A project of the Child Trends News Service supported by the National Science Foundation

Neighborhood Quality Influences Kids’ Behavior

BALTIMORE, Md. (Ivanhoe Newswire) — According to experts, neighborhoods with abandoned homes and garbage-filled lots could be more than just eyesores for those living nearby. New research suggests that the perceived quality of a neighborhood may influence a child’s behavior though his or her teens, and possibly beyond.

A clean, safe place to play—what other factors do parents perceive as making a neighborhood high-quality or poor-quality for raising kids? This East Baltimore neighborhood was the inspiration for one area of public health research. Social scientist Mengying Li, PhD, lived here while attending graduate school.

“Once I actually heard a gunshot at my doorstep, and like probably a teenager got shot in his back,” detailed Li.

Li and fellow researchers at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health studied data on 3,500 children over 10 years, from birth to age 12. Researchers say that parents rated the perceived quality of their neighborhood for raising children, with a score of one being the poorest to a high of five. Many of the poor-quality neighborhoods had dilapidated homes, garbage, signs of drug use on the sidewalks, and lots of noise.

“Children who live in poor-quality neighborhoods would have more externalizing behaviors,” explained Li.

Problem behaviors in kids—like fighting, bullying, cheating, or being destructive—predicted more serious outcomes later in life, but researchers say that caregivers can help a child change direction.

“If there is a change of environment—say, if they have improvements in their family relationship or the neighborhood condition—they actually might have an opportunity to improve,” Li told Ivanhoe.

Researchers say that most caregivers knew they were living in a neighborhood that wasn’t the best for raising kids, but were unable to leave for a number of reasons, including the cost of housing, proximity to jobs, and childcare. Researchers say that future studies may measure whether current housing programs can mitigate some of those factors and impact a child’s behavior.

Contributors to this news report include: Cyndy McGrath, Supervising and Field Producer; Milvionne Chery, Assistant Producer; Roque Correa, Editor and Videographer.

Produced by Child Trends News Service in partnership with Ivanhoe Broadcast News and funded by a grant from the National Science Foundation. 

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