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A Reason for Low-Conflict Divorce:  Brain Research Points to Danger of Childhood Stress

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Science has confirmed stress has a negative impact on the physiological development of young children.  If you needed a reason to reduce the level of conflict in your home before, during, or after divorce, a recent study provides a good bottom line.

For the last 20 years, scientists at Radboud University in the Netherlands have followed 129 children.  In that time, researchers observed, studied, and interacted with the children, their families, and their social circle.  The wealth of information gathered during the Nijmegen Longitudinal Study provides solid data about the disadvantage of growing up in a high-stress environment.

Styles of divorce have changed over the years.  The predominant process of divorce is no longer litigation.  Mediation and negotiation reduce stress for parents and families, while at the same time helping to build more productive pathways into the future.  Even still, litigated divorce is common, and virtually no divorce is conflict free.

Children bear the brunt of any divorce

While alternative dispute mechanisms provide structure and guidance for partners to split up more amicably, going through mediation does not necessarily reduce the amount of stress borne by the unwitting victims of any divorce—the children.

The worst of any divorce is experienced by children, who do not know a world beyond what is provided by their parents.  In their study published in Scientific Reports, scientists found that stress, such as that from divorce or sickness, “prunes” and speeds up the development of areas of the brain that play a role in mediating social and emotional situations located in the prefrontal cortex, amygdala, and the hippocampus.

Oddly, the loss of flexibility is useful when a child is under stress in early life.  Notes researcher Anna Tyborowska, “From an evolutionary perspective, it is useful to mature faster if you grow up in a stressful environment. However, it also prevents the brain from adjusting to the current environment in a flexible way. In other words, the brain becomes ‘mature’ too soon.”

The study looked at negative life events and negative social influences during early childhood (between birth and five years), and adolescence (between 14 and 17 years of age).   Because the research targeted cerebral development, MRI scans were incorporated into the research study.  In adolescence, the brain naturally prunes previously created connections to develop more efficient neural networks.

Scientists found that neural pruning took place before adolescence in children under stress.  States Tyborowska, “What makes this interesting is that a stronger effect of stress on the brain also increases the risk of developing antisocial personality traits.”

It is not a surprise to find that stress is not good for children.  If you are thinking of divorce, or already involved in the process, remember that stress is not good for anyone.

Talk to a highly-qualified divorce attorney serving Baltimore County today

The Law Offices of Allyson B. Goldscher, LLC provide you with dedicated, individual legal service and strong legal representation on matters of divorce, child support and custody, and other family law issues.  When you are thinking about divorce, contact  or call us at 410-602-9522 to get trusted information about your options going forward.