Understanding childhood temperament and its impact on behaviours in adulthood has been highlighted in a new report about the Australian Temperament
The Australian Temperament Project
Edited by Suzanne Vassallo and Ann Sanson
This report highlights some key learnings about human development from the Australian Temperament Project (ATP) - a groundbreaking longitudinal study that, to date, has followed a large group of Victorians from their birth to age 30 years.
The ATP is a joint project between the Australian Institute of Family Studies, the Royal Children's Hospital, the University of Melbourne and Deakin University and is one of only a few in the world with information on three generations of study members - the young people, their parents, and now the young people's own children.
The key messages from the past 30 years which are outlined in the report include:
- Temperament is relatively stable over time, with many children showing small changes but very few children changing radically.
- More "difficult" infant temperament characteristics can lead to behavioural and emotional adjustment problems in early childhood and beyond, particularly if there are other risks in a child's life.
- Temperament can be modified through experiences such as the style of parenting a child receives.
- ATP research confirms the importance of identifying children who are having learning and behavioural difficulties as early as possible, to prevent these difficulties persisting across development.
- ATP research also shows that it is possible for children to recover from early learning problems.
- Shyness, irritability and troubles with peers or parents may increase the risk of young people experiencing ongoing problems with anxiety or depression.
- Children with high anxiety or depression may be more likely to overcome their symptoms if they develop good social skills, have better parent and peer relationships and more positive school experiences.
- Genetic factors appear to increase the risk of anxiety and depression for some people, along with a range of other influences.
- Most adolescents do not engage in high levels of antisocial behaviour, and for those who do, it is often only for a short time. Heavy alcohol use is quite common. For many, but not all, heavy use results in a range of harms.
- ATP findings have yielded major insights into the factors that can be targeted to prevent antisocial behaviour and problematic substance use, including individual characteristics (e.g., social and emotional resiliency), and family, peer and school factors.
- Many experiences in childhood and adolescence, such as strong relationships, better control over emotions, and an interest in being involved in the community help young people to flourish as they become adults.
- Although many young adults engage in risky driving on an occasional basis, only a small number frequently take risks when driving. This group can be distinguished from other drivers by characteristics they display in childhood and adolescence.
- Risky drivers are more likely to engage in other risky behaviours such as antisocial behaviour and drug use.
- Most parents share close relationships with their sons or daughters over the transition from adolescence to early adulthood. However, parents' perceptions of their roles seem to change over this period, with many moving away from providing practical support to taking a more advisory role.
Authors and Acknowledgements
First and foremost, the Australian Temperament Project (ATP) would not be celebrating the important milestone of 30 years without the ongoing support of the study’s families. The authors of the report would like to express their heartfelt thanks to the young people and their parents and teachers who have participated in the ATP over all these years, for their wonderful loyalty and interest in the study.
The enthusiasm and commitment of the many researchers and postgraduate students who have worked on the ATP has been another key factor in its longevity and success. While we cannot name them all individually here, many have contributed to writing this report, and we cite some publications of others who have worked on the ATP within the report. We gratefully acknowledge the contributions of these people and all others who have helped to collect and analyse the massive ATP dataset.
We would also like to acknowledge the support of the many organisations that have provided funding over the life of the ATP. These include: the Australian Institute of Family Studies, the Australian Research Council, Deakin University, Financial Markets for Children, La Trobe University, Murdoch Childrens Research Institute, the National Health and Medical Research Council, the R. E. Ross Trust, the Royal Automobile Club of Victoria, the Royal Children’s Hospital Research Foundation, the Transport Accident Commission of Victoria, the University of Melbourne, the Victorian Department of Education (now Department of Education and Early Childhood Development), the Victorian Department of Justice, and the Victorian Health Promotion Foundation.
Vassallo, S., & Sanson, A. (Eds.). (2013). The Australian Temperament Project: The first 30 years. Melbourne: Australian Institute of Family Studies.
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