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Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Parenting Styles and Modes of Discipline across Cultures

“Study finds every style of parenting produces miserable, disturbed adults. A study released by the California Parenting Institute Tuesday shows that every style of parenting inevitably causes children to grow into profoundly unhappy adults. "Our research suggests that while overprotective parenting ultimately produces adults unprepared to contend with life's difficulties, highly permissive parenting leads to feelings of bitterness and isolation throughout adulthood.” The Onion, October 26, 2011

While the above quote from the Onion is satire, it does introduce some important questions about parenting styles. What are the various styles of raising children throughout the world and are any of them really effective? Parenting styles vary between households, families, and cultures; each having different ways of raising their children. According to Diana Baumrind there are three different parenting styles. Do they differ cross-culturally, and if so are they considered to be acceptable in the current culture the family is living?

One common parenting style is called authoritarian parenting. In this style of parenting, children are expected to follow the strict rules established by the parents. Failure to follow such rules usually results in punishment. Authoritarian parents fail to explain the reasoning behind these rules. If asked to explain, the parent might simply reply, "Because I said so." These parents have high demands, but are not responsive to their children. According to Baumrind, these parents "are obedience- and status-oriented, and expect their orders to be obeyed without explanation" (1991).

In contrast to authoritarian parents, those with an authoritative parenting style establish rules and guidelines, however; they tend to be more democratic. Authoritative parents are responsive to their children and willing to listen to questions. When children fail to meet the expectations, these parents are more nurturing and forgiving rather than punishing. Baumrind suggests that these parents "monitor and impart clear standards for their children’s conduct. They are assertive, but not intrusive and restrictive. Their disciplinary methods are supportive, rather than punitive. They want their children to be assertive as well as socially responsible, and self-regulated as well as cooperative" (1991).

A permissive parent, unlike authoritarian or authoritative parents are less likely to establish rules for their children. Permissive parents, sometimes referred to as indulgent parents, make very few demands of their children. These parents rarely discipline their children because they have relatively low expectations of maturity and self-control. According to Baumrind, permissive parents "are more responsive than they are demanding. They are nontraditional and lenient, do not require mature behavior, allow considerable self-regulation, and avoid confrontation" (1991). Permissive parents are generally nurturing and communicative with their children, often taking on the status of a friend more than that of a parent.

The parenting style adopted by a parent, and the nature of the relationship that they choose to establish with their children is greatly influenced by culture. Societal norms define parenting (although they are modified to accommodate personal style or preference). Across all cultures, the most basic premises of parenting are uniform; parents are expected to nurture and provide for their children, and to educate them. What does in fact differ across cultures is the approach that parents choose to employ while educating their children. The areas of parenting incorporated in this variation include roles, parent-child relationships, and practices related to raising and educating children (Bornstein & Bohr, 2011).

Although approaches to parenting differ cross-culturally, it is important to note that these variations must fall within the normal parameters of parenting. In other words, differences in parenting style, detailed in Baumrind's parenting typology (introduced above) do not include "deviant parenting, such as might be observed in abusive or neglectful homes (Darling, 1999)". Baumrind's typology, rather, references different parenting styles with regard to the level of control exerted by parents over their children. For example, authoritative-style parents would typically exert a greater level of control over their children than would permissive parents, the parent-child relationship would be more intensive, and parents' expectations of their children would be higher. This higher level of parental control, however, is unrelated to the level to which parents care for and educate their children; Darling posits that regardless of parenting style, parents are expected to "influence, teach and control their children (1999)". This in effect suggests that although approaches to parenting vary between cultures, acceptable parenting approaches include only parenting behaviors that fall within the normal variation spectrum of parenting. The normal range, therefore, does not include abusive or neglectful parenting behaviors - regardless of cultural dictates.

That being said, it is important to define what constitutes the normal range of parenting behaviors? Which parenting styles can be classified as abusive or neglectful? Are there cultures that include deviant parenting styles or practices in their definitions of the cultural norm?

As families immigrate to the United States they undergo the process of acculturation, which requires cultural and psychological changes. As immigrant parents interact with other parents, teachers, and professionals they gain different views of parenting as well as strategies that may depart from what has been ingrained in them. Most parents will then adopt some of these new strategies while also keeping some from their old culture. However, the practices they choose to adopt or modify varies from person to person and usually any changes that occur will be those in the public domain. Cultural maintenance of customs from the old culture with often be maintained in the private domain, which affects the home and family.

Educators may not be aware of the many practices that are common in different cultures. The American middle-class culture is one of the few cultures that uses positive reinforcement procedures while limiting punishment. Usually discipline is approached as isolating the misbehaving child and withdrawing love and affection for a period of time, which we see as more humane than those who incorporate physical punishment. The lack of knowledge that most educators have regarding child abuse and cultural differences in raising children results in misjudging the appropriateness of parental actions. Teachers often end up finding different practices as being abusive. Some culturally diverse parents may prefer to use quick physical punishment rather than ever hinting at emotional separation from their child that may create feelings of rejection.

A few of the many incidents that may arise are listed below:

-A novice teacher in a poor urban school district is distressed when upon seeking advise from colleagues regarding discipline, is told by them to use physical punishment. This coincides with the advise of the students in his class who tell him to "Hit `em upside the head". In fact, physical punishment is more accepted in the low socio-economic classes (Gollnick & Chinn, 1990; Horton & Hunt, 1968; Persky, 1974; Spinetta & Rigler, 1972; Hanna, 1988), and educators who teach these students are more likely to approve of corporal punishment (McDowell & Friedman, 1979; Bauer, Dubanoski, Yamauchi & Honbo, 1990), perhaps believing that one must "use what they know".

-A teacher phones a student's parents to inquire as to how that pupil came to have welts on his body. She is given a religious defense based on the biblical book of proverbs that promotes the use "the rod". Indeed, Fundamentalists, Evangelists, and Baptists respond more punitively in disciplinary situations than people who are affiliated with other major religious orientations (Hyman, 1988).

-A teacher wrestles with the issue of whether to report a poor student's parents who are, in her mind, neglectful. She is aware that in low income areas, early independence with limited guidance or training is the norm (Horton & Hunt, 1968; Miller, 1959), as is the use of inconsistent and harsh physical punishment whereby children are taught to obey rather than reason (Farrington, 1986; Hanna 1988; Stack, 1974). However, these practices violate her beliefs regarding proper child-rearing.
Culture not only affects how a child is disciplined but also the bond that may exist between parent and child. Some cultures may value a very close relationship, some more distant but controlling, and some may prefer to leave the child in the hands of others such as teachers or professionals. For example Bornstein and Bohr found that “Chinese Canadian transnational parents opt to allow grandparents to care for their infants, based on expectations of their culture of origin, despite emotional hardship and disapproval within the receiving culture” (2011).

With the complications that arise from each culture and society’s definition of abuse at what point would you determine that a family only needs information or assistance? At what point do children need to be removed?

How will you personally determine the difference between someone knowingly committing abuse or neglect and someone only going along with the type of behavior that they have been exposed to in their culture.

This blog was created by Natalie Wiggins, Kimberly Schielke, Rachel O'Hara, Penina Abraham, Wendy Fine, and Steve Barosi.