44 Parent Stress and Adolescent DNA Change

Based on Research by Marilyn J. Essex, Ph.D. Psychology Science Minute written by Kyle Piecora, B.S.

Parents worry about giving their children proper nutrition, and a good environment. And we know that a stressful home environment often affects a child’s psychological development. But recent research has discovered that it affects even more than that. Parental stress can affect the expression of genes in  young children.

Universities of Wisconsin and British Columbia researchers looked at the way stress can affect the genes of offspring.  They measured the stress levels of 109 parents at different stages of their children’s development.  At the same time, they collected DNA samples from the children’s cheeks.  They found that maternal stressors in infancy and paternal stressors during preschool years were most strongly predictive of altering DNA methylation in adolescence.  Methylation, meaning the gene expression pattern in cells, can influence early development. These cells may impact later behavioral and health problems such as heart disease, diabetes, depression, substance abuse, and accelerated aging.

While a child’s genes for the most part are dictated at conception, the environment is able to change how  genes  are expressed.  As a parent, this means that taking care of yourself is vital for your child’s development.  When you are feeling stressed, relax.  Take moments for yourself!  You can literally save them from future physical and mental health difficulties.


Essex, M. J., Boyce, Hertzman, C., Lam, L. L., Armstrong, J. M., Neumann, S. M. A., & Kobor, M. S.  (2011).  Epigenetic vestiges of early developmental adversity: Childhood stress exposure and DNA methylation in adolescence.  Child Development, 00(0), p. 1-18.

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