In an era where we've designated names for the array of child-rearing methods out there (tiger moms and helicopter parenting, just to name a few), one thing is clear: Shielding children from life-threatening danger remains a priority across every parenting style. Regardless of how parents approach raising their kids, a new study has brought a whole new meaning to the old adage, "love hurts"—and that's something that mothers can attest to.
The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill used brain imaging to examine empathy processing between mothers and their adolescent children, reports Mothering. In the study, the test subjects were asked to imagine themselves and their parent or child in a distressing situation. The findings revealed that mothers are neurologically wired to empathize for their children, regardless of the quality of their relationship. "Mothers experienced high 'self-child overlap,' meaning that a particular area of their brain showed the same reaction to distress, regardless of whether the imagined stress occurred to them or their child," explain the researchers.
On the contrary, the teens who participated in the study did not exhibit an equal tendency to feel empathy for their mothers when imagining them in distress—unless they had stronger relationships with their mothers.
Although there were only 22 participants in the study, the findings may be key to understanding why teens might not be thinking of their worrisome mom during those rebellious streaks and how mothers still pledge unconditional love even after their children commit crimes. The fact that mothers are hardwired to feel their children's pain may also explain some parents' tendencies to fall into helicopter parenting and the desire to create "safe spaces" for their children—which Free-Range Kids author Lenore Skenazy argues can be detrimental toward kids' success when the concept is taken to extremes.
Up next: Read how seven moms are raising their children to be emotionally intelligent.