ISLAMABAD: New research suggests that using physical or verbal abuse to punish a child may encourage risky behavior in adolescence, leading to lower educational attainment.

Study leader Rochelle F. Hentges, of the Department of Psychology at the University of Pittsburgh, PA, and colleagues recently reported their findings in the journal Child Development. For their study, Hentges and colleagues set out to pinpoint the behaviors that might lead to lower educational attainment among individuals exposed to harsh parenting in childhood.

"We believe our study is the first to use children's life histories as a framework to examine how parenting affects children's educational outcomes via relationships with peers, sexual behavior, and delinquency," notes Hentges.

Compared with students exposed to more lenient parenting in the 7th grade, students who were exposed to harsh parenting were more likely to deem their peers to be more important than other responsibilities - such as adhering to their parents' rules - in the 9th grade.

As a result, the team found that these harshly parented students were more likely to partake in risky behaviors in the 11th grade. These included more frequent sexual behavior, hitting, stealing, and other delinquencies.

Rochelle F. Hentges said that "In our study, harsh parenting was related to lower educational attainment through a set of complex cascading processes that emphasized present-oriented behaviors at the cost of future-oriented educational goals."

Hentges hypothesizes that adolescents whose needs have not been met by their parents "may seek validation from peers."

"This may include turning to peers in unhealthy ways, which may lead to increased aggression and delinquency, as well as early sexual behavior at the expense of long-term goals such as education," she adds.

Study co-author Ming-Te Wang suggested that there are a number of interventions that might improve the educational attainment of youths who are subject to harsh parenting.

For example, these adolescents may benefit from teaching techniques that focus on hands-on learning or group activities, as well as programs that offer education and help in relation to sexual behavior, delinquency, and unhealthy relationships with peers.