Teenage perceptions of household chaos predict mental health challenges in early adulthood

On PsyPost.org, Eric W. Dolan looks at new research examining perceptions of family chaos during adolescence and the associations with emotional and mental challenges later in life: 

“A recent study published in Psychological Science has found that teenagers who perceive their homes as chaotic are more likely to experience mental health issues in adulthood. The research highlights that adolescents who view their households as unstructured, disorganized, or hectic report more mental health and behavioral problems in early adulthood.

Researchers aimed to explore the long-term impact of perceived household chaos on mental health. Previous studies have shown that chaotic home environments can negatively affect children’s social, emotional, and educational development. However, it was unclear whether these effects extend into adulthood. Given that siblings can experience the same household differently, this study sought to understand how individual perceptions of chaos influence mental health outcomes later in life.

The study used data from the Twins Early Development Study, which involves twins born between 1994 and 1996 in England and Wales. Researchers focused on twins to control for genetic and environmental factors shared within families. They analyzed responses from twins at ages 9, 12, 14, and 16 about their perceptions of household chaos, as well as parent reports of household chaos at ages 9, 12, and 14. The twins’ developmental outcomes were then assessed at age 23.

The sample included 4,732 same-sex twin pairs, as opposite-sex twins were excluded to avoid confounding results due to gender differences. Measures of household chaos included a six-item scale assessing the level of routine, noise, and general environmental confusion. At age 23, the twins reported on various outcomes, including educational attainment, employment status, income, substance use, mental health, and more.

The study found that adolescents who perceived their homes as more chaotic at age 16 had worse mental health outcomes at age 23. These outcomes included higher levels of depression, anxiety, and antisocial behavior, as well as lower levels of self-control. Importantly, these associations remained significant even after accounting for family socioeconomic status and parent-reported household chaos.

The researchers found that siblings could have markedly different perceptions of their home environment.”

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