University of Queensland researchers interviewed 2,399 Brisbane teenagers, aged 14, to find links between their life experiences and their behaviour. About five per cent of the participants had had their father imprisoned at some time.
These children displayed more behavioural problems, particularly aggression and hyperactivity or internalised behaviour like anxiety and depression. They were also more likely to drink alcohol and smoke cigarettes.
However, Dr Stuart Kinner, lead author of the study published in the Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry, says that all those problems were mostly caused by factors other than parent's incarceration.
"Our study shows that it is more likely to be other disadvantages experienced by these children - such as low socio-economic status, marital disorder, an unstable family life, mothers who drink and smoke and have poor mental health - that cause these problems," Sydney Morning Herald quoted him as saying.
Taking these factors into account, the researchers found that while prisoners' children were disadvantaged they were not a unique group, and might not need extra help.
"They certainly need extra help but this extra help clearly needs to be aimed at all children who come from general disadvantage like poor families with mental health and substance abuse issues," Dr Kinner said.
The study was based on the Mater-University Study of Pregnancy, a longitudinal project that has tracked 7,000 mothers and their children since the early 1980s.