Parenting style is one of many factors that strongly influence child development. One’s choice of parenting style is most often molded by their cultural background. American parents use a myriad of parenting styles, all of which have their roots in various cultural beliefs about which method is best to raise a child. In 1971, clinical and developmental psychologist, Diana Baumrind, recognized three different categories of parenting styles that she believed described most parents’ methods (Berger, 2011). Parents who fell into the authoritarian style of parenting set high standards and strict rules for their children. Disobedience was not tolerated and was met with harsh consequences, often physical. The authoritarian parent rarely showed affection or concern for their children’s emotional needs. On the other side of the spectrum was a permissive style of parenting that was characterized by no boundaries or discipline, but did include a lot of parental involvement and affection.
Authoritative parenting was the third style Baumrind identified. She believed this style produced the most happy, well-adjusted, and successful children and adolescents (Baumrind, 1971). An authoritative parent set high clear standards for their children. They respected their children’s opinions and concerns and offered plenty of support and encouragement. This style is often referred to as the balanced or “democratic” style. Later a fourth category was added by Maccoby and Martin, who recognized a neglectful parenting style (Berger, 2011; Maccoby & Martin, 1983). The neglectful parent provided for the basic needs of their children, but nothing else.
This style involved no demands, boundaries, emotional support, guidance or affection. The mother and father that utilized this method basically detached from their children. While these four categories are still widely used today to classify the types of parenting, many recent studies indicate that the results of Baumrind’s research are not culturally universal. “Parenting styles developed on North American samples cannot be simply translated to other cultures, but instead must reflect their sociocultural contexts” (Chao, 1994). This paper will further research the variability of effective parenting styles across cultures and explore some of the reasons for these variations.
Based on the results of initial research and subsequent studies, Baumrind was a firm advocate of the authoritative parenting style claiming that it was the most successful of the parenting types in producing a positive child outcome (Baumrind, 1971). Authoritarian parenting tended to raise children who performed well academically and had a low involvement in problem behavior. However, they also had “poorer social skills, lower self-esteem, and higher levels of depression” (Darling, 1999). In contrast, while permissive parenting tended to raise children who had higher levels of self-esteem and were better socialized, they didn’t perform well in school and exhibited more problem behavior (Baumrind, 1991). Children raised by neglectful parents had the most negative results, with poor academic performance, low self-esteem, and high involvement in problem behavior (Baumrind, 1991).
For years these results were extrapolated and generalized to describe all families and, although her work continues to be influential (Berger, 2011), many recent studies have found Baumrind’s conclusions regarding the success and failure rate of each of the parenting styles to be inaccurate when applied to a broader population. This is primarily due to her ethnocentric research design (Chao, 1994). The demographic for Baumrind’s study sample consisted of 100 preschool children that were mainly of white, European-American, middle-class families in California (Berger, 2011). Influential variables such as culture, ethnicity, socioeconomic status, family size, religion, and the individual temperaments of both parent and child were not controlled or accounted for. If they were, very different results would have been found because each culture has different goals, values, and expectations of their citizens. Thus, the children will be socialized under different conditions. Authoritarian and permissive parenting styles practiced in select cultures outside of the European-American context exemplify this.
Criticized by many Westerners for its harshness and controlling approach, authoritarian parenting has found more success in Asian and Arab cultures (Grusec, Rudy, & Martini, 1997; Dwairy et al., 2006). In Asian cultures, which would include the Chinese, Vietnamese, Koreans, Japanese, etc., Confucian principles are strongly embraced, and therefore, profoundly shape social relationships and moral ethics. In particular, Confucius stressed that a person should respect and obey authority without question, and to seize every opportunity to learn and perfect oneself (Chao, 1994). Rooted in this philosophy, Asians have chosen to use a very strict, controlling, and restrictive approach to parenting. Recently adding fuel to the notion that Asian’s authoritarian parenting style is harsh, oppressive, and sometimes even cruel, is the controversial book, “Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mom,” by Amy Chua (2011), a Professor of Law at Yale Law School.
Chua’s book shares her experiences raising her two daughters “the Chinese way.” Some of her memoirs describing her authoritarian parental tactics were viewed by the American public as disturbing. Chua (2011) shares that she never allowed her daughters to have a play date, be in a school play, attend overnights, date boys, attend school dances, watch TV or movies, or make any grade less than an A in school. Furthermore, she required her girls to be number one in every class, drilled them daily in Math and Chinese, and made them practice violin and piano three hours a day. Chua recognizes that she was intentionally very strict like most traditional Chinese families, but she was very involved and loving as well. Chua admits to threatening, yelling, and even calling her children degrading names at times in order to motivate them.
She believes that most Westerners cringe at this type of parenting approach because they are interpreting her methods based on Western culture instead of Chinese culture. What Asian parents and children recognize as a training environment, Westerners interpret as a controlling one. Ruth Chao (1994), from the University of California, points out a critical difference between Western and Asian authoritarian parenting. The Western version described by Baumrind, “emphasizes an absolute standard of conduct from children without explaining, listening, or providing emotional support” (Baumrind, 1971). Chao (1994) describes authoritarian parenting as, “encompassing a set of standards of conduct enforced by parents and the community. These standards are imposed not to dominate the child, but rather to assure familial and societal goals of harmonious relations with others and the integrity of the family unit.”
Based on these different interpretations of authoritarian parenting, it is apparent why the two culture’s results are so dissimilar. Among European-Americans, the style is associated with parental hostility and dominance (Martínez, 2008). But for most Asian children, parental obedience and strictness is usually interpreted as parental concern, caring, and involvement, motivated by their parents’ belief that they are capable of excelling (Chao, 1994). Because they feel loved and supported by their parents, Asian children have higher self-esteem when raised with the authoritarian style than do European-American adolescents (Chao, 1994). Similarly, some studies have shown that in Arab societies, authoritarian parenting is not associated with low self-esteem or other negative effects on adolescents’ mental health as it is in Western societies (Dwairy, Achoui, Abouserie, & Farah, 2006).
The permissive or indulgent parenting style is often considered too lax by the European-American culture. They found that with this approach children and adolescents were “more likely to be involved in problem behavior and perform less well in school, but they had a higher self-esteem, better social skills, and lower levels of depression” (Darling, 1999). Like authoritarian parenting however, permissive parenting has found more success outside of the European-American culture. For example, in a research study designed to establish which parenting style is associated with optimum youth outcomes among adolescents of Spanish families, the results found indulgent parenting to be the best approach in the Spanish cultural context (García & Gracia, 2009). This study attributed permissive parenting’s high success rate in Spain and Italy to the style’s compatibility with their “horizontal collectivist” culture (García & Gracia, 2009).
Horizontal collectivism “perceives the self as a part of the collective and sees all members of the collective as the same; thus equality is stressed” (Singelis et al., 1995). Therefore, parenting styles that lack a hierarchal parent-child relationship, are low in strictness, and high in affection work best. In their study, García and Gracia (2009) found that Spanish adolescents raised by indulgent parents had higher self-esteem, were more socialized, and performed well in school. García and Gracia (2009) concluded that the most successful parenting style was determined by a country’s culture type, based on the dimensions of equality value and perception of self. The findings of other research studies seem to support this conclusion. Martínez and García (2008) conducted a similar study in Brazil, another horizontal collectivist culture, and found that permissive parenting was favored there as well.
Another study in Mexico found that authoritative and permissive parenting had equally positive outcomes (Martínez, García, & Yubero, 2007). García and Gracia (2009) use their theoretical idea to account for the variance of preferred parenting styles across cultures, stating: In a cultural context, such as Spain, which has been described as horizontal collectivistic, egalitarian rather than hierarchal relations are emphasized, and strictness in parental practices would not have the positive meaning they would have in other contexts such as the United States—characterized by vertical individualism—or Asian cultures—characterized by vertical collectivism. This statement would explain the success of strict authoritarian parenting in Asiatic and Arab countries and authoritative parenting in the United States.
Neglectful or uninvolved parenting is the least successful parenting style in European-American culture (Berger, 2011; Darling, 1999). In fact, it is universally viewed as a destructive approach to child development (Darling, 1999). A child who receives the message that they are worthless or unloved is going to have very low self-esteem and suffer from weak social skills. Very often, children with uninvolved parents stop relying on their parents and try to provide for themselves so they don’t feel the sting of rejection and disappointment. A study by Maccoby and Martin (1983) researched adolescents between the ages of 14-18 in four areas: psychological development, school achievement, internalized distress, and problem behavior. Their results concluded that adolescents from homes with neglectful or uninvolved parents scored the lowest in all areas (Maccoby & Martin, 1983). Another more recent study performed at Brigham-Young University indicated that teens from homes that provided accountability and warmth were least prone to heavy drinking (Bahr & Hoffmann, 2010). This does not fair well for children raised by the neglectful approach because both warmth and accountability are absent.
Although authoritative parenting isn’t as generalizable as Baumrind once thought, it is still more widely successful across cultures than any of the other styles. Many of the studies mentioned in this paper found that, if authoritative parenting was not the most successful in producing a positive child outcome, then it was almost always the second most effective. This was the case among Arab, Asian, Spanish, Brazilian, and Mexican adolescents (Grusec et al., 2007; Dwairy et al., 2006; García & Gracia, 2009; Martínez & García, 2008; Martínez et al., 2007). However, the United States isn’t the only country in which authoritative parenting outranks the other styles in producing a positive child outcome. Research has shown that Great Britain finds this parenting type most effective as well.
One study, conducted by Tak Wing Chan (2011) from Oxford University, found that British children raised in authoritative homes were associated with high self-esteem and well-being, and were less likely to engage in problem behavior, such as smoking, drinking, fighting, or have friends who used drugs. Additionally, when compared to those from permissive and authoritarian families, authoritative-raised adolescents made higher grades and stayed in school longer (Chan & Koo, 2011). The French also seem to advocate an authoritative style of parenting. In the recent book by Pamela Druckerman entitled, “Bringing Up Bébé,” a work that people have been calling the next “Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mom,” the author explained French methods for parenting (Kingston, 2012).
During an interview, Druckerman said of French parenting that, “it’s a balance between what North Americans view as old-school parenting where parents have a lot of authority, and a much more modern form of parenting where they speak to children and listen to them but don’t feel they must do everything children say” (Kingston, 2012). This description certainly falls in to Baumrind’s definition of authoritative parenting. In a study of French adolescents regarding parenting style and the use of alcohol, tobacco, and marijuana, researchers found that adolescents whose parents provided both parental control and emotional support were less likely to partake in activities involving those substances (Choquet et al., 2008).
While this paper could continue on and on, its point has clearly been made that culture plays a large factor in determining the most effective parenting style. Based on the information gathered, one can see that Baumrind’s conclusion declaring the authoritative style as the best form of parenting cannot be accurately applied to all families across all cultures.
It is not as simple as translating her model of parenting to fit other cultural contexts, because each culture has a different set of values, ideologies, history, and goals. Behaviors are not interpreted in the same way. Even in the United States, Braumind’s model does not always fit. For example, low socioeconomic status is associated with a more strict authoritarian style (Berger, 2011). African-Americans are also associated with more parental control and blended families bring in multiple parenting styles. As demonstrated by Americans’ criticisms toward Asian parenting, it is important to not stereotype other cultures parenting approaches because they might not be accurately interpreted.
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[ 1 ]. Horizontal collectivism is a term that comes from a two-dimensional concept in which the horizontal-vertical spectrum measures the value of equality versus the emphasis on hierarchy, and the individual-collective spectrum measures the perception of self as an independent individual versus the perception of self as a part of the collective or community (Singelis, Triandis, Bhawuk, & Gelfand, 1995).
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