Teen behavior problems linked to childhood stress

August 7, 2012 By Karene Booker

(Medical Xpress) -- Such behavior problems in adolescence as aggression and delinquency are linked to chronic stress in early childhood, which interferes with children's development of self-control, reports a Cornell study published online in April in Developmental Psychology.

To better understand the well-documented link between poverty and poor outcomes for children, the researchers analyzed data on , maternal responsiveness and child characteristics in 265 adolescents and their parents.

The longitudinal study found that early exposure to the multiple risks linked with poverty -- such as poor living conditions, separation from family, single parenting and violence -- negatively affects children's self-regulatory abilities, critical skills needed to plan and control attention and behavior toward one's goals. These risks compromised children's self-regulation directly as well as indirectly when mothers could not provide sensitive, nurturing care.

Lower self-regulation is, in turn, linked to more "externalizing" problems in adolescents, such as aggression and delinquency. "Internalizing" problems, such as depression and anxiety, were not similarly affected.

"Our research examines the additive effects of multiple stressor exposures, rather than the typical focus on single variables such as divorce, abuse or housing," said Gary W. Evans, the Elizabeth Lee Vincent Professor of in Cornell's College of Human Ecology. He conducted the study with lead author Stacey N. Doan, Ph.D. '10, assistant professor of psychology at Boston University, and Thomas Fuller-Rowell, Ph.D. '10, a Robert Wood Johnson postdoctoral fellow at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.

"One of the things that seems to do in children is damage the body's ability to regulate the system for handling environmental demands with consequences for physical and mental health," Evans said. "By teasing apart two major subtypes of psychological well-being, internalizing and externalizing, we have shown that their predictors operate differentially."

In other words, internalizing and externalizing problems may have different causes and be influenced by different factors. Temperament may be more predictive of internalizing problems, while environmental risk factors are more associated with externalizing problems, the authors say.

"Overall, our results suggest that while it may not always possible to increase income or reduce all risk factors, by improving parenting skills or child self-regulation abilities we may be able to ameliorate some of the effects of poverty on children's mental health," Doan said.

This research was funded by the W.T. Grant Foundation, the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation Research Network on Socioeconomic Status and Health, and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation Health and Society Scholars Program.

Explore further: Chronic family turmoil and other problems cause physical changes

Related Stories

Chronic stress seems linked to achievement gap

January 31, 2011

(PhysOrg.com) -- Children in low-income families lag behind their higher-income counterparts on virtually all measures of achievement, and this gap tends to increase over time. There are many reasons why, but a Cornell environmental ...

Mom can buffer effects of stress on teen's memory

November 1, 2011

(Medical Xpress) -- Chronic stress in childhood can hurt children and teens physically, mentally and emotionally. However, having a sensitive, responsive mother can reduce at least one of these harmful effects, reports a ...

Study: Stressed kids more likely to become obese

January 31, 2012

(Medical Xpress) -- The more ongoing stress children are exposed to, the greater the odds they will become obese by adolescence, reports Cornell environmental psychologist Gary Evans in the journal Pediatrics (129:1).

Negative stereotypes about the poor hurt their health

July 30, 2012

(Medical Xpress) -- Adolescents who grow up in poverty are more likely to report being treated unfairly, and this perception of discrimination is related to harmful changes in physical health, reports a new Cornell study ...

Recommended for you

Psychosis associated with low levels of physical activity

August 25, 2016

A large international study of more than 200,000 people in nearly 50 countries has revealed that people with psychosis engage in low levels of physical activity, and men with psychosis are over two times more likely to miss ...

Sleep makes relearning faster and longer-lasting

August 22, 2016

Getting some sleep in between study sessions may make it easier to recall what you studied and relearn what you've forgotten, even 6 months later, according to new findings from Psychological Science, a journal of the Association ...

0 comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.