Happy Kids – Product of Genes, Parenting, Study Finds

  • Positive, supportive home can brighten outlook for children with gloomy dispositions, researchers say.

As scientists continue to tease out the impact of nature versus nurture, it appears that kids unlucky enough to get a “downer” personality gene can end up with sunnier outlooks when they’re parented in a warm, positive manner.

A new study on nearly 1,900 children aged 9 through 15 with a gene variation predisposing them to lower serotonin levels in the brain — which can lead to a gloomier disposition — suggests the youths were more likely to maintain happier emotions when exposed to positive parenting. So-called “genetically susceptible” children who experienced unsupportive parenting showed fewer positive emotions in the three independent experiments comprising the study.

Study author Benjamin L. Hankin, an associate professor of clinical child and developmental cognitive neuroscience psychology at the University of Denver, used a horticultural analogy of weeds versus orchids to describe how genes and upbringing combine to affect children’s outcomes.

“A weed will grow anywhere,” Hankin said, “but if you’re an orchid, you’re probably more reactive and responsive to your environment. If you have a really negative, punishing environment, you’re probably not going to grow up to be a beautiful orchid.”

The study is published online Oct. 4 in the journal Translational Psychiatry.

In the first experiment, parents reported on the degree to which they used positive or supportive parenting techniques; in the second, their behaviors were observed in a laboratory. In the final experiment, the children reported their own perceptions of warm, positive parenting.

Participants all carried a shortened version of the 5-HTTLPR gene, which Hankin noted has been linked in prior research to anxiety and depression. In this case, researchers viewed the gene as leading toward a more sensitive, reactive disposition, and the findings were the first empirical evidence that genetically susceptible individuals would suffer because of negative environments and flourish in positive ones.

“What was most surprising was we found the same result in three independent studies,” Hankin said. “There’s a lot of controversy around these kinds of genetic studies because a lot of time the results don’t replicate. As scientists, when something happens three times in a row, we start to believe it.”

Marta Flaum, a child psychologist in Chappaqua, N.Y., said the study highlights the importance of environment in determining whether children will become happier and more successful adults.

“As science becomes more sophisticated, we’re better able to identify these genetic or biologic markers and can predict what’s going to happen in kids,” she said. “We know how important early intervention is, and this study points in a direction to help us intervene.”

Hankin noted that most people have no idea whether their genes predispose their children toward lower brain serotonin levels, but children who seem chronically moody are likely to be affected.

“So if you’re a parent, and you have a kid who has a difficult temperament, your parenting matters a lot,” he said. “Being a positive parent can accomplish a lot.”

But regardless of genetics, every child can benefit from warm, supportive parenting, said Rahil Briggs, a child psychologist and director of the Healthy Steps Program at Montefiore Medical Center in New York City.

“Parenting is an incredibly powerful tool for change in children, so supportive parenting is the way we want to go for any kid,” Briggs said. “That holds true for all kids, even children who come into this world with little handicap in genetics and susceptibility.”


kids’ and Smoking movies

Kids who watch movies with more smoking are more likely to become smokers. But three of six major studios have policies to reduce scenes of smoking in movies rated G, PG and PG-13. At the University of California, San Francisco, researcher Stanton Glantz says smoking scenes from three studios fell 96 percent from 2005 to 2010:

“The fact that there’s a lot less smoking in movies now than there was in 2005 means that fewer kids are starting to smoke as a result of the movies.’’

Glantz says it would be even better if smoking were R-rated so studios would leave smoking out of films for kids.

The study is in the Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

source:HHS HealthBeat is a production of the U.S. Department of Health and Human


Too Much TV Linked to Poor Glucose Control in Kids

The more hours of TV kids with type 1 diabetes watch, the less they are able to maintain good blood glucose control, according to a study published in the June issue of Diabetes Care.

The study by researchers in Norway found that the more television a child or adolescent watched, the higher the child’s average blood glucose level measured. For example, young people who watched less than one hour of television per day scored an average level of 8.2 percent on the HbA1c, a test that measures how well blood glucose is controlled over several months. Those who watched up to 2 hours daily scored 8.4 percent; up to 3 hours daily scored 8.7 percent; up to 4 hours daily scored 8.8 percent; and those who watched more than 4 hours of TV per day scored 9.5 percent on the A1C test. The ADA recommends keeping A1C levels at 7 percent or below.

The study noted that “children and adolescents in the United States spend more time watching television than any other activity except sleep,” and that they may even spend more time watching TV than going to school. With childhood obesity reaching epidemic proportions in the United States, sedentary activities such as television viewing are of particular concern.

The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends children spend no more than two hours per day watching television, but 55 percent of the subjects in this study exceeded that level.

“It takes very little energy to sit in front of the tube,” said lead researcher Dr. Hanna D. Margeirsdottir, from the Department of Pediatrics at the Ullevaal University Hospital in Oslo. “The time spent watching TV could otherwise be spent on activities that require a lot more exertion and burn more calories. What’s more, TV viewing tends to be associated with snacking and may lead to poor eating habits. Obviously with childhood obesity levels being what they are these days, parents should be encouraging their children and teens to watch far less television and get out and move around a lot more.”

Diabetes Care, published by the American Diabetes Association, is the leading peer-reviewed journal of clinical research into the nation’s fifth leading cause of death by disease. Diabetes also is a leading cause of heart disease and stroke, as well as the leading cause of adult blindness, kidney failure, and non-traumatic amputations. For more information about diabetes, visit the American Diabetes Association Web site www.diabetes.org or call 1-800-DIABETES (1-800-342-2383).


More information

The Nemours Foundation has more information about positive parenting


TUESDAY, Oct. 4 (HealthDay News By Maureen Salamon, Reporter) -- (SOURCES: Benjamin L. Hankin, Ph.D., associate professor, clinical child and developmental cognitive neuroscience psychology, University of Denver; Marta Flaum, Ph.D., child psychologist, Chappaqua, N.Y.; Rahil Briggs, Psy.D., child psychologist, director, Healthy Steps Program, Montefiore Medical Center, New York City; Oct. 4, 2011, Translational Psychiatry, online)
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