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Hostile parenting linked to mental health problems in children

A new study shows children on the receiving end of harsh parenting are more likely to develop mental health problems

Hostile parenting could put children at higher risk of developing mental health problem. (Pexels/Mikhail Nilov)
Hostile parenting could put children at higher risk of developing mental health problem. (Pexels/Mikhail Nilov)

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A recent study has shown that young children whose parents are ‘hostile’ towards them are likelier to develop mental health problems compared to their peers. Hostile parenting involves frequent harsh discipline, that could be physical and/or psychological, as reported by PTI. 

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The study, conducted by researchers from the University of Cambridge, UK, and University College Dublin (UCD), Ireland, was published in the journal Epidemiology and Psychiatric Sciences. For the research, about 7,500 children’s mental health symptoms at ages three, five, and nine were recorded along with examining their internalised mental health symptoms such as anxiety and social withdrawal as well as impulsivity, aggression, and hyperactivity. The scientists used the Strengths and Difficulties Questionnaire, a standard assessment tool, to record data, according to the University’s statement. 

The findings showed that 10% were at high risk for poor mental health and they were 1.5 times more likely, compared to their peers, to be in the high-risk category of developing lasting mental health problems by age nine. “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," said Ioannis Katsantonis, co-lead researcher, at the University of Cambridge in a statement. 

Hostile parenting can include regularly shouting at children, forcing physical punishment, isolating when they misbehave, harming their self-esteem or putting them through unpredictable punishment depending on parents’ mood.  Although the researchers say that parenting style does not definitely determine mental health outcomes, they argue that mental health professionals, teachers, and other practitioners should keep an eye on children showing poor mental health. 

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The researchers found that most children (83.5%) were low risk, with low internalising and externalising symptom scores at age three which then fell or remained stable. Some (6.43%) were mild risk, with high initial scores that decreased over time, but remained higher than the first group. Finally, 10.07% were high risk, with high initial scores that increased by age nine, according to the statement. 

Interestingly, warm parenting did not increase the likelihood of children being in the low-risk group. Avoiding a hostile emotional climate at home won't necessarily prevent poor mental health outcomes from occurring, but it will probably help,” said Jennifer Symonds, co-lead researcher and associate professor, at UCD in a statement. 

(With inputs from PTI)



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