By: Kristal Griffith
Researchers have long wondered how much children are affected by their environment. A study by Benjamin Hankin, a DU associate professor of psychology, sheds new light on the topic.
The study, published in the October issue of Translational Psychiatry, looks at a gene called 5-HTTLPR, which has short and long versions. After examining 1,900 children ages of 8–15, the research suggests parents can have a large effect on changing the mood of children with two short versions of the gene.
“These findings suggest that genetics makes some kids more susceptible to the parenting influence they receive, while others are more resilient,” Hankin says.
Hankin’s research team found that in children with two versions of the long gene or mixed versions, the quality of parenting had little influence on the emotional health of the children.
Hankin shares the analogy that some children are like orchids, while others are like weeds. The weeds flourish anywhere. But the orchids need an optimal environment in order to flourish.
“If the environment is bad, these children have worse outcomes, but if it is good, they have much better outcomes,” Hankin says. “What this shows is that for these children, even in the age of genetics, parenting really, really matters. It isn’t nature or nurture, it’s both.”
Hankin says there is no need to get children genotyped. However, parents should pay attention to children who are more irritable.
“With these kids, your input has a greater impact,” he says. “As your child grows up, the challenges are going to change, but you can put your kid on a trajectory for more adaptive, positive mental health.”