Scientific studies have shown that certain interactions between parents and children actually change the structure of their brains, improving their social and emotional skills into adulthood.
Many teens in the Allegheny Youth Development Judo class signed up to practice basic self-defense. Beyond training their bodies, the boys and girls are learning principles of self-control that give them a mental and emotional edge.
University of Pittsburg psychologist Jamie Hanson studies the brain to document changes that occur after activities that stress self-regulation, such as a Judo class.
Researchers gathered data from over 600 participants in an intervention developed at the University of Georgia, designed and implemented in surrounding communities. It was designed to improve warmth, supportiveness and positive caregiving between parents and kids living in poverty.
Later, as adults, 100 of the participants underwent brain scans. Hanson examined the two parts of the brain important in self-regulation. Even years later, positive brain changes were evident.
Hanson said parents can support the development of self-regulation through responsive parenting and helping their kids develop concrete goals for the future.
Hanson said the research suggests that if communities make investments in programs to support families that are integrative and effective, it’s possible to see benefits for decades.