Children born into adversity are at increased risk for many negative life outcomes. Children from poor socioeconomic situations have less access to health care and more exposure to violence, aggression, substance use, and psychological illness. These same children are often born into single-parent households and may have unstable role models. Living conditions for children at risk include inadequate funding in educational settings and the possibility of constant relocation. All of these factors elevate the possibility of future negative behaviors for these vulnerable children. Parents who are financially strained and living in difficult situations may transfer their frustrations to their children through harsh parenting tactics. Other parents may have to move from home to home in order to maintain an acceptable quality of life for their underprivileged children.
Although it is well documented that children born into these conditions have more challenges than children born into more stable and socially advantaged conditions, little research has compared the outcomes of unpredictable childhoods to those of harsh childhoods for socioeconomically disadvantaged children. To address this void, Jeffry A. Simpson of the Department of Psychology at the University of Minnesota recently led a study that evaluated risk-taking behaviors among 165 disadvantaged children as they progressed from birth to age 23. Simpson used data from the Minnesota Longitudinal Study of Risk and Adaption and looked at how childhood environments in the first 5 years of life affected sexual risk taking, delinquent tendencies, and aggression in later life.
He found that unpredictable early life environments, those filled with partner change, residence change, and inconsistency, resulted in higher levels of risk taking than harsh environments. Specifically, Simpson discovered that the participants in the poor and unpredictable homes had more sexual partners and more criminal and aggressive behaviors than those from harsh homes. Additionally, those raised with unpredictability began sexual activity at a much earlier age and were more sexually and behaviorally inclined to take risks at age 23 than those from harsh homes. Simpson noted that these results were only evident among the children who experienced this type of situation in the first 5 years of life. There were no significant negative consequences resulting from unpredictable or harsh situations that occurred between age 6 and 16. In sum, Simpson said, “The findings of this longitudinal study contribute to the growing literature on how different forms of stress experienced during childhood are systematically linked to major life history outcomes later in life.”
Simpson, J. A., Griskevicius, V., Kuo, S.-I., Sung, S., Collins, W. A. (2012). Evolution, Stress, and Sensitive Periods: The Influence of Unpredictability in Early Versus Late Childhood on Sex and Risky Behavior. Developmental Psychology 48.3: 674-686.
© Copyright 2012 GoodTherapy.org. All rights reserved.
The preceding article was solely written by the author named above. Any views and opinions expressed are not necessarily shared by GoodTherapy.org. Questions or concerns about the preceding article can be directed to the author or posted as a comment below.