Germany

Your Grown-Up Stress May Be Making Your Children Sick

Illnesses in children rise along with the stress levels of their parents, according to a new survey in Germany. Are households with two working parents sending more kids to the doctor?

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Guido Bohsem

MUNICH — In terms of staying healthy, for both parents and children, down time is the decisive factor. According to a survey conducted for AOK, the largest of Germany’s roughly 180 statutory health insurance funds, no other criterion impacts family happiness as much as stress in daily life.

And the amount of stress in families is increasing. In 2010, 41% of parents participating in the survey said they had too little free time, which caused them stress. Four years later, that figure is 46%. Stress is worse for families with children in grade school.

AOK head Jürgen Graalmann believes that one of the reasons for this is the growing number of households with two working parents. That makes organization harder. But another major cause of stress is of parents’ own making. Many middle-class moms and dads trying to provide advantages for their children get caught up in overscheduling them — and consequently themselves — in activities such as tutoring, sports and music classes.

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Photo: Ryan Dickey

“Stressed parents tend more often to have children with health complaints,” Graalmann says. One in five German children displays symptoms of irritability, sleeping trouble, stomach or headaches, the survey shows. Some 24% of parents who feel squeezed for time have children with such complaints, whereas the figure is only 16% for parents with fewer time constraints.

Unsurprisingly, problems are worse for single parents. Some 17% of them described their own health as bad, and 35% said their health was so-so. In two-parent families, parental health difficulties were far rarer: Only 5% described their health as bad, and 25% as so-so.

But there is at least some good news. Fewer people reported physical, psychological, financial and partnership difficulties in this survey than in previous ones. Four years ago, for example, 33% described their financial situation as burdensome. Now, only 28% reported this, which the survey’s authors suggest could be linked to Germany’s economic growth over the past few years.

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Chepa Beltran/LongVisual via ZUMA
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