‘Nurture’ Treatment for Genetically Troubled Youth
You’ve probably heard of women opting for mastectomies after finding out about their genetic predisposition to breast cancer, or men brushing their hair a little more gently after tests revealed a risk for male-pattern baldness. Now, a new example of preventative health measures thanks to genetic screening: counseling for “genetically troubled” youth.
For two-and-a-half years, researchers at the University of Georgia tracked 11-year-olds from 641 families: some enrolled in a family-centered prevention program called Strong African American Families (SAAF), and a comparison group. A DNA analysis showed some youths carried a genetic variation, found in around 40 percent of people, known to be associated with binge drinking and substance abuse.
According to this study, teens with the geen who partook on SAAF were no more likely than their peers without the gene to engage in drinking, pot use and sex. But youths with the gene in the comparison group were twice as likely to have gotten drunk, stoned or frisky.
The SAAF program involved weekly seminars, where parents learned about strategies like monitoring, emotional support and family communication. Teens were taught about goal-setting, as well as dealing with peer pressure and stress.
“We found that the prevention program proved especially beneficial for children with a genetic risk factor tied to risky behaviors…The results emphasize the important role of parents, caregivers, and family-centered prevention programs in promoting healthy development during adolescence, especially when children have a biological makeup that may pose a challenge.”
This “prevention program” sounds a lot like high school sex ed with a little bit of life-management thrown in – pretty harmless stuff. The less benign element of the new study is the unquestioning acceptance that this sort of “genetic screening” ought to be a determinant for how we raise our kids. If such screenings were done at birth, I can imagine an entirely new set of more serious implications. Infanticide, anyone?
And don’t even get me started on this SAAF program. Maybe teens in George are particularly well-behaved, but I know that no amount of stress-management education was going to keep me from keg stands when I was 15. Then again, I have yet to be genetically screened for binge-drinking DNA…