'Orchid Children' Bloom, Wither in Response to Surroundings

For many young children, a stable family life is one key factor to avoiding a number of serious health problems.


Bruce Ellis, a professor of family studies and human development at the University of Arizona, and his colleagues found that children who grow up in supportive families are more likely to delay puberty, but only if they "are biologically sensitive to context."


Their findings are published in the latest edition of the journal Development and Psychopathology.


Ellis has coined a term for and written extensively about those children with higher biological reactivity to stress. "Orchid children," as Ellis theorizes, are predisposed to be more susceptible to their environments, for better and for worse.


"Most children survive and even thrive in whatever circumstances they encounter, like dandelions," Ellis said. "Nurtured with quality parenting and programs, orchid children can blossom spectacularly into society's happiest, most productive people. Conversely, given poor parenting and sketchy surroundings, they are at greater risk to end up wrestling with depression, substance abuse issues and even jail."


In the current study, Ellis, the John and Doris Norton Endowed Chair in Fathers, Parenting and Families at the UA Norton School of Family and Consumer Sciences, predicted that puberty in orchid children, who display heightened biological responses to challenging events, would be especially sensitive to their family experiences while growing up.


He found that orchid children who had higher quality parent-child relationships started puberty later and went through puberty more slowly. In contrast, lower quality parent-child relationships forecast the opposite pattern.


What also emerged from the research was that there were no such effects demonstrated among less context-sensitive children.

Contact name: 
Bruce Ellis
Contact email: 
bjellis@email.arizona.edu
Released date: 
Mar 18 2011