In a new study, researchers found that repeatedly getting angry, hitting, shaking or yelling at children is linked with smaller brain structures in adolescence.
The harsh parenting practices covered by the study are common and even considered socially acceptable by most people in Canada and around the world.
The research was conducted by a team at Université de Montréal and elsewhere.
Serious child abuse (such as sexual, physical and emotional abuse), neglect and even institutionalization have been linked to anxiety and depression later in life.
Previous studies have already shown that children who have experienced severe abuse have smaller prefrontal cortexes and amygdala, two structures that play a key role in emotional regulation and the emergence of anxiety and depression.
In this study, the team used data from children who had been monitored since birth in the early 2000s.
They found that the same brain regions were smaller in adolescents who had repeatedly been subjected to harsh parenting practices in childhood, even though the children did not experience more serious acts of abuse.
These findings are both significant and new. It’s the first time that harsh parenting practices that fall short of serious abuse have been linked to decreased brain structure size, similar to what we see in victims of serious acts of abuse.
This study is the first to try to identify the links between harsh parenting practices, children’s anxiety and the anatomy of their brains.
The study is published in Development and Psychology. One author of the study is Sabrina Suffren, Ph.D.
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