Study: Bickering Parents Linked to Kids’ Brain Impairment

Jim Liebelt | Senior Writer, Editor and Researcher for the HomeWord Center for Youth and Family at Azusa Pacific University | Thursday, February 20, 2014

Study: Bickering Parents Linked to Kids’ Brain Impairment

The odd argument in front of your children may not seem like a big deal, but new research suggests it could have an effect in later life.

Brain scans have revealed children who experience ‘mild to moderate’ family problems up to the age of 11 suffer impaired brain development and could be at risk of psychiatric illness.

These problems include arguments or tension between parents, physical or emotional abuse, lack of affection or communication between family members.

Scientists at the University of East Anglia used imaging technology to scan the brains of teenagers aged 17 to 19.

Those who had encountered ‘mild to moderate’ family problems when they were younger than 11 had a smaller cerebellum – a part of the brain linked to skill learning, stress regulation and sensory motor control. A small cerebellum may indicate an increased risk of psychiatric problems later in life, said the researchers.

Lead scientist Dr Nicholas Walsh, from the UEA’s School of Psychology, said: “These findings are important because exposure to adversities in childhood and adolescence is the biggest risk factor for later psychiatric disease. 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.”

Teenagers who had experienced family problems were more likely to have a diagnosed psychiatric illness, or a parent with a mental health disorder, or to have a negative view of how their family functioned.

Although the findings found a direct link between adversity before the age of 11 and brain impairment, it also revealed one ‘significant and unexpected’ finding – stressful experiences at the age of 14 might actually benefit the brain. Children stressed at this age were found to have developed a number of larger brain regions by the time they were 19. Mild stress during the early teenage years may ‘inoculate’ children and help them cope better with difficulties later in life, explained Dr Walsh.

The study was published in the journal Neuroimage: Clinical.

Source: Daily Mail