Smoking while pregnant is frowned upon, with experts warning that it increases the risk of ectopic pregnancies, premature labour, miscarriages and developmental problems in children.
But a new study has found it may have other hidden risks; with the Australian Institute of Family Studies finding that it can increase the likelihood of a child engaging in criminal or delinquent behaviours later down the track.
The study examined 5,000 Australian families in order to determine whether early indications of delinquent behaviours increased the risk of a child engaging in criminal activity later on in life.
In doing so, the researchers also tried to determine early ‘risk factors’ – which are those that may increase the risk of such behaviours.
Besides considering factors such as the child’s demographic characteristics, family and household features and parenting styles, the study also considered pregnancy and birth complications – including whether the child’s mother smoked during the pregnancy – to determine whether these factors played any role in whether the child engaged in criminal activity.
The study found that ‘smoking occasionally or frequently during pregnancy was a significant risk factor, even when other characteristics were taken into account.’
It found that others who smoked frequently during the course of their pregnancy had children who were 18-18.9% more likely to engage in criminal behaviour than those whose parents didn’t smoke.
Surprisingly, the results suggested that drinking while pregnant had an inverse effect on whether a child went on to engage in criminal conduct – a finding that has left researchers puzzled.
The research also suggested that drinking and smoking while pregnant increases the risk of a child developing behavioural disorders such as ADHD and aggression disorders – which may in turn increase their likelihood of engaging in criminal conduct.
Other Influential Factors
Of course, the findings do not mean that all – or even most – children whose mothers smoke while pregnant will engage in delinquent or criminal conduct.
The study found that the likelihood is affected by a multitude of factors – many of which relate to familial circumstances and demographic factors.
For instance, it found that boys were much more likely to engage in criminal activity at a young age compared to girls, and that Indigenous children were also more likely to engage in crime by the age of 10 to 11.
Children from families in the mid and high socioeconomic brackets were less likely to engage in these behaviours, while those whose parents had suffered financial stress, unemployment and legal problems were much more likely to engage in crime.
Kids who suffered from psychosocial problems such as a reactive temperament, attention problems, conduct problems and emotional problems were also more prone to criminal and delinquent behaviour.
Parenting styles and nurturing also played a role in whether children went on to commit crime – with harsher parenting styles, a lack of ‘warmth’ and inconsistent parenting identified as contributing factors.
But by and large, the number of children who engaged in delinquent or criminal behaviour was low – with less than 10% of children under the age of 12 and 13 committing offences.
The minority of children who did turn to criminal conduct generally engaged in actions such as carrying weapons, getting involved in physical fights, and stealing and damaging property.
Notably, two out of five children who were identified as being ‘at risk’ did not go on to exhibit delinquent or criminal behaviour – and researchers were quick to reassure parents that rather than being seen as a ‘be all and end all,’ the findings should be used as a means of addressing risk factors early on by providing support to children at risk.