The children’s charity said the academic study – carried out by researchers at University College London (UCL) – shows the need for children in Northern Ireland to be afforded the same legal protection from physical punishment as those in Scotland and Wales.
Published in the journal ‘Child, Abuse and Neglect,’ the study investigates the long-term effects of adverse childhood experiences (ACEs) on children between the ages of three and 14.
The researchers found that those who have no or few adverse experiences as young children fare best of all, and that those who have more negative experiences “are more likely to behave antisocially and have poor mental health” such as anxiety and depressive symptoms.
Natalie Whelehan, NSPCC Northern Ireland said physical punishment is “never reasonable nor justifiable”.
She said: “We know from Childline that physical abuse leaves children feeling scared and helpless, while some tell us of their inability to sleep or eat and others turn to binge drinking and self-harming as a way to cope.
“The findings from this research, reinforcing existing evidence that physical punishment can also have long-lasting effects, highlights why Northern Ireland must join Scotland and Wales in ensuring the physical assault of children is never ‘reasonable’ nor ‘justifiable.’”
Ms Whelehan added: “The Northern Ireland Assembly is behind the curve on this issue and urgently needs to change the law so children in Northern Ireland have the same protection as those in other parts of the UK.”
The most common ACEs were found to be parental depression, harsh parenting, smacking, use of force between parents, and parental alcohol misuse.
Boys were slightly more likely than girls to have experienced harsh parenting and smacking, and also more likely to exhibit challenging behaviour but overall, researchers found no significant gender differences when it came to the effects on children’s mental health.
Dr Rebecca Lacey of UCL said: “The evidence around the long term negative effects of harsh parenting and physical punishment on children’s health and happiness is irrefutable.
“The current pandemic has placed additional pressures on couples and families and there are fears over increases in violence particularly towards women and children. Never a more important time then to ensure that those women and children are protected in law.”
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