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How neighborhood quality could impact your child's behavior

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BALTIMORE, Md. – According to experts, neighborhoods with abandoned homes and garbage-filled lots could be more than just eyesores for those living nearby. New research suggests the perceived quality of a neighborhood may influence a child’s behavior through his or her teen years and possibly beyond. 

A clean, safe place to play is key, but 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, Ph.D., 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 Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health studied data on 3,500 children for more than 10 years, from birth to age 12. Researchers say parents rated the perceived quality of their neighborhood for raising children, with a score of one to five,  with a score of one being the poorest. Many of the neighborhoods that were rated as poor quality 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 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 said.

Researchers say 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 child care. Researchers say future studies may measure whether current housing programs can mitigate some of those factors and impact a child’s behavior.