Children brought up by mothers and fathers with poor parenting skills are twice as likely to display serious anti-social behaviour, according to a Government study.

Research shows that “harsh and inconsistent” discipline in the home is breeding a generation of young children with anger management problems, poor attention spans and low levels of literacy.

The report warned that the link “remained true even after a range of socioeconomic factors were taken into account”, suggesting that children brought up in middle-class families were just as likely to go off the rails after being subjected to poor parenting.

It comes just six months after the worst rioting to hit English cities in decades, with many politicians blaming the violence on a lack of moral guidance in the home.

The study – commissioned by the Department for Education – recommended the targeted use of parenting programmes to give mothers and fathers a grounding in how to bring up their children properly.

“Across a range of measures, an association was consistently found between negative parenting and child anti-social behaviour,” the study said.

“The association between negative parenting and child anti-social behaviour still held after controlling for demographic factors including ethnicity, parental education and being a single-parent family.”

The report examined 278 families with children aged four-to-seven living in inner-city areas. They were subjected to interviews alongside detailed observations to track the relationship between the home and pupils’ behaviour.

The report – entitled “How is parenting style related to child anti-social behaviour?” – suggested so-called “positive parenting” was characterised by the consistent use of praise and rewards and a high level of involvement with children’s everyday life.

Negative parenting included a failure to adequately supervise children, inconsistent approaches to discipline and the use of smacking and other physical punishments.

Researchers said that some four-in-10 children brought up by mothers or fathers with “negative” parenting styles displayed severe behaviour problems compared with a fifth of other young people. It also found that poor parenting was “associated with lower child vocabulary scores”, although this was also skewed by levels of parental education.

All families taking part in the study – based in one London borough and a city in the south-west of England – are being offered one of three different parenting programmes to gauge the effect this has on children’s long-term behaviour. Further findings will be released in future reports.

Researchers said: “Since the study has confirmed the link between negative parenting and child antisocial behaviour in England today, the implications are that it is appropriate to offer parents parenting programmes that have been shown to reduce coercive parenting practices, improve positive parenting, and reduce child antisocial behaviour.

“Similar processes operate with younger children from age two onwards, for whom parenting help would also be beneficial.”

By Graeme Paton

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