Why do some children of mean, neglectful or downright toxic parents become rotten human beings themselves, while their siblings thrive cheerfully? And why do certain offspring of loving, attentive parents grow into well-adjusted adulthood while their siblings become sour misanthropes? In short, why does good parenting only sometimes produce good kids, and bad parenting only sometimes produce bad kids?
The answer may lie in the genes. Specifically, the almost-famous 5-HTTLPR serotonin transporter-promoter gene, which governs the activity of the mood chemical serotonin in the brain and essentially comes in three varieties. About 1 in 5 children are born with a variant that, according to past studies, makes them highly sensitive to the effects of neglectful, insensitive or abusive parents.
A study published this week in the journal Translational Psychiatry breaks new ground in asking whether those same children might also be super-sensitive to the effects of good parenting. In three different experiments, researchers tested 1,874 children between the ages of 8 and 16 to determine which variation of the 5-HTTLPR allele they had, what their overall mood state was, and what quality of parenting they had.
After crunching the numbers, researchers found that, when blessed with especially warm and supportive parents, the kids with the same 5-HTTLPR variation that predisposed them to be sensitive to poor parenting were disproportionately likely to be very happy and well-adjusted.