Strong Parental Relationships Can Override Long-Term Effects of Stress

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Strong Parental Relationships Can Override Long-Term Effects of Stress

Poverty can have a huge impact on a child's life. / Photo by: De Visu via Shutterstock


Millions of kids around the world are suffering from poverty associated with violence. For them, childhood can be incredibly difficult. They aren't guaranteed their basic needs, or even medical treatment for illnesses. Most of them have no shoes to wear to school and only eat once every day. Although there are efforts to alleviate world poverty in the most marginalized communities, with the percentage of people living in extreme poverty being cut nearly in half, there's still much work to be done. 

In fact, the World Poverty Statistics: Global Poverty Report 2018 reported that a third of the entire urban population is living in unsafe or unhealthy homes in a crowded city. About 42% of millions of people living in Sub-Saharan Africa are living in extreme poverty. The UNICEF Child Mortality 2017 added that one in every 36 kids dies in the first month after their birth. However, this is remarkable progress compared to UNICEF's report in 1990, where there were 93 deaths every 1,000 births. 

Moreover, it is also important to measure life expectancy at birth to measure the overall health of a country, which is influenced by the quality of education, employment rates, and access to health care, among others. According to Life Water, people who live in the United States are more likely to live an average of 18 years longer than those born in Sub-Saharan Africa.

Long-Term Effects of Poverty on Children

Indeed, poverty can heavily impact the lives of many children around the world. If not addressed immediately, this global issue will only worsen. Poverty is not only the state of not having insufficient resources that ensure sustainable livelihoods such as food, clean water, clothing, and proper shelter, but also a lack of income. For the longest time, we have seen how poverty has affected our children - from hunger and malnutrition, ill health, to limited or a lack of access to education and other basic services. 

Poverty has detrimental outcomes in the physical and mental well-being of a child. According to an article by Operation Warm, there are long-term side effects that can go unnoticed such as brain development. For instance, the conditions that correspond to poverty such as substandard housing, noise, family turmoil and many more can be toxic to their developing brain. Poverty can also affect the children's self-confidence, which is crucial to their health. Without it, kids can develop various health problems or unhealthy habits. 

Previous studies have also found that kids who grew up in poverty with a lack of proper attire, healthy meals, and health coverage are more likely to acquire heart diseases in adulthood. They may also feel that they have no power to control their situation. Thus, kids learn helplessness, a behavioral pattern that can be a result of prolonged poverty.


Children who are suffering from poverty are more likely to have heart disease in adulthood. / Photo by: dimaberkut via 123rf


Poverty has also been found to have an impact on a child's education. The Urban Institute reported that there's a 30% higher chance that children who are poor from birth up to two years of age will not complete high school, compared to children who are poor for the first time later in their life. Another impact of poverty on children is toxic stress, the prolonged activation of stress response systems in the body/brain. This happens when kids experience strong and frequent emotional abuse or economic hardship without adult support. 

Another factor that can affect a child's overall well-being is the existing violence around them. According to the Independent, up to 90% of kids living in urban areas with high levels of poverty have been exposed to some level of community violence. Community violence refers to deliberate acts of interpersonal violence committed in a neighborhood which can involve a physical attack, chase, or a verbal threat. Exposure to this kind of violence can result in mental health conditions such as anxiety, depression, and post-traumatic stress disorder. 

Strong Parental Relationships

Fortunately, the negative effects of poverty or violence can actually be addressed inside the home. In a recent study conducted by researchers from the Emory School of Medicine, it was found that strong parental relationships could override some of these effects. They can also change and help how children distinguish between what's safe and what's dangerous.

The researchers, led by Jennifer Stevens and Tanja Jovanovic, used functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) in determining the impact of parental relationships in relation to the long-term effects of stress on kids. FMRI observes activity in the key area of the brain that processes fear and emotion called the amygdala. This study observed children aged eight to 13, who were shown photos of adult faces that were either neutral or expressing fear. 

According to Science Daily, the findings showed that the amygdalae of children who had experienced violence in their lives were more active when shown both faces. This suggests that these kids may have encountered or faced emotional, fight-or-flight responses which can be an adaptive response to growing up in an unpredictable or dangerous environment. Meanwhile, the amygdalae of children who hadn't experience violence were only more active in response to the fearful faces.

The study also found that the relationship of mothers with their young children affects the brain's response to potential environmental threats. Additionally, the physical distance among them can influence how kids assess danger. Thus, this indicates that even if a child grows up in a stressful environment, parental relationships can protect them. "Interventions such as parent training designed to help parents respond positively to young children might be especially important in situations that are really challenging or where there are low resources," Steven said. 



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