room here at home. I think that they work a lot, but that's just fine with me”.

Brita Bungum emphasises that her findings tend not to be unambiguous. There are also children who says that it is fine that their parents can control their working hours, and who say that they would like to be able to do the same when they are grown up.

Key to freedom

Another finding of the thesis is that “door-key children” usually do not feel sorry for themselves. On the contrary; many children a happy to be free of grown-up in what is otherwise a highly organised day.

Bungum, who interviewed 18 children in depth, tells us that being able to go home with they key of the house in your hand gives children a certain status. At the same time, being at home without grown-ups may be perceived as either to be “small” or “big”, depending on the amount of responsibility the child feels. It is demanding to be the last to leave the house in the morning. To be the first to come home can be a good feeling.

For ordering the report: siri.hjelde@svt.ntnu.no

Contact: Brita Bungum, SINTEF Technology and Society
Tel: + 47 73 59 03 41 Email: brita.bungum@sintef.no

Aase Dragland | alfa
Further information:
http://www.sintef.no

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