Positive parenting buffers stress’s effects on the brain

Positive parenting—as reported by children and teenagers— protects young people from the deleterious effects of stressors like financial hardship or serious illness, according to a study.

 Jamie Hanson and colleagues examined magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) data along with survey data for 482 participants in an ongoing study, the Healthy Brain Network, who were between the ages of 10–17 at the time of data collection. Previous work has found associations between stress and small hippocampal volumes as well as between stress and behavioral problems—associations confirmed by this study, although effect sizes were modest.

In the current study, the authors found that in young people who reported their parents were warm and supportive, these associations were weaker or absent. Positive relationships with caregivers may act as “resilience factors,” according to the authors, that protect against the many deleterious developmental outcomes associated with childhood stress. Importantly, this buffering effect was not found for caregiver-reported positive parenting—only for youth-reported positive parenting. 

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Youth are active agents and may be better informants of their own experience of stress and being cared for than caregivers, the authors argue. According the authors, the findings support evidence from interventions designed to increase positive and supportive parenting, which are associated with positive outcomes for youth.


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