All the Right Moves

Teaching a hobby to kids can help protect against personality disorders

/ Author:  / Reviewed by: Joseph V. Madia, MD

On the surface, it might appear that assembling toy models or learning how to fish has little to do with developing a personality disorder (PD).

But a recent study in the current issue of the journal Development and Psychopathology suggests that taking time to cultivate a hobby or complete a complex task with a trusted adult safeguards kids against the development of PD. Spending time with children as they complete homework or even reading to them promotes psychological health in adulthood, according to the study.

"The strong interpersonal connectedness and social skills that children learn from having active, healthy engagements with adults fosters positive psychological development," said lead study author Mark F. Lenzenweger, a professor of clinical science, neuroscience and cognitive psychology at Binghamton University, State University of New York. He said children each develop their affiliation system – their “connection to the world of people” – with these interactions.

The study takes on significance considering the amount of time kids spend watching TV, surfing the Internet and playing video games. This amount of so-called “screen time” has been shown to affect kids’ well-being. Another recent study measured the amount of time kids spent in front of a screen in relation to their physical-activity levels and psychological statuses. The results found that more than two hours per day of screen time were linked to psychological difficulties – regardless of how much time these kids spent on physical activity.   

“Low levels of screen viewing may not be problematic, (but) we cannot rely on physical activity to 'compensate' for long hours of screen viewing,” said lead author Dr. Angie Page of the University of Bristol's Centre for Exercise, Nutrition and Health Sciences.

That’s where you can step in, even if you are not a parent. Other adult role models and caregivers can foster future psychological health in kids. Without imperative interactions such as teaching a kid a new skill or helping out with a hobby, “the way a child connects with other human beings can be severely impaired,” Lenzenweger said. That impairment predicts the appearance of schizoid personality disorder symptoms in emerging adulthood and beyond, he said.

Schizoid personality disorder is a psychiatric condition that results in a lifelong pattern of indifference to others and social isolation. It does not cause hallucinations, delusions or the disconnection from reality that can occur in schizophrenia. Symptoms include an aloof, detached appearance and avoidance of social activities and relationships, even with family members.

Until this study, research had failed to demonstrate which factors help protect against the development of PD.

So how about penciling in some arts-and-crafts time with your kid(s)? Feeling more adventurous (read: patient)? How about teaching chess? Sure, your kid may resent you for prying him or her away from Facebook, but they will thank you later on. And that may prove to be more strategic than any chess move you teach.   

Review Date: 
November 9, 2010