Some of us have very strict parents who try to decide everything we do, from which extracurricular activities we are allowed to participate in to which friends we ought to keep. The coining of the term 'helicopter parent' (those who can be seen getting involved in virtually all aspects of their children's lives and fighting all their battles within and out of the classroom) has shed light on this global societal phenomenon.
To explore the genetic underpinnings of this phenomenon further, we'll be looking at Vulnerability to Helicopter Parenting here. Helicopter Parenting is typically defined as parental micro-management of their children's behavior, thoughts, and emotions.
As you can probably imagine, having over-controlling parents and raised in such a stressful environment can have long-lasting consequences for children, especially in relation to mental health. One important consequence is childhood and adolescent anxiety, which is a complex mental health condition that involves both environmental triggers and genetics.
Notably, having a specific variant (the 'G-allele') of the OPRM1 gene has been linked to anxiety, fear, and other signs of innate sensitivity to stressors. In other words, those who have this particular allele, regardless of who their parents are, are more at risk of becoming anxious when presented with a trigger.
In a 2017 study, Partington et al. looked at the gene-environment interaction between having a specific gene variant and over-controlling parents on the risk of developing anxiety disorder as a child. The study, which consisted of a racially and socioeconomically diverse population, involved requesting children to complete a challenging task in front of their mothers (who were requested not to help unless they determined that their children truly needed it).
Interestingly, neither parental overcontrol nor the child's OPRM1 allele alone lead to any significant change in the child's brain activity. Yet, if the child is already genetically high-risk (having the minor G-allele of the OPRM1 gene), having a micromanaging mom is significantly associated with greater reactivity in the brain. Check out the study here to learn more: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/29706406
However, we have to be mindful that the study only included 85 people (a relatively small sample size) and that anxiety disorders develop as a result of a multitude of interacting factors beyond those that were examined. In spite of these limitations, the study adds very interesting preliminary evidence about how parental overcontrol interacts with genetics to modify health risk.
So how susceptible are you to succumbing to the negative effects of your overcontrolling parents? Check Genomelink to find out!