Children who live with adversity age faster
The Sector > Research > Children who experience adversity in the early years age faster, study finds

Children who experience adversity in the early years age faster, study finds

by Freya Lucas

December 11, 2023

Children who experience adversity during their early years may undergo faster biological aging researchers have found


Thankfully, researchers also found that positive parenting interventions can potentially shield children from this consequence, helping slow the epigenetic aging process and can help children exposed to hardships turn back the clock and build biologically based resilience. 


“Our biological age or clock can sometimes tick faster than our chronological age,” Associate Professor Justin Parent explained.


“We know experiences like trauma, maltreatment, chronic stress, living in neighborhoods with high violence—all can cause wear and tear that physically ages you faster than you should,” he said. 


“We wanted to see if supporting families who are facing adversities increase positive parenting behaviors has an impact on either reversing or buffering those negative effects.”


Families with children with delays in development and disruptive behavior were randomised to receive parent-child interaction therapy (PCIT) sessions via telehealth to learn positive parenting skills or to a control group. For the intervention, therapists interacted with the families, directly coaching parents in real time on how to increase warmth and support while avoiding negative parenting behaviors like yelling or hitting.


“We know positive parenting programs like this work. They reduce disruptive behavior, increase positive parenting skills, and help families feel less stressed,” Professor Parent said. “Now, from this study, we are beginning to learn that increases in positive parenting for children with higher adversity have the potential to slow this biological aging process or potentially reverse it.”


Professor Parent is continuing to expand the study and his team will be exploring the epigenetic mechanisms of risk and resilience. His aspirational goal for this research is to develop a saliva-based biomarker for identifying children at risk for mental health struggles and develop biologically informed personalised prevention services to families.


“I hope this provides support for the importance of helping families and increasing access to services for families in need,” Professor Parent said. “Hopefully, policy makers and others will prioritise this.”


Access the study here. 

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