Link copied to clipboard

Bad Behavior? Check the Air Quality

Dr. Patricia Nan Anderson


Two studies that surfaced this week point to poor air quality as a trigger for children’s bad behavior. One points to second-hand smoke as the air pollution culprit. The other fingers pollution from automobile traffic.

A Canadian study followed children who were exposed to second-hand tobacco smoke in their early childhood years. The study found that these children more than kids who lived in smoke-free homes grew up to be aggressive and antisocial.

The study looked at over 2,000 children from birth to age 10 and compared their exposure to second-hand smoke to their teachers’ and the children’s own reports of their behavior. According to the study’s main author, “Those having been exposed to secondhand smoke, even temporarily, were much more likely to report themselves as being more aggressive by time they finished fourth grade.”

This result was obtained regardless of whether children were exposed to smoke before birth. This is a key finding, since many mothers give up smoking during pregnancy but return to it after children are born. Many parents and grandparents smoke in the home or in the car when children are present. As the study pointed out, even temporary exposure matters.

The second study, conducted by the University of Cincinnati and Cincinnati Children’s Hospital, found that early exposure to traffic-related air pollution leads to high levels of hyperactive behavior at age 7.

Children were followed from birth for seven years, at which point parents were asked to rate their children’s behavior. The results were compared to whether the families lived close to or far from a major highway or bus route. Parents’ reports indicated that the greater the exposure to traffic-related air pollution, the more likely were children to be diagnosed with ADHD, attention problems, aggressive behavior and other difficulties with social interaction.

The study’s authors noted that about 11% of the U. S. population lives within about 100 yards of a four-lane highway and that 40% of children attend a school that is a quarter-mile or closer to a major roadway.

Moving to the country may not be possible for your family. But these two studies point up the importance of being aware of everyday toxins and to limit children’s exposure to these. It’s important to be aware of toxins, not only before birth, when everyone is on alert for the baby’s health, but throughout the early childhood years and beyond.

These studies also point out that children’s behavior is influenced by their surroundings. It doesn’t occur in a vacuum. When seeking solutions to behavior issues, smart parents pay attention to even seemingly unrelated possibilities. Even to air pollution.

© 2013, Patricia Nan Anderson. All rights reserved.

share this
Follow Us

Dr. Patricia Nan Anderson

Dr. Patricia Anderson is a nationally acclaimed educational psychologist and the author of “Parenting: A Field Guide.” Dr. Anderson is on the Early Childhood faculty at Walden University and she is a Contributing Editor for Advantage4Parents.