How does moving affect children's social life?

Childhood: Frequent moves increase health risks

Manchester (Great Britain) - Repeated changes of residence in childhood and adolescence can have negative effects later in life: the number of moves experienced as a child increases the risk of active violent crime and attempted suicide as well as mental disorders and substance abuse for adults. In addition, the likelihood of death increases in middle age. In 12 to 14 year olds, the connection between moving house and long-term effects was particularly pronounced, as a British-Danish research team has now reported in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine. School education and the parents' financial circumstances, on the other hand, do not play an important role. Teachers and doctors should be more aware than before of the potentially serious problems that children may have.

Roger Webb of the University of Manchester and colleagues write that further research is necessary to understand how changes of residence can have such serious effects in childhood. Their study collected data from all nearly 1.5 million children born in Denmark between 1971 and 1997 to Danish parents. The researchers documented every change in residence up to their 15th birthday. Moves within the same city were not taken into account. Up to 2013, all cases of violent crimes and attempted suicide, diagnoses of mental illnesses, drug use and causes of death were determined with the help of appropriate state registers. In addition, information was available on the level of education, income and employment of the parents. Due to the availability of extensive national data registers, Denmark is the only country for which such a study can be carried out, says Webb.

In their first 15 years of life, 37 percent of children had moved to another city at least once. The associated negative consequences were all the more serious the older the child was when they moved. The following applies to every age: the more moves, the more serious the recorded effects in later life. The likelihood of suicide attempts and criminal violence, psychiatric treatment and substance abuse, and the risk of dying from accident or illness increased. Contrary to expectations, a low family income or a low level of education and insecure employment of the parents did not increase the negative consequences of moving.

In theory, frequent moves could be a sign of psychosocial problems in poor families. Then a disturbed family life would be the actual trigger for the fact that the children, as adults, tend to suffer from mental and physical problems. However, since the proven close connection was equally strong in families of all socio-economic social classes, the frequent changes of residence themselves are to be assumed as the more likely cause, the authors write. For schoolchildren in particular, a new place of residence is associated with multiple stresses: former social ties are destroyed, new friendships have to be built in a new environment, while puberty brings with it serious changes in life. Schools, health services and social institutions should be made aware, according to the researchers, that adolescents need special care in a new place of residence - regardless of the educational level and income level of the parental home.

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