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Intergenerational transmission of parenting and self-regulation


Associate Name: Sara Johnson

Funding Source/Period of the Grant: NICHD R01 4/1/2018 -3/31/2023

Project Description

The proposed three-generation study seeks to determine whether self-regulation in childhood is a foundation for parenting in adulthood and whether a successful universal preventive intervention to improve self-regulation in childhood also improves self-regulation in the next generation. Poor self-regulation in childhood is a common antecedent of outcomes with high public health and societal burden including lower educational and occupational attainment, problem substance use, obesity, and antisocial behavior. Research has suggested that children often resemble their parents – for better or for worse. This generation-to-generation cascade fuels health disparities, limiting upward mobility. Despite the potential public health benefits of optimizing self- regulation, critical gaps in our knowledge remain, including whether better self-regulation in childhood facilitates better parenting in adulthood. Few longitudinal studies have investigated self-regulation in the same individuals over more than a few years, and cross-generational studies of self-regulation are lacking. The proposed study leverages a randomized controlled trial of a successful universal school-based intervention in Baltimore in a sample of predominately low-/middle-income African American children and their parents (generations 1 and 2). We propose to re-contact the original study children, now parents themselves, and to recruit their offspring, generation 3, to investigate the cross-generational impact of early intervention. The goals of the project are two-fold; first, to examine mechanisms of life course continuity and intergenerational transmission of parenting and self-regulation, from the first to second generations and from the second to third generations, respectively. Second, to evaluate how early intervention in childhood may modify parenting behavior and optimize self-regulation in the next generation. The primary study hypotheses are: 1) Better self- regulation in childhood will be associated with better parenting, mediated by better psychosocial adjustment during the transition to adulthood; 2) Both parenting and self-regulation will demonstrate intergenerational continuity; 3) Intergenerational and life course continuity in parenting and self-regulation can be interrupted by early intervention, resulting in discontinuity within and across generations; and 4) Offspring of participants randomized to the intervention group will show better self-regulation compared to offspring of participants randomized to the control group. This would be the first study to evaluate the cross-generational impact of a randomized universal prevention trial. Findings from the proposed study will provide key insight into strategies to scaffold self-regulatory development and parenting in communities where generational disparities take a disproportionate toll on health and opportunity, including Baltimore. If the impact of early intervention conveys to participants’ offspring, the benefit of investments in programs to optimize self-regulation childhood could be amplified across generations.