Have you ever wondered why some kids can weather tough, even traumatic home conditions and go on to become successful, well adjusted people, while others suffer so greatly in a negative environment?
It’s a really important line of thinking in child development: we’re realizing that kids who are biologically wired to be sensitive to their surroundings (these may be little ones whose nervous system seem quick to react, who may melt down a little more easily, need a bit more nurturing — you know the ones) can either struggle more than their even-keeled peers, or actually surpass them.
A forthcoming study in the journal Psychological Science gives us a piece of the puzzle here by identifying a gene that our delicate flowers may inherit and showing how it combines with home environment to affect a child’s future:
The scientists tracked kids ages 5 to 17 who had inherited certain forms of a gene CHRM2 (The gene regulates the neurotransmitter acetylcholine, which boosts brain activity and is involved in learning and memory).
Those with the gene who were raised with “insensitive” parents had higher rates of delinquency and aggression than peers with similar environments but without the gene. But the ones who had “involved” parents (let’s assume we’re not talking your average attentive parent) were actually better adjusted than average.
Same gene + different environments = opposite effects.
It makes sense from an evolutionary perspective, doesn’t it? As humans we have to be flexible enough to adapt to whatever environment we’re born into, and some kids have an extra-flexible genetic make up. In the right conditions, this go inordinately well for these little homo sapiens. When things are sub-par, they suffer even more than other kids with a more hearty temperament.
The research suggests about 20 percent of kids are little “orchids.” Do you have one? Do you see that your child is more sensitive to the environment? Have you ever seen it as a benefit (if you haven’t, consider the possibility!)