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03rd Apr 2023

Hostile parenting said to increase levels of mental health issues in children

Clodagh McKeon

Girls are more likely to be high-risk

New research has found that harsh parenting can increase the likelihood of lasting mental health problems in children.

The research shows that children who experience frequent shouting at, isolation or are physically punishing are 1.5 times more likely to develop poor mental health by age nine.

Researchers at University of Cambridge and University College Dublin looked at 7,500 Irish children and recorded their mental health at age 3, 5 and 9.

10% of the 7,500 children were found to be in a “high-risk” band for poor mental health.

They also had symptoms of anxiety, aggression, and social withdrawal.

Children at age three who had parents that shouted at them regularly, isolated them as a punishment, or were unpredictable and moody were more likely than their peers, who had experienced consistent parenting styles, to fall into this group.

Researchers also noted that girls were more likely than boys to be in the high-risk category.

They also found that children of single parents were 1.4 times more likely to be high risk.

Those from wealthier families were less likely to exhibit worrying mental health symptoms by middle childhood.

Ioannis Katsantonis, a doctoral researcher at University of Cambridge, said: “The fact that one in 10 children were in the high-risk category for mental health problems is a concern and we ought to be aware of the part parenting may play in that.

“We are not for a moment suggesting that parents should not set firm boundaries for their children’s behaviour, but it is difficult to justify frequent harsh discipline, given the implications for mental health.

“There is clearly a danger that parenting style can exacerbate mental health risks. This is something we can easily take steps to address.”

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