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Tough parenting can trigger anxiety disorders

By Tim Sandle     Jun 7, 2015 in Health
A new study suggests that harsh parenting can lead to lasting damage with children, extending into adulthood. This can take the form of depression and anxiety.
According to a feature in Scientific American, parents who push their children too hard or scold them excessively can cause lasting psychological damage in the children and that these effects can stay with the children for years. With the Stony Brook University research, the reason for the constant scolding is irrelevant - pushing for better exam scores or simply for tidying up a bedroom - it is the frequency of the scolding that matters.
Although this is headline grabbing, it should be noted that the basis of the story is memories, which adds a degree of unreliability which needs to be factored into the findings. This aside, the research appears to have picked-up upon a general tendency. With the study, scientists collected childhood memories by interviewing some 4,000 adults. They then correlated these memories of childhood with the participants' self-reported mental health status.
The findings indicated that children with authoritarian parents had a far harder time adapting to adversity later in life and were more inclined to suffer from mental health problems as adults. Moreover, the findings indicted that scolded children can experience various 'troubled' feelings of humiliation, guilt, shame, anxiety, and stress. If scolding happens without sufficient positive feedback, then children may struggle to form social relationships as they grow older.
In terms of why this happens, the researchers think that a region of the brain called the anterior cingulate cortex is activated, leading to increased activity in relation to error-related negativity, a form of electrical activity in the brain. Such activity, sufficiently prolonged and intense, may leave 'trace memories' that affect future behavior and responses.
The research paper from which these findings originate is called "Psychometric properties of the error-related negativity in children and adolescents", and it was published in the journal Psychophysiology.
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