Are Your Parents Responsible for Your Stress?

According a to a new study led by Daniel A. Hackman of the University of Pennsylvania’s Department of Psychology, a person’s stress response is directly shaped by the way in which they were raised by their parents. There is an abundance of research focused on how various factors affect the psychosocial and psychological development of children. Studies have examined maternal depression, maltreatment, child abuse, domestic violence, parental substance abuse, and socioeconomic status, among other variables, to determine how each of these affects the outcome of children independently and together. However, until now, the effect of parental sensitivity and responsivity, irrespective of other factors, has not been examined in detail.

For his study, Hackman assessed caregiver warmth and responsivity in a sample of 55 children when they were 4 years old. When the children reached adolescence, they underwent stress response tests and were evaluated for stress reactivity. Hackman also evaluated all other contributing factors in order to see if these were responsible for the stress reactions of the children. But after he analyzed his data, Hackman discovered that caregiver warmth and responsivity were uniquely and independently predictive of stress reactivity. For example, among the children who had experienced trauma or abuse, Hackman was able to show that despite these vulnerabilities, those exposed to less warmth and less sensitivity when they were young were at greater risk for stress reactions than children with a history of trauma who had warmer, more sensitive caregivers.

The responsiveness of parents was particularly influential of stress reactivity, even in participants who experienced physical punishment from their caregivers. Additionally, Hackman found that mental health challenges of parents and environmental hazards, such as exposure to violence, drugs, and other negative life events, did not impact the effect of caregiver responsiveness or sensitivity. “Therefore, “Hackman added, “This study demonstrates in a novel and precise fashion that early childhood parental responsivity prospectively and independently predicts stress reactivity in adolescence.”

Hackman, D.A., Betancourt, L.M., Brodsky, N.L., Kobrin, L., Hurt, H., et al. (2013). Selective impact of early parental responsivity on adolescent stress reactivity. PLoS ONE 8(3): e58250. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0058250

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  • Meredith


    April 24th, 2013 at 3:48 AM

    So much of who we are and what we become is strongly influenced by our parents. But there does come a time when you have to out your big girl pants on and break free from that if you don’t like the person that it has forced you to become. You are an adult, and there are ways to break free of the past, even if it is hard there are strategies to get you there. You simply have to be willing to take a good hard look at what needs to change and make it happen.

  • Rena


    April 24th, 2013 at 8:49 AM

    Oh, you have got to be kidding. More for my kids to blame me for. Awesome.

  • jessey


    April 24th, 2013 at 8:53 AM

    i just keep hearing all this stuff about how you have to be warm to your kids and i’d like to know exactly what that means. do anyone on here know.

    i think i’m good to my kids some people might not see it that way though how can you know. i don’t think kids need babying i think they need to learn that the world is tough and they can either be tough or get hurt alot.

    anyways, if you know what i’m talkin about and can help me i’d apprecitae it…

  • Wyatt


    April 24th, 2013 at 8:56 AM

    Well, this could probably explain a lot about my older daughter. When she was 4 1/2, her little sister was born. My wife and I were very stressed so we weren’t very patient with our older daughter. She did get a lot of really positive attention from my mother, but not from us. Fast forward to when my older daughter was 13 and a failed suicide attempt as a response to a stressful situation. Yep, we screwed that one up. Parents of the year, party of two.

  • max d.

    max d.

    April 24th, 2013 at 8:58 AM

    So what you are saying is that. Once again mom and dad are to blame. Why. Why is it that mom and dad always get the blame. I just don’t. really get it, why can’t people realize that once you are an adult you are responsible. for your own actions, and you can’t blame. Your mom and dad for everything. For crying out loud. This is so rediculous. To me anyway.

  • Danika


    April 24th, 2013 at 9:00 AM

    Sure hope young parents will read this and realized how important what they do when their kids are little is.

  • Rachel


    April 24th, 2013 at 1:20 PM

    Remember it’s about the kids, not a parental gilt trip. It’s vital for us to take an honest look at how we are parenting, no one is perfect but parenting is a huge responsibilities. It takes support for both parent and child to get their needs met if that mean leaning on trusted family and friends (remember the saying: it takes a village to raise a child). If any of us grow up with troubling issues its our responsibility as grown ups to seek the help we need, but doesn’t make our role as a patent any less needed. It’s a complex dynamic, be easy on yourselves and continue to love and care for your child no matter what happens to them.

  • tyler t

    tyler t

    April 25th, 2013 at 4:04 AM

    Why does it always have to be about the parents?
    I mean, I guess I can see that they are the people that you look to when you are young to show you how they manage stress and you take your cues from them.
    But I think that as you get older you get a better sense for what works best for you and you don’t have to follow their path if this is not one that feels comfortable for you.
    I lived with two parents who drank to control their stress and stuff, but that doesn’t mean that I had to make those choices for me and I haven’t.
    You just have to know yourself, know your strengths and know where you want to go in life if you don’t want to take the same journey that your mom and dad have taken.

  • Joshua


    April 26th, 2013 at 12:58 AM

    Parents are the world to little children…because that is all they know about.Everything that they feel and know is through parents and warmth and affection thus become extremely important…Im not surprised parental warmth can be a shield Even after having been exposed to violence..after all love and care has that power and its a good good thing for children.

  • sebastian


    April 26th, 2013 at 3:59 AM

    really, you determine whether or not you will always be a cookie cutter image of the parents

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