Strict parenting may increase a child’s risk of depression later in life, a new study suggests.
Scientists say that being manipulative or harsh on children can actually change the way their bodies read DNA.
Such changes may be “hard-wired” into the DNA of children who perceive their parents to be harsh, increasing their risk of depression.
Researchers at the University of Leuven in Belgium selected 21 children who believed their parents were supportive of them.
They compared the children to 23 children whose parents were described as using manipulative behavior, corporal punishment or being overly harsh.
The children were between 12 and 16 years old.
The study found that many people who experienced severe parenting initially displayed subclinical symptoms of depression.
They also had a significantly increased range of methylation — a normal process that, when a small chemical molecule is added to DNA, changes the way the body reads the instructions written in the DNA.
Dr Evelien Van Assche, who presented the work at the European School of Neuropsychopharmacology Congress in Vienna, said: “In this study we investigated the role of harsh parenting, but any significant stress could lead to DNA This change in methylation; therefore, in general, childhood stress may contribute to a general predisposition to depression later in life by changing the way your DNA is read.”
The study has not been peer-reviewed, and the results need to be confirmed in a larger sample.
Dr Van Assche said: “Our approach is based on previous studies of identical twins.
“Two independent groups found that twins diagnosed with major depressive disorder also had a higher range of DNA methylation at most of these hundreds of thousands of data points compared to healthy twins.
“The DNA remains the same, but these extra chemical groups affect how the DNA instructions are read.
“Those who reported harsher parenting displayed a tendency to depression, which we believe has been woven into their DNA through increased methylation variants.
“We’re now investigating whether we can close the loop by linking it to a later diagnosis of depression, and possibly use this increased methylation variation as a marker to warn in advance who might develop depression as a result of their depression. The risk is greater education.”