Expert Says Stress Levels in Children Could be Key Variable in Neurological Development

“We’re living in the midst of a revolution in neuroscience, molecular biology and genomics,” said Dr. Jack Shonkoff, chairman of the National Scientific Council on the Developing Child, at Tuesday’s “Breakthrough Research on Building Better Brains” presentation in Atlanta. The lecture, sponsored by the Arthur M. Blank Family Foundation Speaker Series and the national nonprofit research center Child Trends, focused on the influence of “toxic stress” on the development of children, which Dr. Shonkoff called both a major psychological and physiological detriment to youngsters. He began the presentation by speaking about the “plasticity” of brains for young children, which he said is firmly influenced by early childhood experiences. “Early life experiences are built into our bodies, for better or for worse,” Dr. Shonkoff said. “Things that happen early in life are creating physiological changes later on.”

He said children that experience a lack of response from adults, primarily parental figures, in their formative “birth-to-5” years are much likelier to suffer from “toxic stress,” which he said may potentially weaken neuroconnectors in the brain.

Webcast Highlights Research on Juvenile Brain Development

New research on brain development showing abuse, neglect and poverty may have lifelong negative consequences for children will be featured in a program sponsored by the Arthur M. Blank Family Foundation Speaker Series. Dr. Jack Shonkoff, director of Harvard’s Center on the Developing Child, will present a program Feb. 28 titled “Breakthrough Research on Building Better Brains.” Shonkoff’s research identifies “toxic stress,” persistent, highly adverse experiences that damage a child’s brain circuits. Toxic stress may include living with physical abuse, emotional abuse, neglect, exposure to violence, severe maternal depression and prolonged economic hardship. Consequences of living with toxic stress may persist into adulthood and include poor learning and higher rates of heart disease or substance abuse.

What Does Brain Development Have to do With Teen Behavior?

As I read about or listen to parents of adolescents, the most common comment I hear is that their kids seem to be regressing not progressing. Complaints of irresponsible behavior, disrespect, and unpredictable, often-explosive emotions seem to be the mantra of many parents of teens. In some cases this could also involve high-risk behaviors such as drinking, drug use and other illegal or morally questionable activities. Although these behavioral changes around adolescence are hard to deal with, new research in brain development suggests they are fairly easy to explain.

May 20, 2011

READ UP:

Australian Import “Planking” Surges in Popularity: But Why? The Straight Dope on Fake Dope

Conference Explores Adolescent Brain Development

Host: Ryan Schill
Video: Clay Duda