Young Parental Age May Increase Risk of Childhood ADHD

Teen parents may face an additional burden: increased risk of ADHD in their offspring.
ADHD News Feed | posted by Devon Frye

Children born to teen parents may have an increased risk for ADHD, a new study finds.

The study, published in the Journal of the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, looked at more than 50,000 individuals born in Finland between 1991 and 2005. Researchers found that having one parent younger than age 20 increased the risk of ADHD by 50 percent — and if both parents were younger than 20, the risk of ADHD nearly doubled. For reasons that have yet to be determined, researchers say, the father’s age seemed to have a slightly stronger impact on the risk for ADHD.

Previous studies have mostly looked at older parents, finding that their offspring show an increased risk for schizophrenia, autism, and bipolar disorder. However, this study — and other preliminary studies linking older parental age and ADHD — found the opposite association: older parental age (identified as more than 40 years old) was NOT associated with an increased risk of attention deficit disorder. In fact, older parents showed a slightly decreased risk.

The study controlled for factors like socioeconomic and marital status, smoking during pregnancy, and birth weight. Since ADHD is genetic, researchers say, it’s possible that the teen parents who were studied are at an increased risk for ADHD themselves — a condition which, if untreated, may have increased their risk for impulsive or unplanned pregnancies.

Yoko Nomura, Ph.D, an associate director of psychology at CUNY Queens College, was not involved in the study, but says she believes the association is due MAINLY to nurture, not nature.

“Being younger shouldn't really get 'under the skin,'” she says. “It's about providing an environment which is suboptimal for children and having an increased risk of ADHD." An important takeaway from the study, she adds, is that the father’s age seemed to have slightly more impact than the mother’s age — significant because most prenatal studies on teen parents focus primarily or even exclusively on the mother.

Researchers aren’t ready to claim that teen parenting is a direct cause of ADHD, since the results are preliminary and teen pregnancy is a complex issue involving innumerable factors. At the very least, they say, “professionals who work with young parents should be aware of the increased risk of ADHD in offspring” — which can help with early detection, ensuring children get proper treatment.

 
 
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