Don’t Spare the Children… Resilience Can Boost Life Spans

A longevity study has shed light on what parents should teach their children, writes Gregory Ramey.

Living a long life involves a lot more than just eating well, exercising and getting plenty of sleep. Certain psychological and social traits may be the key to living into your 80s and beyond, research shows.

Psychologist Lewis Terman began collecting data in 1921 on the lives of 1500 children to determine what factors relate to longevity. The results have important implications for the way we raise our children, according to Howard Friedman's summary of key findings in an American Psychological Association journal.

Friedman examined the research in The Longevity Project, a book he co-wrote with fellow psychology professor Leslie Martin. The findings include:

Stress is not always bad. "Those who worked hardest lived longest. Responsible and successful achievers thrived in every way, especially if they were dedicated to things and people beyond themselves," Friedman said.

Conscientiousness also correlates with living a long life. Conscientious people tend to live healthier lives, be involved in positive relationships and have better work experiences.

A strong sense of resolve is also critical, since research shows "persistence turns out to be one of the best predictors of health and long life".

This study found the single strongest social predictor of an early death in adulthood was parental divorce in early childhood. But that doesn't mean divorce is always bad for children, says Friedman. Divorce represents a serious stress but it can promote resiliency in kids if managed successfully.

Marriage does not always correlate with a long life, particularly for women. The quality of marriage is the key. Women who separate from unhealthy relationships live longer than those in unhappy marriages.

The research provides lessons in the way children are raised. It suggests parents stop trying to protect children from stressful events. Eighty years of research indicates this is the wrong approach. Teaching children how to handle tough situations can build emotional resiliency that will help for the rest of their lives.

It also shows that traits such as persistence and conscientiousness are highly correlated with living a long life. Children should be encouraged to exhibit good self-control rather than to have a positive self-concept. This means saying "no" to something that may feel good today for the benefit of something better tomorrow.

Complimenting children for having good self-control and not acting impulsively on their feelings might help foster perseverance.

The Longevity Project shows divorce can put children at substantial risk, but probably less so than growing up in a psychologically unhealthy home.

Teaching children how to develop and nurture relationships is vital. They learn from watching how their parents treat each other and others rather than listening to what they say.

By Gregory Ramey, child psychologist. The New York Times

Source: Sydney Morning Herald -

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This entry was posted in Child Brain Development, Child Health & Development, Parenting & Education.

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