What makes a good mother?

How brain function affects teens’ parenting skills

Experts agree that babies—and the adults they become—are greatly affected by how they are parented.

Alison Fleming, a behavioural neuroscientist at the University of Toronto, has spent three decades trying to understand what goes on in mothers’ minds.

With the support of a Standard Research Grant from SSHRC, Fleming and her research team studied teenage mothers during the first six to nine months of their babies’ lives.

The brain’s prefrontal cortex guides planning, reasoning and problem-solving, and continues to mature until a person’s late 20s. Fleming and her team’s research found a strong link between the level of prefrontal cognitive function in the mother’s brain, and her parenting abilities.

These research findings can be used to develop programs that help young mothers improve their parenting skills, and, as a result, the long-term well-being of their children.