Monthly Archives: May 2014

Harvard Study Pinpoints Neurons that Control Parenting Behaviors

Neurons in the brain affect parental behavior

Professor Catherine Dulac and her team have recently completed a study published in the journal Nature which identified neurons in the brain that affect grooming and protective behavior in parents versus neglectful and abusive behaviors.

Using mice and applying genetic tools, the researchers activated galanin neurons in virgin male mice. The results were striking. Once the neurons were activated, the males began to groom the pups instead of attacking them. Further tests, which killed the galanin neurons, resulted in parents who either ignored their pups altogether or attacked them.

While this study did not directly apply these findings to humans, Dulac stated that she would be surprised if these neurons did not exist in humans.

In light of the fact that neuronal connections in the brain are primarily formed during fetal life and in the first three years, these findings add an important piece of the puzzle comprising our deeper understanding of the way in which parenting patterns are passed down through the generations.

Here is a link to the abstract and study: Galanin neurons in the medial preoptic area govern parental behaviour

Mom Charged with Murder for Allegedly Starving Her 21-Pound 13-Year-Old Son

Mother charged with murder for starving son to death
Ward County Sheriff’s Office

In my work, I frequently hear true stories of horrible mistreatment of children by their own parents. I avoid writing about them in this column on a regular basis because I’m not interested in engaging in sensationalism and because they are so pervasive, you would hear nothing else. Every day I could write about multiple terrible occurrences that would make my readers feel ill.

Yet somehow, reading about the one I am about to describe made me decide that I need to share it.

A 35-year-old mother in North Dakota has been charged with murder for starving her own son to death. The boy was found dead at age 13 weighing 21 pounds.

While the mother, Jessica Jensen, has pled not guilty to the charges of murder, neglect or abuse of a child, and failure to report the death of a child; the Medical Examiner performed an autopsy and found the cause of death to be chronic starvation, and the manner of death to be homicide.

The mother claims that her son had an untreated medical condition that caused his starvation and death. However, the facts provided by the investigator seem to belie the mother’s claimed defenses.

The boy had not been to the doctor in several years. Detective Laura Forbes testified that the mother admitted to locking the boy in his bedroom at times and that the investigator observed that both windows in this bedroom were covered in black plastic and boarded up with plywood. She also testified that the room was filled with trash, smelled of feces and urine, and had food spatters all over the walls.

Additionally, evidence showed that Jensen has homeschooled her children since 2009. However, few educational materials were found in the home – only enough books to fill one grocery bag.

There was also plenty of food in the house and no appearance that the family was low on money. Jessica Jensen’s mother testified that Jessica told her she was “at ease” once the boy died.

The criminal case is ongoing, and a pretrial conference is scheduled for September.

Here is an ABC News article on the story: Mom to Stand Trial in Death of 21 Pound Teen