Parenting Can Influence Odds For Antisocial Behavior In Children

A father feeds his son during meal time.
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Findings of a new study have revealed that how parents deal with their children at home can have significant impact that can affect the children’s odds of having limited empathy and lack of guilt.

In a new research published in the Journal of the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, researchers found that less parental warmth and having harsher home environments can contribute to how aggressive children become.

Parenting also contributes to whether or not children lack empathy and moral compass, a group of characteristics that mark callous-unemotional (CU) traits.

Rebecca Waller, from the University of Pennsylvania, and colleagues involved 227 pairs of identical twins to find out if small differences in the parenting that each twin experienced can predict the odds that antisocial behaviors would emerge.

Waller and colleagues learned that the twin who received stricter or harsher treatment, and less emotional warmth from the parents tend to have a greater chance of exhibiting aggression and CU traits.

“Parenting is related to child CU traits and aggression, over and above genetically-mediated effects, with low parental warmth being a unique environmental correlate of CU traits,” Waller and colleagues wrote in their study, which was published on Oct. 9.

The work is part of a series of studies that the researchers conduct to assess the different aspects of parenting.

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The initial research that involved biological parents and children revealed that parental warmth has an important role in the development of CU traits. A subsequent study involving children and parents who are not biologically related to them showed similar results.

In the new study, the researchers asked the parents of the 227 pairs of identical twins to complete a 50-item questionnaire about their home environment. The participants also established their warmth and harshness levels by rating statements in the questionnaire.

The researchers then assessed the behavior of the child by asking the mother to report on 35 traits that are associated with aggression and CU traits.

The findings revealed that parenting, and not just the genes, plays a part in the development of risky CU traits.

“Because identical twins have the same DNA, we can be more sure that the differences in parenting the twins received affects the development of these traits,” Luke Hyde, from the University of Michigan, said in a statement published by the University of Pennsylvania.

In a 2017 interview with The Telegraph, Stephen Scott, from the Institute of Psychiatry at King’s College London, said that in extreme cases, children who display CU traits could become a criminal psychopath later in life.