Because parents don’t have enough to worry about, two new studies point to the impact of a child’s home life on brain development.
The first study looks at how common family problems like lack of affection, poor communication, parental arguments and the like actually resulted in children developing a smaller cerebellum than children who did not experience the same type of common family problems.
The study led by Dr Nicholas Walsh, lecturer in developmental psychology at the University of East Anglia (UEA), used brain imaging technology to scan teenagers aged 17-19. It found that those who experienced mild to moderate family difficulties between birth and 11 years of age had developed a smaller cerebellum, an area of the brain associated with skill learning, stress regulation and sensory-motor control. The researchers also suggest that a smaller cerebellum may be a risk indicator of psychiatric disease later in life as it is consistently found to be smaller in virtually all psychiatric illnesses.
Previous studies have focused on the effects of severe neglect, abuse and maltreatment in childhood on brain development. However the aim of this research was to determine the impact, in currently healthy teenagers, of exposure to more common but relatively chronic forms of ‘family-focused’ problems. These could include significant arguments or tension between parents, physical or emotional abuse, lack of affection or communication between family members, and events which had a practical impact on daily family life and might have resulted in health, housing or school problems.
“We show that exposure in childhood and early adolescence to even mild to moderate family difficulties, not just severe forms of abuse, neglect and maltreatment, may affect the developing adolescent brain. We also argue that a smaller cerebellum may be an indicator of mental health issues later on. Reducing exposure to adverse social environments during early life may enhance typical brain development and reduce subsequent mental health risks in adult life. READ MORE.
The second study is even more shocking. It shows that frequent school moves increase a child’s risk of adolescent psychosis by up to 60%.
“Changing schools can be very stressful for students. Our study found that the process of moving schools may itself increase the risk of psychotic symptoms — independent of other factors. But additionally, being involved in bullying, sometimes as a consequence of repeated school moves, may exacerbate risk for the individual.” At the age of 12, participants in the study were interviewed to assess for the presence of psychotic-like symptoms including hallucinations, delusions and thought interference in the previous six months. Those that had moved school three or more times were found to be 60% more likely to display at least one definite psychotic symptom. READ MORE
What’s the takeaway? That being a consistent, extravagantly affectionate, radically attached parent who works hard on your marriage is the best way to give your child everything he or she needs to be mentally and emotionally healthy, not just from a psychological perspective but from a neurophysiological perspective as well!
For more information on how you can give your child every emotional and psychological advantage in life, check out Parenting with Grace: A Catholic Parents’ Guide to Raising (almost) Perfect Kids (2nd ed rev.) and Beyond the Birds and the Bees: Raising Sexually Whole and Holy Kids today!