The world’s future relies upon its ability to promote the mental and physical health of the next generation which in turn depends on numerous external factors. Exposure to various situations, environments and people thereby learning to cope with catastrophe is an essential part of a healthy upbringing of kids.
Response to Stress
Children exposed to stress alongside the presence of adults develop healthy stress response systems. The same children exposed to critical stress issues for a prolonged period in the absence of adult supervision experience increased emotional distress and brain functioning damage that stay as side effects forever.
Similar to how we say that healthy competition brings out the best in children, the same is applicable in the case of stress too. Stress can bring out a positive response (for example, during the first day of a new class or meeting the pediatrician for an immunization) elevating hormone levels mildly, a tolerable response that impacts the body much more strongly (such as in the case of an injury, some natural calamity or loss of a beloved one) but the child copes with the situation due to the presence of an adult without whom the consequences would be damaging or a toxic response which is commonly seen as a result of mental/physical abuse, prolonged neglect, violence or family burden, all of which happen without the presence of much parental/adult support. Toxic response to stress can have long-lasting effects on the child’s brain and impair cognitive development.
Brain Maturation Vs Delayal-The Ultimate Stress Effect
According to a new research, stress during early childhood accelerates brain maturation while stress during adolescence delays maturation. Back in 1998, 129 one-year-old babies and their parents were tested, subjected to MRI scans and followed-up on their play dates, interaction with peers, parents and caretakers and analyzed how stress in various life stages impacted the brain functioning of these children.
It is during adolescence that various structural modifications happen due to the biological changes happening in the body and the brain undergoes a trimming process wherein connections between brain cells are established such that they become more efficient and useful. Stress causes a strong impact on certain regions of the brain such as the prefrontal cortex, hippocampus and amygdala. Sadly, these are the same regions that mature during adolescence as well as involved in social-emotional functioning. These brain regions become profoundly naïve during adolescence due to increase in hormone-related stress. But, apart from the age or timing of the stress, nature of the stress can also impact neurodevelopment.
Therefore, the research team considered two different stress categories-negative life events experienced during childhood (0 to 5 years) such as divorce of parents, illness, etc. that triggered stress and stress due to negative social environment during adolescence (14-17 years) such as poor peer relationships that induce poor self-esteem and likewise. The researchers evaluated that stress during early childhood accelerated maturation of the prefrontal cortex and amygdala during adolescence whereas, stress during adolescence was connected to slower maturation of the hippocampus, anterior cingulate, parahippocampus and prefrontal cortex. Such social stress has strong ties with slower maturation of the hippocampus and a part of the prefrontal cortex.
The effects of childhood and adolescent stress on longitudinal changes (14-17 years) in grey matter volume (GMV) was analyzed on 37 (of the total 129) healthy adolescents. Greater personal stress in early childhood was attached to more reduction in GMV over the anterior prefrontal cortex, amygdala and other subcortical regions. Stress during adolescence was associated with decreased reduction of the GMV.
Growing up in a stressful environment accelerates maturation during adolescence to enable survival of the species as per the theory of evolutionary biology. But this also makes it problematic for the brain as it finds it difficult to adjust to the current environment in a flexible way. What surprised the researchers the most was the fact that stress during adolescence delayed brain maturation. Stronger the effect of stress, greater is the risk of developing antisocial personality traits.
Every child is the gift of nature and the responsibility falls totally on the parents to groom the child into a great citizen. Explore the various parenting techniques that can work wonders on your child from the website www.firsteatright.com. Create an environment in your home that spreads healthy, happy and positive vibes to your kid. Make him/her explore the beauties of life, enjoy the little fun and entertainment that life has to offer him/her and nurture them into responsible, emotionally stable and healthy citizens who can take their family forward and bring pride to the nation. Keep young kids away from stressful situations and be cautious to fight, shout or cry in their absence. Let them enjoy life as their time is not far away to shoulder responsibilities, face stressful situations and deal with mishaps.
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Dietitian & Nutritionist Dr. Nafeesa Imteyaz.