Don't Shelter Your Children: Coping With Stress As A Child Develops Resilience And Emotion Regulation As An Adult
    By Andrea Kuszewski | December 31st 2009 03:34 AM | 32 comments | Print | E-mail | Track Comments
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    Andrea is a Behavior Therapist and Consultant for children on the autism spectrum, residing in the state of FL; her background is in cognitive


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    We already know that "suffering builds character", but a new study suggests that it may do a lot more than that. Successfully coping with stress at an early age may significantly increase your chances of being a more resilient adult, as well as strengthen your ability to regulate emotions.

    A new paper by Katz et al, "Prefrontal Plasticity and Stress Inoculation-Induced Resilience", shows how exposure to mild stress as a young child can actually alter the brain in ways that make us better equipped to handle future stress as adults. Parents may feel that by preventing their child from encountering any and all potential hardship they are helping to preserve their emotional well-being, but going through a little stress and encouraging them to cope with it effectively will benefit them far more when it comes to being a more resilient, independent, and emotionally stable adult. I appreciate this study not only because it provides me with scientific justification for all of the difficulties I have endured in my own life, but also because it just makes sense. I love studies that make sense.

    The abstract states:

    Coping with mild early life stress tends to make subsequent coping efforts more effective and therefore more likely to be used as a means of arousal regulation and resilience. Here we show that this developmental learning-like process of stress inoculation increases ventromedial prefrontal cortical volumes in peripubertal monkeys. Larger volumes do not reflect increased cortical thickness, but instead represent surface area expansion of ventromedial prefrontal cortex. Expansion of ventromedial prefrontal cortex coincides with increased white matter myelination inferred from diffusion tensor magnetic resonance imaging. These findings suggest that the process of coping with early life stress increases prefrontal myelination and expands a region of cortex that broadly controls arousal regulation and resilience.

    Before you get intimidated by the neuro-speak, let me offer a brief explanation of the brain processes involved, in layman's terms:

    The prefrontal cortex (PFC) of the brain is the seat of cognitive control and executive functioning, which allows us to make reasonable decisions about situations we encounter. When presented with a problem, the PFC allows us to analyze the situation, weigh the relevance of the information, and make sound decisions on how to act. People who have a poorly functioning PFC–we can use Schizophrenia as an example– are unable to make reasonable sense of the vast amounts of information in front of them, interpret situations inaccurately, and as a result, engage in maladaptive behavior. On the other hand, someone with a superior or properly functioning PFC is able to swiftly and effectively take in the same large amounts of stimuli, make appropriate judgments about the information, and thus are more likely to choose appropriate courses of action.

    Myelination of axons increases the speed of transmission of information across neural connections. When we speak of white matter in the brain, we are referring to the axons, or the part of the neuron that carries the information to the next neuron, or group of neurons. Gray matter, on the other hand, refers to the neurons or nerve cell bodies themselves; an increase in gray matter volume, or cortical thickness, usually implies new neural connections, such as those resulting from learning a new skill.

    In this study, exposure to stress resulted in an increase in the white matter myelination, which implies an increased speed at which the existing connections were able to transmit information in the neural networks.

    So what does this mean in regards to exhibited behaviors?

    In this excerpt, Katz and colleagues explain how this exposure to stress, as measured in primates and humans, translates into future coping behaviors:

    Stressful experiences that are challenging but not overwhelming appear to promote the development of subsequent resilience in children. Variously described as inoculating, immunizing, steeling, toughening, or thriving, the notion that mild early life stress induces the development of resilience is further supported by longitudinal studies of non-human primates. Squirrel monkey mothers and other group members periodically leave newly weaned offspring beginning at 3-6 months of age to forage for food on their own. Initially, brief intermittent separations studied in controlled experimental conditions elicit distress peep calls and increase plasma levels of cortisol with partial habituation of these measures of arousal observed over repeated social separations. Later in life, monkeys exposed to intermittent separations show fewer behavioral indications of anxiety, increased exploration of novel situations, and diminished stress levels of cortisol compared to age-matched monkeys not exposed to prior separations. These behavioral and hormonal outcomes reflect a nonspecific form of stress inoculation as exposure to one type of early life stress enhances subsequent arousal regulation in coping with different stressors encountered later in life.

    Here is what I find most interesting about this result: Contrary to what one may think exposure to stress as a child might reap in adulthood (adjustment disorders, psychopathology, etc..), instead they found the opposite effect. Youths that were exposed to stress actually had less anxiety, lower levels of stress, and had more confidence in exploring novel situations, or demonstrated an increased sense of independence.

    So can exposure to stress actually be good for us? YES!

    How is this possible? The study goes on to say,

    "Prior exposure to separation stress also enhances prefrontal-dependent cognitive control of impulsive behavior and appears to increase ventromedial but not dorsolateral prefrontal volumes determined in vivo by non-invasive neuroimaging of the squirrel monkey brain. These findings are of interest because large ventromedial prefrontal size in humans predicts diminished impulsivity, lower harm avoidance, and greater retention of learned extinction of fear. Recent neuroimaging studies of humans support results from animal research confirming that learned extinction of fear is mediated by prefrontal down-regulation of arousal via inhibitory connections that diminish neural output from the amygdala. Additional evidence likewise suggests that differences in the balance between top-down prefrontal regulation and arousal-inducing amygdala activation may account for global trait-like differences in coping with stress. "

    So what does this translate to? Basically, after coping with stress successfully, your brain says, "Hey, that wasn't too bad. I can handle this." The next time you encounter a similar-type stressful situation, your brain has already had success in coping before, so you don't feel as much emotional anxiety. You are able to assess the situation more quickly, judge the relevance of everything involved, and make more appropriate choices in how to act.

    For example, giving a presentation in front of a crowd of people is generally seen as a stressful event. If you go through your entire life without ever having to stand in front of a group and present information, this could be pretty stressful if you experience it for the first time as an adult. However, after the first few times you have success with presenting (you don't go into cardiac arrest, people don't throw rotten veggies), the anxiety gradually lessens, and hopefully, in the future these types of presentations won't be as anxiety-provoking.

    Now imagine that as a child, you were encouraged to engage in activities that forced you to be in front of adults and present an idea or a skill, whether it were joining a debate club, or participating in a play, a dance recital, or a musical assembly. Yes, it might be excruciatingly painful and anxiety-provoking to do it for the first time, and watching your child go through that agony might be just as painful for you. But the more often he engages in the activity and successfully copes with the stress of performing in front of a crowd, the more confidence he is building, and the more resilience he will have in facing these types of situations as an adult. Additionally, he will be better able to manage his emotions surrounding a stressful event, and less likely to suffer debilitating anxiety as a result. To be clear, I am not merely talking about "getting used to the pain of embarrassment and humiliation." I am talking about making positive changes in the brain as a result of being exposed to and successfully coping with stress.

    So am I telling you to let your child play in traffic, throw him out into the wilderness to hunt for food, or to force him to participate in a plethora of undesirable after school activities? No. It doesn't have to be that complicated, nor should it be that extreme. The key point in the article is that mild stress exposure resulted in positive changes in the brain, not torture or a series of near-death experiences.

    Alternatively, for example, rather than hovering over your child to make sure little Johnny doesn't bully him, you should teach him how to handle bully situations, so when the time comes and he is bullied (and it happens to everyone at some point), he is able to have some strategies in place to deal with it himself. Or if he gets bullied and is unprepared for it, discuss it with him rationally. Explain to him how to handle it next time, rather than marching over to the offending child and letting loose on him. Now, I know it takes a lot of restraint not to lash out at someone who hurts your child, but encouraging him to cope with it successfully on his own will help him build the kind of resilience that will make him a confident adult, able to control his temper and act level-headed in conflict situations in the future. And don't we all want a world full of more rational, level-headed adults?

    The take-home point is this: not all stress is bad. Even as children, being faced with challenging situations is a good thing. We learn to problem-solve, think for ourselves, and build resilience to protect us from harm in future unexpected events. As an added bonus, dealing with stress early on helps us to develop emotional stability as well. You can't buffer your child from every non-happy moment in his life, so at least take comfort in the fact that while he is suffering in the short term, he is enhancing his well-being in the long term.

    And building character, too.


    Oh well... I guess it's too late for some children.

    First, you experts tell us to be careful and not expose children to stuff as it may harm their psyche's.

    Second (now) you tell us to expose children to that kind of thing as it makes them strong.

    Thank God I didn't listen to you in either case.

    If you want to be an expert; try having children of your own. Theories don't cut it in the real world, morons.

    Dr. T

    Andrea Kuszewski
    Thanks for reading the article "Dr T" (what exactly are you a doctor of?)! And thank God for science, so we can continue to discover and learn new things to help the world advance.  By the way, you don't happen to be one of those who still think the world is flat, are you?

    And what do you classify as the "real world"? Does working every day with children with severe behavioral and Autism Spectrum Disorders count as "real"? Because that is what I do.
    Thank God I didn't listen to you in either case.

    So, exactly what did you do with your children?  Stasis???

    Theories don't cut it in the real world, morons. 

    You mean like Newton's Particle Theory of Light?  Or the Wave Theory of Light?  If these theories are not relevant to the "real world" then I suggest scrapping your computer monitor, camera, TVs, eyeballs, etc.

    Oh, and you know that moron-thing?  That was a bit over the top, wouldn't you agree Mr. Not-Verified?  Next time try something novel - like perhaps thinking.

    There is one thing in the article with which I take issue, namely "People who have a poorly functioning PFC, such as Schizophrenics, are
    unable to make reasonable sense of the information in front of them,
    interpret situations inaccurately, and as a result, engage in
    maladaptive behavior."

    Certainly in the case of the Noble Laureate in mathematics, John Nash this was not the case. In fact, when asked why he didn't question the delusions of his paranoid schizophrenia he replied, because his insights into mathematics came from the same place as his delusions. Clearly, in the case of John Nash we're not talking about an impaired prefrontal cortex in terms of cognitive functioning. In the case of schizophrenics with the enlarged ventricles and sulcal and a reversed asymmetry of the sylvian fissure in their brains, the problem would seem to be more one of perception and in the way the schizophrenic's brain processes sensory information rather than the ability to think rationally.

    In the analysis of various forms of schizophrenia certain variables must also be considered. The precise abnormalities of brain morphology in patients with schizophrenia are likely influenced by factors such as sex, patient's age, age of onset of psychosis, clinical symptoms, length and stage of illness and prolonged exposure to neuroleptics.

    So you can't simply lump all schizophrenics and their particular impairments into one general category and make a general statement about how well the prefrontal cortex of a particular schizophrenic functions. I, personally, have known some very brilliant paranoid schizophrenics who could hold an intelligent and rational conversation with me while at the same time hearing voices. In fact one individual with whom I was having a conversation described the symptoms that he was experiencing while he was experiencing them. This clearly shows that he had awareness of the fact that the voices he was hearing were not real but a part of a delusion associated with his illness and was able to differentiate between what was real and what was delusion. To me this indicates a superior functioning in his prefrontal cortex and not an impaired functioning. Fortunately for him, his doctor was able to find a new atypical neuroleptic that was extremely effective in getting rid of the voices altogether.

    For a long time John Nash refused to take any of the older neuroleptics and was able to manage his symptoms without medication. But in a self-biographical essay that he wrote about his condition he said that that he is currently taking an atypical neuroleptic to help manage his symptoms. He said unlike the older generation of neuroleptics, these new atypical ones didn't have the very unpleasant side effects such as akathesia or tardive dyskinesia while at the same time the newer neuroleptics did not interfere with his creative and reasoning abilities as the first generation of neuroleptics did.

    In fact, you can read about John Nash's life in his own words here:

    And here is a direct quote from Nash himself:

    "I would not dare to say that there is a direct relation between
    mathematics and madness, but there is no doubt that great
    mathematicians suffer from maniacal characteristics, delirium and
    symptoms of schizophrenia." -
    John Nash

    As for the issue of sheltering children, I don't believe it would be possible to do so these days, even if you tried.
    Andrea Kuszewski

    First, let me thank you for such a long, thought-out comment in response to my article. It is obvious you have a personal interest in Schizophrenia and John Nash, himself. I am impressed by the amount of information you have gathered about the subject.

    Without getting into a full-blown discussion of Schizophrenia (not exactly relevant here, given the article content specifically), let me just make a few points to explain my reference.

    First, Schizophrenia is now classified as a "spectrum disorder", meaning, there are many levels of saturation of the debilitating traits, and sometimes fortunate individuals with a high saturation of the "disordered traits" may also have something else going for them which helps to keep those traits under control.

    (I have spent some time investigating Schizophrenia as a spectrum disorder, so this is a short analysis of what I, and others, have found)

    In John Nash's case, not only did he have a high level of the "schizophrenic traits", but he had an incredibly high intelligence to boot. This gave him immense control over those traits, which must have been an exhausting way to live every day, managing and assessing the delusions, trying to make sense of everything and organize it in a reasonable way. However, when some people have an extraordinary intellectual capacity, that can compensate for other brain area that lack control- similar to a person with ADD/HD that has a lack of focus but a very high IQ using that intellectual capacity to work through strategies to help them focus. It takes a lot of mental energy, but it can be done. I see the same type of phenomenon with John Nash.

    With that said, John Nash is one person, a case study, if you will, and anyone in science knows you can't base a whole theory on one case study. Statistically speaking, he is an "outlier" and to base a whole theory on that would be irresponsible. However, we can find ways to explain his ability in ways that I did in my previous statements. You are not incorrect in your assessment of John Nash, you are just wrong in thinking that his particular case study applies broadly to all people on the schizophrenic spectrum. I used the example of a poorly functioning PFC and Schizophrenia, because that is a general representation of a majority of people on that spectrum. Of course there are some Schizophrenics whom that does not accurately describe, but for my purpose, which was to set a general example, it works. The fact that John Nash was so extraordinary and not your typical schizophrenic that they made a blockbuster movie about him should tell you something. He is not the norm. He is an anomaly in some ways.

    For more info on the PFC and which groups of disorders are effected by the functioning of it, I recommend a paper by Earl Miller from MIT and Jon Cohen at Princeton. In fact, Dr Cohen has done a lot of research on Schizophrenia and cognitive control, so if you look him up, you will find oodles of great info on the subject.

    Thanks again for reading and for the thorough comments!

    Cheers- Andi
    Statistically speaking, he is an "outlier" and to base a whole theory on that would be irresponsible. However, we can find ways to explain his ability in ways that I did in my previous statements. You are not incorrect in your assessment of John Nash, you are just wrong in thinking that his particular case study applies broadly to all people on the schizophrenic spectrum.
    Let me thank you for your efforts and this resultant article, but I must disagree on this point:  John Nash may not be an outlier.  If we consider mental health as a continuum rather than a spectrum (I know, a fine distinction to be sure, but the word "spectrum" implies that certain individuals can display pure forms of a particular disorder...or even pure sanity), there is room for 6 trillion (give-or-take) different and unique states of mental health, including very highly functional and quite unsuspected schizophrenics.  It all depends on your construct.

    If for instance we are considering the case of an individual who clearly is hallucinating (i.e. "the walls are melting", or "it's raining in my closet"), or perhaps someone who is deluded ("I'm Nathan Hale"), then you are correct and John Nash would be an outlier.  However, even disordered thinking is considered to be evidence of schizophrenia, and I will venture a guess that virtually everyone who has ever lived has experienced a time or two when they couldn't "think straight" (such as, "I'm so tired I can't think right").  Maybe there's a little schizophrenic in all of us?  :)

    But back to your article. 

    I appreciate the number of times you emphasized appropriate stress as being "mild" in nature, and agree that some stress is necessary in everyone's lives, for it does after all provide incentive and motivation.  Sadly though, some people will misinterpret "mild" in a way that others would deem "abusive". 

    You have a real talent for putting strong neuroscience behind practical matters of life.

    I wonder if anyone has taken on the incredibly difficult, but worthwhile effort to describe stress exposure on a scale running from "negligible benefit" to "long-term trauma" for individual personality types. The purpose of the scale would be to gain a better insight into how to raise and tailor education for each type. Personality assessments could be taken for each child. Subsequently, a plan can be developed that provides the appropriate mildly stressful experience for a personality type. You wouldn't need unique experiences for each individual, but rather, unique experiences for each class of personality types.

    Although there would always be a modest minority of children who wouldn't conform completely to a particular personality type, you could categorize a majority of children into reasonably accurate personality types. Murphy-Meisgeier Type Indicator?

    Once you were able to place these personality types on an experience scale of: Experience - mildly stressful to experience - traumatizing, you could introduce appropriate mildly stressful experiences in their education.

    An adaptive approach in education is still sorely lacking in the USA, but any implementation of one should include personality - appropriate mildly stressful experiences.

    Thanks Andi, yet another rich article from you.


    Hi Andi,

    Thank you so much for taking the time to respond to my comment--especially since it was off-topic. And you are absolutely correct. As one who has been involved in several branches of science, I should know that anecdotal information is invalid statistically for building any kind of model or hypothesis. I stand corrected.

    I also want to thank you for pointing out to me that schizophrenia is now classified as a "spectrum disorder". It's been many years since I have studied psychiatric disorders and psychopharmacology, so needless to say I'm a little behind the times and have a lot of catching up to do. I know that neuroscience has progressed dramatically, even in just the last decade. I appreciate you giving me the link to the paper by Earl Miller from MIT and Jon Cohen at Princeton, which I have bookmarked and will definitely read.

    And you're quite correct about John Nash being both an extraordinary case as well as an extraordinary individual. He is most certainly far from the norm. And, even though I'm not schizophrenic I am, however, bipolar and also battle a very severe from of OCD. To some degree I can't relate to John Nash's experiences. I had been in denial that I was bi-polar and persisted in my belief that I merely suffered from a unipolar affective disorder. How I can relate to John Nash is that unfortunately, because I am so intelligent, I could easily convince people that my grandiose ideas were very plausible--including a great number of psychiatrist. Like John Nash, I avoided hospitalization and psychiatrists like the pneumonic plague and for good reason! Some of the early neuroleptics like haloperidol, which produced in me the extremely unpleasant side-effect of akathesia, were as far as I was concerned worse than the disorder itself. And lithium carbonate was absolutely ineffectual in my form of bi-polar disorder, namely a very rapid cycler. So, I dismissed the doctors as quacks. One of my former psychiatrists even gave the following warning to a colleague of his who was covering for him while he went on vacation and he did so right in front of me. He said "Be careful of Eric. He knows as much if not more about psychopharmacology than we do!" And, I did, because I made it point to know more than they. I had had the requisite knowledge to be able to read and understand the very same books that they read and I did.

    But unfortunately the illness progressed and the suffering became unbearable. This finely forced me to accept my illness and seek help. I was fortunate enough to find an excellent doctor who was able to find an atypical neuroleptic, i.e. low doses of seroquel that effectively treated my manic delusions while at the same time potentiating the therapeutic effects of the two antidepressants that I am currently taking, namely the SSRI Zoloft and the strong neuroepinphrine and weak dopomine reuptake inhibitor, Wellbutrin.

    So like John Nash, I have pretty much recovered from my disorder. But, also like John Nash I do miss the liberating aspect of not being totally in touch with reality. Personally, I think reality is highly overrated! LOL J/K...sort of. ;-)

    Very best,
    P.S. I love the awesome picture of the whole brain and its functions that you posted, Andi! It's very cool!

    Cool article. 
    You have to wonder if this is partly responsible for the increase in mental disorders in developed nations.
    I will have to keep your site book marked . I am diagnosed with Bipolar and PTSD and have had schizophrenic episodes (rarely) during times of cycles they come only every few years . I am on medication and have been on several medications .

    I am a 53 year old male in upper grad school getting my master's degree .

    I am guessing that in the name of sparing us you did not detail the protocol for the stressors in the experiments that are the basis for your article. Personally I believe the dividing line between "mild stress," or constructive stress, and damaging stress--at what ever level that occurs--is central to the practical application of your advice.

    Some years ago I read the book BODY, MIND, AND SPORT by John Doullard wherein he theorized that athletic training suffered when the body shifted from the parasympathetic to the sympathetic ("fight-or-flight") nervous system, or more carefully when the sympathetic nervous system becomes more active. When you are running if you pay close attention there is an instant where the physiology shifts from "stretch" to "stress"--(my language)--which for better or worse I have attributed to this shift.

    Doullard's theory's merits notwithstanding, is there any further direction you can provide us regarding the shift from "constructive stress" to "damaging stress"? Are there some physiological or endocrinological events that might account for these results? Do the stressor protocols in the experiments provide any clues or direction? Would you conjecture any possible psychological cues that might demarcate constructive from damaging stress? Put differently, can you provide us something to hang onto comparable to what Doullard's imagery--for good or naught--did for me lest we give our children PTSD or give them no useful stress at all? childhood was far more stressful than my adulthood (which I am now in the middle of) and I can't say I'm the better for it. The examples cited in the above article, other than bullying, are hardly stressors. Although I have not read the original research article, it sounds as though there might be a definitional problem.
    Regarding bullying: if an adult is held up in the street, would you suggest he be "taught how to handle it?" Bullying is violent behavior which should be restrained by society. I don't know how exactly a child is supposed to "handle" being piled on and assaulted by several other students, especially when the assault is sexual.

    What doesn't kill you only makes you stronger. These are words of wisdom based on experience and basically summarize your points. :-) As it also applies to children.

    I love chemical and physical explanations. The only trouble I have with this kind of research, is that generally speaking, the scientific methods are not sound. Too much jumping to conclusions from observations to theory.

    Other than that I whole heartily agree with you. Children needs challenges to learn mastering. Life is brutal and learning how to cope with that is per definition stressful. Good parents guide their children through these learning processes without 'killing'  them. Or rather, hopefully you child will not get too big mental and/or physical scars from learning.

    I'd say that overly protected children are left with scars that might be fatal in adulthood.

    But then again, I'm a Viking. I probably don't have a saying here. :-)
    Bente Lilja Bye is the author of Lilja - A bouquet of stories about the Earth
    Gerhard Adam should teach him how to handle bully situations, so when the time comes and he is bullied (and it happens to everyone at some point), he is able to have some strategies in place to deal with it himself. Or if he gets bullied and is unprepared for it, discuss it with him rationally.
    While I agree with this statement, I also found it to be naive when it comes to our society and how it deals with confrontations. 

    Not everyone will deal well with each situation, but we often place far too many controls on possible outcomes, especially when it comes from those that are supposed to be in charge. 

    I would be really curious to know what the proposed solution to bullying is.  I certainly have a perspective, but I'd be curious as to how this is "rationally" conveyed to a child.
    Mundus vult decipi
    as long as the Schoolyard Code of Thou Shall Not Fink is a big part of the culture, we won't be able to eliminate bullying - because in the peer's view the fink act is worse than the person who inspired the finking.

    It's astonishing to me that even adults get angry and claim "you got me in trouble" - without ever realizing that it was their own choice of words or behaviour that was the problem - not that it was reported.

    Gerhard Adam
    Even so, I don't think that reporting changes much.  It's sort of like the idea of restraining orders .... how does one enforce them?
    Mundus vult decipi
    according to the excellent book "The Gift of Fear" by Gavin de Becker - a women who's being stalked by her ex is more likely to be killed after she gets a restraining order than before she gets one.

    Something about inserting an authority into the mix that challenges his perception of his own authority sending him over the edge.

    I tend to think it's better to deal with the bullies yourself, but not everyone is capable of doing it all the time, or at all.

    Gerhard Adam
    Also from Judith Rich Harris:
    Children are thinking, feeling, sensitive human beings who are completely dependent on the older people in their lives. I believe that parents have a moral obligation to provide their children, to the best of their ability, with a happy homelife. They should do this, not because they think it's going to make the child more successful in the long run, but because a child's happiness or unhappiness is important right now, today.

    The other reason why a parent's behavior matters is that it affects the parent-child relationship. Although, according to my theory, relationships have no long-term effects on personality, that doesn't mean they are unimportant. By behaving in a cruel or negligent manner, parents can ruin forever their relationship with their child, even though the child may come out of it intact (many do).

    This has got to be one of the most convoluted explanations I've ever heard.  Basically it suggests that parents behave altruistically to their children despite it having absolutely no influence on them.  Since it is only the peer group or teachers that will have an effect (of course, neglecting the explanation of where the peer group gets its values from), parenting is superfluous.

    Mundus vult decipi
    While Judith Rich Harris's conclusion--that the impact of parents on how children turn out is limited--is shocking, it is on reflection less shocking than it would seem at first glance. Research statistics are going to identify are going to identify the VARIABLES THAT MAKE A DIFFERENCE IN OUTCOMES. If almost all parents are passionately committed to raising their children to "be the best they can be," then that is not going to be a significant VARIABLE affecting the outcome of how their children turn out.

    I am speculating here that one of the variables examined in assessing the impacts of parents is their parenting philosophy--'Spare the rod, spoil the child', 'Esteem-building', etc. (Note that we have not been provided here with any of the parental variables examined much less any of the child-turned-adult outcomes that were considered.) It would be a mistake to conclude from this that passionate, committed parenting is not important. Rather the research to date has not identified parental differences that make a large difference in how our children turn out. Sorry, esteem-building (or whatever variables they have looked at so far) does not get a special commendation from our existing research, while important variables among our children's associates and our teachers' behaviors have been identified which account for how our children turn out.

    The more I write this the clearer it becomes to me that Harris's conclusions have limited value until we know what parental variables were looked at as well as what child-turned-adult outcomes were considered--(prison or not; income; mental health; or ????). I guess either Ms. Kuszewski will have to write another article, or, if all else fails, we will have to read Harris's book.

    Gerhard Adam
    In the link I referenced, Judith Harris is quite clear that she supports the null hypothesis that parenting makings no difference and exerts no influence.

    So while I can appreciate your considering that she's focusing on specific variables, that isn't what she actually says.
    Mundus vult decipi

    Methinks we are drifting somewhat away from the neuroscience. As for Judith Rich Harris, there are some interesting comments in The Parent Trap from Newsweek which includes some comments from her (scientific) peers.

    But watch out for people with an agenda, particularly this lot:

    For the power of Man to make himself what he pleases means, as we have seen, the power of some men to make other men what they please. In all ages, no doubt, nurture and instruction have, in some sense, attempted to exercise this power. But the situation to which we must look forward will be novel in two respects. In the first place, the power will be enormously increased. Hitherto the plans of educationalists have achieved very little of what they attempted and indeed, when we read them—how Plato would have every infant "a bastard nursed in a bureau", and Elyot would have the boy see no men before the age of seven and, after that, no women, and how Locke wants children to have leaky shoes and no turn for poetry—we may well thank the beneficent obstinacy of real mothers, real nurses, and (above all) real children for preserving the human race in such sanity as it still possesses. But the man-moulders of the new age will be armed with the powers of an omnicompetent state and an irresistible scientific technique: we shall get at last a race of conditioners who really can cut out all posterity in what shape they please.

    This is from The Abolition of Man.  It will be worrying if THEY get hold of better science, particularly neuroscience.

    Robert H. Olley / Quondam Physics Department / University of Reading / England
    Gerhard Adam
    But there is increasing theory and research that our brains come largely preprogramed with the essential facilities of life.  Language and social skills seem to be just two.  More and more animal studies also support much of this.
    Where is the research supporting such claims and what studies are you referring to.
    Mundus vult decipi
    The very existence of the expression 'brainwashed' is in itself a strong indication that we are not solely preprogrammed. We are all molded by our experiences - and sometimes people in power (of any sort; parents, friends, state....) take advantage of that fact and influence us in a way that they think fit them. Sometimes successfully, sometimes not.

    It is also common knowledge that the genes can outpower any kind of upbringing.

    My point is that there are several factors that form us - some inherent biology and some 'external biology' and physiological/physical factors.

    In my view you do not have to be a scientist to know all this. It is common knowledge. However, the neurological perspective and description require systematic research that is not accessible to all of us. Again, so far the science in this field is not sound enough to give accurate answers to all of these questions. Neuroscience is interesting and worthwhile though. :-)

    Bente Lilja Bye is the author of Lilja - A bouquet of stories about the Earth

    Regarding all these nature-nurture hypotheses, one always has a problem when researchers take their fellow humans as objects of study.  (And I'm not here taking into account the horrors perpetrated by nasty régimes in recent history.) 

    That being so, looking at the tendency of "the system" to try and eliminate expensively trained people (whether Welsh archers at the end of the Middle Ages or scientists today), the following suggested itself to me:

    "Congratulations, Dr Morbius!  We can halve our research budget now that you've trained your rats to experiment on each other!"

    Robert H. Olley / Quondam Physics Department / University of Reading / England
    I am not a doctor but I have 4 children, their process of growing up teach me a lot about human being character at early age. As a parent, I notice that diet play an important role in building up a child character. Children who eat more are those who have an upon character, but this does not mean the can handle stress well. On the other hand children who eat less are more active children, they normally have higher level of stress handling capability.

    It appears that diet can play a significant role in the prevention and/or development of psychosis, symptoms common in bipolar, schizophrenia etc see another scientificblogging blog titled
    Long-Chain Omega-3 Fatty Acids May Reduce Risk Of Psychotic Disorders by News Staff see for the full details, supported by a paper by G. Paul Amminger et al., called 'Long-Chain ω-3 Fatty Acids for Indicated Prevention of Psychotic Disorders: A Randomized, Placebo-Controlled Trial', Arch Gen Psychiatry, 2010, 67 (2), 146-154

    Quote “Individuals at extremely high risk of developing psychosis appear less likely to develop psychotic disorders following a 12-week course of fish oil capsules containing long-chain omega-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids”.

    Quote “The potential effects of fatty acids on psychosis development may result from changes to cell membranes and interactions with neurotransmitter systems in the brain, the authors note. "The finding that treatment with a natural substance may prevent or at least delay the onset of psychotic disorder gives hope that there may be alternatives to antipsychotics for the prodromal [early symptomatic] phase," the authors write. "Stigmatization and adverse effects—which include metabolic changes, sexual dysfunction and weight gain—associated with the use of antipsychotics are often not acceptable for young people."

    This just seems to be another example of biological science playing catch-up to what most rational people intuitively know through that mystical thing called "common sense." Thanks for the validation! What kind of money is spent on this research I have to wonder?

    I like the Chiksentmihalyi graph on this. The vertical axis is the difficulty of the skill required, the horizontal axis is mastery; to the upper left is frustration, to the lower right is boredom. In between, coming up from zero, is the avenue of flow. If you are trying to learn anything, such as the game of life, there's got to be SOME frustration; if it can be controlled through greater mastery. If it is just a frustrating situation out of one's control, it is not good. If it poses no challenge, and is boring, also not good.

    Po Bronson's last book reinforces this view

    Ascribing a diagnosis to a human being is ,in itself, a limited way of looking at anyone. It reduces people to just a set of behaviors that fire from memory stored in their mind.

    When people have done the internal research to find what is stored and put in place, as memory , a new definition of self to be explored, the result is there are less voices in the head .Finally there is only one voice governing the thinking. The description of the person in the first article who can adapt to may situations rapidly is a person who has integrated the voices under one central commander. It is amazing that the brain grows because it adapts to what is external in the environment .Stress is maybe not a useful word to describe this challenge to adapt. Change is not always comfortable. it is the way mankind has been able to evolve. To wrap kids in a bubble prevents them from leaning how to learn. This is not to say we do not protect out kids from eminent dangers . It is to say we look to nurture the skills they must have to be ever adaptive. Making then "happy" in the moment gives them no place to stand when they get on the school bus , go to college, or hold down a job.

    The work of John C Lilly explored this extensively and his work has not been applied widely.