LOS ANGELES, March 21, 2002 (AScribe Newswire) -- In the
first study to analyze more than a decade of research showing how a family's
social environment influences physical and mental health, a team of
scientists found strong evidence that children who grow up in "risky
families" often suffer lifelong health problems, including some of society's
most common serious ailments, such as cancer, heart disease, hypertension,
diabetes, obesity, depression and anxiety disorders, as well as early death.
scientists found large numbers of studies that reveal a pattern of serious
long-term health consequences for children who grow up in homes marked by
conflict, anger and aggression; that are emotionally cold, unsupportive; and
where children's needs are neglected. Some diseases
do not show up until decades later, while others are evident by adolescence.
"Poor health begins early in life, as
does good health," said Rena Repetti, associate professor of psychology at
UCLA and lead author of the article, in the current issue of the journal
Psychological Bulletin. "Growing up in risky families creates a cascade of
risk, beginning early in life, which puts a child not only at immediate
risk, but also at long-term and lifelong risk for a wide variety of physical
and mental health ailments."
her colleagues spent six years analyzing more than 500 psychological,
medical and biological research studies, and integrated the findings of
psychologists, pediatricians, biologists, neuroscientists, social workers
and other scientists. Her co-authors are Shelley Taylor, UCLA professor of
psychology, and Teresa Seeman, UCLA professor of medicine.
people separate physical and mental health, research shows that physical and
mental health may not be as separate as is often assumed, and that our
brains and bodies may be more closely connected, Repetti said. The research
studies reveal that a child's genetic predispositions interact with the
environment, and in risky families, a child's genetic risk may be
exacerbated. This combination can lead to the faster development of health
problems, which may be more debilitating than they would be in a more
grow up in risky families are also more likely as teenagers and adults to
engage in drug and alcohol abuse, smoking, risky sexual behavior, and
aggressive, anti-social behavior,
the UCLA analysis showed. Many of the
studies analyzed provide evidence that teenagers who abuse drugs and engage
in risky sex are more likely to have hostile, unsatisfying and
non-supportive relationships with their parents, Repetti said.
abuse and risky sexual behavior may help these adolescents compensate for
their emotional, social and biological deficiencies," Repetti said. "Early
and promiscuous sexual behavior and substance use may help adolescents
in the absence of adequate
emotional coping strategies or social skills. Some of these risky health
behaviors, such as
self-medicate some of the deficits in
brain neurochemistry that may occur in risky families."
"It may be the kids who are most
lacking in social skills,
are most likely to turn to substance abuse or risky sexual behavior as a way
to gain acceptance," she said. "If the family environment was supportive and
nurturing all along, they would be more likely to have the social skills to
gain acceptance by their peers and the ability to regulate their emotions.
Healthy families enable children to grow up without the need for risky
behavior to address these deficits."
Children who observe family members
responding to conflict by yelling and hitting often grow up without learning
children learn, Repetti said. Children who grow up in high-conflict or
abusive homes are also much more vigilant to threats than other children and
may overreact to minor threats. That vigilance, which may protect them from
dangers at home, can cause them social problems later when they make hostile
to what may be innocent actions by others.
"When they trip over another child's
foot on the schoolyard, they are ready for a fight because they believe the
other child did it on purpose," Repetti said. "They make the hostile
attribution, while a child who grew up in a less angry and aggressive family
is more likely to consider the possibility that it was just an accident.
That vigilance and those hostile attributions may get children in trouble in
school, but in high-conflict and aggressive homes, vigilance for threat and assuming hostile intent may actually protect
them from harm."
show that in addition to suffering from a wide variety of physical health
problems, children from families marked by conflict and aggression are at an
increased risk for behavioral and emotional problems, including
suicide, Repetti said. She added that
the accumulation of evidence from many different kinds of studies is
"overwhelming." Poverty and the descent into poverty often "appear to
move parenting in more harsh, punitive, and coercive directions," Repetti
said, although risky families are also found in middle- and upper-income
The gist of
this reputable summary of research
summaries supports a major premise in this Web site:
that the nurturance level of typical families (low to high) has major effects on the short
and welfare of dependent kids.
The researchers did not
investigate or guesstimate why this is so. After researching the question professionally since 1979,
I propose that
early-childhood abandonment, neglect, and abuse ("trauma") themselves
unawareness and/or denial, they unintentionally
to their descendents, unless
(a) they hit
(b) commit to personal
Lesson 1 in this site focuses on...
for symptoms of six psychological wounds
from too little childhood nurturance (ineffective caregiving), and...
to reduce any such wounds over time, and
protect minor kids from inheriting them.
My experience is that significantly-wounded adults don't hit true (vs.
until middle age - and many never do. That means that even if caregivers
commit to personal wound-recovery, they probably have already passed on
versions of the wounds and ignorance to their vulnerable dependents,
including foster, step, and/or adopted kids and grandkids.
The way to break this tragic
is for adults (like
you) to proactively assess themselves for significant wounds,
(b) take responsibility for reducing
any they find, and for (c) intentionally evolving a high-nurturance
family with their partners and supporters. For extra credit,
recovering adults can alert other people
in their community, region, or nation about the vital need
to break this cycle to protect the coming generations and our
Also see these online questions
from real teens, and these related