Trauma in childhood is repeated across generations, according to new research that could have implications for thousands of migrant children recently separated from their parents on the US border. UU
The study, conducted by researchers at the University of California, Los Angeles and published today in Pediatrics, finds that traumatic events in childhood increase the risk of mental health and behavior problems not only for that person but also for their children.
"Early childhood experiences – especially stressful or traumatic – have intergenerational consequences for child behavior and mental health," lead author Adam Schickedanz, clinical instructor of pediatrics at the David Geffen School of Medicine UCLA told ABC News. "This demonstrates a way in which we all carry our stories with us, which our study shows has implications for our upbringing and the health of our children."
When asked by ABC News how the research relates to the more than 2,000 children recently separated from their families after crossing the US border, Schickedanz said all of the families who participated in the study were from the US. UU But that evidence suggests the effects of adverse reactions to childhood events "charge a high price as a result of toxic stress responses that appear to be universal, as they have been demonstrated in families of diverse origins."
Researchers observed effects over a generation when a child grows up in an unstable environment, suffers negligence or has absent parents. "Based on the available evidence, one would expect that the tensions and trauma that children experience due to family separation at the border will have intergenerational consequences on behavioral health," said Schickedanz.
The study used a national sample of families from previous research: parents who had participated in a 2014 Child Development Supplement and 2,529 of their children who had complete data in the 2014 Childhood Retrospective Circumstances Study.
The severity of a child's behavior problems was measured through a scale called the behavior problem index. The researchers gave the primary caregivers of children ages 3 to 17 a series of questions to badess current problems, including anxiety, depression, dependence, hyperactivity, and aggression.
The study found a link between children with a high rate of behavioral problems and parents who had experienced a greater number of adverse childhood events, ACEs.
Parents who grew up experienced four or more adverse events before age 18-including abandonment, abuse, and family dysfunction-were more likely to have children with behavior problems, such as being hyperactive or having trouble regulating their behavior. emotions, research found
Among the group studied, a fifth of the parents had four or more traumatic experiences as children.
The researchers also found that a parent's gender was a factor in the child's outcome. The results of the children were affected more negatively when they were their mothers, instead of the parents, who suffered a trauma when they were children. The researchers explained this by pointing out that mothers are, most often, the primary caregivers.
This is the first study to show a correlation between adverse events in childhood and outcomes for children who suffered the original trauma, and researchers do not want to stop there.
"At this time, we are exploring whether these intergenerational badociations [adverse event] persist in more than one generation." In fact, the next step of our study team is to examine whether grandparents [adverse childhood events] can be linked to behavioral health. of his grandchildren. "
While this study focused on the behavioral consequences of childhood traumatic experiences, other research has shown that adverse events in childhood affect physical health, increasing the risk of chronic diseases and premature mortality later in life. life.
Denise Powell, MD candidate, is a student from Jackson, Mississippi, working at the ABC News Medical Unit.