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Study says kids with strict parents are more likely to develop depression

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Vienna, Austria – Children with strict parents are more likely to develop depression, according to new research. University of Leuven researchers say an authoritarian style alters a child’s brain wiring, making them more likely to develop mental health problems.

“We discovered that harsh parenting, perceived as physical punishment and psychological manipulation, can introduce an additional set of instructions on how a gene is read to fix it in DNA. We have some indication that these changes may predispose the growing child to depression. This is equally true if children are raised in a supportive way. not,” explains lead author Dr. Evelien Van Assche in a media release.

The discovery could lead to a screening program to identify vulnerable individuals. Estimates suggest that roughly one in 10 Americans struggles with depression. The findings go against the old adage that an undisciplined child will never learn obedience and manners.

The study was based on 23 Belgian boys and girls aged 12 to 16 years who reported that their parents were harsh that included manipulative behavior, corporal punishment or excessive rigidity. The team compared them to a similar number of peers, matched by age and gender, who said their parents were supportive and gave them autonomy.

Does strict parenting really change your child’s DNA?

Genome mapping showed that the former group had increased variation in ‘methylation’ linked to depression. Many have already shown initial, subclinical signs. Methylation is a normal process that occurs when a small chemical molecule is added to DNA, changing the way instructions are read. For example, it can increase or decrease the amount of an enzyme produced by a gene.

“We based our approach on previous research with identical twins. Two independent groups found that the twin diagnosed with major depression had a higher DNA methylation range for most of these hundreds of thousands of data points compared to the healthy twin,” says Dr. Van Assche.

The University of Leuven team measured the methylation range at more than 450,000 locations in each child’s DNA. It was much higher in those who reported being harshly bred.

“The DNA remains the same, but these additional chemical groups affect how instructions from the DNA are read. Those who reported more harsh parenting had a tendency to depression, and we believe this tendency is ingrained into their DNA through increased variation in methylation. Now, we can close the loop by linking it to a later diagnosis of depression.” Are we and perhaps seeing if we can use this increased methylation variation as a marker to give advance warning of who may be at higher risk of developing depression as a result of their upbringing,” adds Dr. Van Assche, now at the University of Munster.

“We investigated the role of harsh parenting in this study, but any significant stress is likely to lead to such changes in DNA methylation; so in general, stresses in childhood can change the way your DNA is read, leading to a general tendency towards depression in later life. But these results need to be confirmed in a larger sample.”

There is growing evidence that strict parenting can harm a child.

Previous research has linked strict parenting to children with depression, anxiety, and aggression. Scientists claim that their offspring struggle to form emotional relationships as they get older and also have trouble with educational attainment.

“This is an extremely important study for understanding how negative experiences in childhood affect lifelong outcomes for both mental and physical health. “We have a lot to gain if we can understand who is at risk, but if we can understand why strict parenting has different effects,” says Professor Christiaan Vinkers of the University of Amsterdam Medical Center.

“We show that increased variability in DNA methylation is already present in adolescents experiencing negative parenting and subclinical depressive symptoms, consistent with previous results. These findings may indicate that environmental stress may affect DNA methylation regulatory mechanisms, which could lead to a higher overall variability for the chronically stressed group. The results match the growing evidence that chronic distress, such as perceived bad parenting, is associated with DNA methylation changes,” the researchers conclude their presentation at the 35th European College of Neuropsychopharmacology annual conference.

South West News Service writer Mark Waghorn contributed to this report.