Whether from a bustling city ward or tranquil suburban subdivision, a child’s health and happiness depends less on where they’re raised and more on who’s raising them and how, experts say.
Fostering trusting and open relationships with children is the best possible way to protect them from the negative influences that exist in every community, says Katherine Tyson McCrea, professor of social work at Loyola University, director of the Institute for Advanced Research and Practice in the School of Social Work and editor-in-chief of Illinois Child Welfare.
"It’s important for people to know that kids value love more than anything else, so for parents it’s a good thing that’s the case because that doesn’t depend on the environment," she says
Similarly, children reared in close, trusting neighborhoods will be better off.
"Cohesive, involved neighbors are an important protection factor because they act like a safety net for the family," says Sonya Leathers, assistant professor in the Jane Addams College of Social Work at the University of Illinois at Chicago. In neighborhoods that lack unity, the neighborhood doesn’t provide that net.
City and suburbs also share some drawbacks, such as crime.
"Clearly it depends on what part of the city you live in because the crime rate varies so much ... but frankly the suburbs can be quite dangerous if a child is driving with another who’s been drinking. And suburban kids are just as capable of buying drugs or having parties with lethal results," Tyson McCrea says.
Similarly, lack of diversity is not merely a suburban issue.
In affluent areas of the city, children might be insulated from everyday city life and as time passes find it harder to cross cultures and relate to people from other backgrounds.
"The danger is that privilege is a barrier," Tyson-McCrea says.
Children who have more contact with different races and ethnicities will develop less stereotyped views and make more friends.
"This exposure will also help form their self concept, how they view themselves and the world," Leather says.