iStockphotoEver wonder why some kids with terrible parents manage to make it into adulthood unscathed while others crumble? According to a recent study, the answer may come down to a specific genotype. Identifying whether or not your child carries it can help you raise them better.
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A team of researchers led by Benjamin Hankin, PhD, associate professor of psychology at the University of Denver, tested about 1,900 children ages 9-15 and also interviewed and observed their parents. The researchers found that children with a long version of a specific gene called 5-HTTLP maintain a relatively even keel emotionally regardless of parental support. Children with the short version of the gene, however, experience a more dramatic range of emotions in relation to parenting styles: Those with supportive, positive parents were extra happy and those with negative parents were more profoundly discontent.
The researchers wanted to test whether a theory called the Differential Susceptibility Hypothesis, which says that some people are more emotionally sensitive to their environment than others both for better and for worse, operated at a genetic level. In three separate trials, they found that nature and nurture did indeed intersect for children with the short version of 5-HTTLP.
Scientists had already determined that people with the short version of 5-HTTLP were more prone to depression when they encountered stressors in their lives. What's new and hopeful about Hankin's findings is that that they indicate the same children who are especially vulnerable to a negative environment can thrive if their circumstances change for the better.
"I'm a parent," Hankin told Yahoo! Shine, "and most parents recognize that some kids are more challenging--these are the kids that probably have the short version of 5-HTTLP." They tend to be fussier, harder to soothe, and more frustrating for care givers. And they are just the children who most benefit from calm, supportive, and positive parenting.
"Often parents react to these kids by getting mad," says Hankin. This can set up a negative cycle in which the child misbehaves, is yelled at, and misbehaves again in response. If a parent can take a deep breath and work at providing a structured and loving environment, they can potentially reverse the cycle and be rewarded with a child who becomes increasingly positive and easier to care for.
Hankin likes to use an analogy from horticulture to sum up results of his research: "Some kids are weeds, they will grow anywhere. Others are orchids and need a great deal of tending to flourish."