Being harsh with children on a regular basis can hamper their emotional development, a study has revealed.
Montreal University researchers have said that harsh parenting can affect the emotional development of a child, possibly leading to anxiety disorders such as social phobia, separation anxiety and panic attacks.
"Several studies have shown that coercive parenting practices are linked to anxiety," said Francoise Maheu, lead investigator of the study.
"We know that common practices such as spanking or excessive punishment do not instill a strong discipline. Quite the opposite, they have a lasting psychological impact on children," she said.
Maheu and her team investigated specifically how the anatomy or physiology of the brain is affected by parenting.
They are in the process of recruiting 120 youths aged 12 to 17 years. These youths would be split into four groups according to two variables: their current anxiety symptoms and their parent's current harsh parenting practices.
While doing behavioural tests, the children will be subjected to functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI), where their brain activity (cerebral activity) will be measured. Maheu will then be able to correlate brain activity with fear and anxiety.
"My hypothesis is that two specialized structures, the amygdala and the anterior congulate cortex, which form the neural fear circuit, play a role in mediating the anxiety associated with harsh parenting.
"We are investigating these structures because they are strongly associated with the processing of threat cues.
"Investigating the links among harsh parenting, fear circuitry and anxiety in youths will provide key insights on the developmental neurobiology of harsh parenting and anxiety," said Maheu.