A new study from an adolescent psychologist’s lab at the University of Virginia has discovered more evidence that kids who are not skilled at managing relationships will display physical symptoms of premature aging as adults.
Teenagers who don’t learn to manage the give and take of relationships with their peers, who can’t handle disagreements in a way that also preserves relationships, and who also don’t stand up for themselves, have aged more by the age of 30, said Hugh Kelly Professor of Psychology Joseph Allen.
Allen claims that some young individuals become enraged and violent while arguing with their friends, while others back down constantly, unwilling to express their own preferences or points of view. Both tactics, he claims, are harmful.
“Teenagers who don’t learn to manage the give and take of relationships with their peers, who can’t handle disagreements in a way that also preserves relationships, and also don’t stick up for themselves, their bodies have aged more by age 30,”Joseph Allen, the Hugh Kelly Professor of Psychology.
“The kids that perform well, on the other hand, are kids who can disagree without being disagreeable, and who can hunt for shared interests and sort of handle the fact that individuals have different interests,” he said.
He went on to say that the ability to cope begins at home, with how parents handle arguments with their children, cueing the child’s conduct.
These interactions have a snowball effect. Allen believes that the adolescent years are critical for learning to experiment with adult-like relationships and that kids who figure it out do well later in life. Those who do not prepare themselves for a life of chronic stress are setting themselves up for a host of health issues.
That proof was discovered while researching the individual’s epigenomes, which are the biological markers found on DNA and histone proteins (the spools around which DNA winds) that govern how well (or poorly) a cell will function.
As Allen explained, “The epigenome is what tells genes when to turn on and when to turn off.” For those who have a history of poor relationship management, a well-functioning epigenome in childhood can become “rusty” over time.
“The best analogy is that it’s like a scratched CD or DVD.” As a result, “the information is still there, but it isn’t being delivered as properly, and as a result, our bodies don’t work as well,” he explained.
As a result of this damage, scientists can now scan people’s blood and see into the future.
“We can take your blood and run it through this process to get a marker of your age that is a better predictor of how healthy you’re going to be in the next few years and a better predictor of how long you’re going to live than your actual chronological age,” he explained.
The findings about teenage conflict and aging are the most recent findings from Allen’s 184-participant longitudinal study, which began in Charlottesville in 1998, when participants were only 13 years old. Participants in the study, as well as their close acquaintances and romantic partners, were watched on a regular basis until they reached the age of 30.
The current study follows a 2018 discovery that prolonged teen conflict is linked to premature aging. Both discoveries were made public in the journal Development and Psychopathology.
Take note, parents.
According to Allen, this latest discovery is “the strongest overall finding in terms of predicting adult health.” But it’s really only the most recent in a long line of findings that all lead to the same conclusion. “
This is the conclusion: parents and adults in general must realize the significance of teen interactions.
“The main take-home lesson is that adults seriously undervalue and dismiss the relevance of adolescent peer connections,” he said. At the absolute least, they conclude, “Teenagers are simply far too anxious about their classmates.” They approach things as if they were life-or-death situations.
“What we’re discovering is that the teenagers are correct. To some extent, these are life-and-death issues, and the teens know deep down that these relationships and learning to handle them will be important to their long-term functioning in adulthood, both physically and emotionally.
When teenagers are exposed to harmful relationships, they display physical and epigenetic indicators of premature aging when they reach adulthood.
The source is the University of Virginia.