It takes a village to raise resilient teenagers

Posted on Friday, June 7, 2019

Houses in a Canadian neighbourhood.

Every parent wants to raise plucky and resilient kids, but it appears they cannot achieve this on their own: it turns out a family’s neighbourhood might be more important for children and their mental health than we thought.

Suburban neighbourhood seen from the sky.

Indeed, according to research co-led by Dr. Ian Colman from the University of Ottawa and Dr. James Kirkbride from University College London, published in Psychological Medicine, good relations and trust between neighbours seem to help protect children from the effects of stress and make them more resilient.

“Kids who live in highly cohesive neighbourhoods are less affected by stressful life events compared to those who live in neighbourhoods that are not very cohesive,” said Dr. Mila Kingsbury, the study’s first author. “We found that recent stressful life events increased by three to five times the likelihood that adolescents would be experiencing symptoms of mental disorders, such as depression, anxiety, suicidal thoughts – even to have made a suicide attempt. However, there was no association between stressful life events and poor mental health among children who lived in cohesive neighbourhoods.”

The research team reached these conclusions by analyzing data from 5,000 Canadian adolescents who participated in the National Longitudinal Survey of Children and Youth, a study run by Statistics Canada. The mothers of these children first reported on how cohesive their neighbourhood was when the children were 12 or 13 years old. Stressful life events were then recorded over a two-year period (12-13 to 13-14 years old). Children finally reported on symptoms of mental and behavioural disorders at age 14 or 15.

“A large body of research already links stressful life events to worse mental health in both children and adults, but what is particularly interesting here is that there is less research on what may protect mental health against such stressors, especially in adolescents,” concluded Dr. Colman.


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