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How does Culture Affect Parenting Styles?

“A family is a set of intimate social relationships that adults create to share resources so as to ensure the welfare of themselves and their dependents” (Robert and Lie 77); a family is also a unit that gradually molds a person’s personality. “How you behave and what you become in life are very much dependent on your family life” (Importance). To this extent, families play crucial role for people in their lifetime, let alone for children whose social interaction begins at first between family members.

Researchers have demonstrated time and time again that “the environment in which children are raised significantly affects their intellectual, physical, social, and emotional development” (Important). They further emphasize that those impacts on their childhood will probably be carried on even after they grow up and experience a lot of changes. For decades, researchers have also been interested in how parents influence their children’s development, and one approach in this area is the study of what has been termed as parenting style (Darling and Steinberg 493).

This paper is a review of research studies on parenting styles within the ethnical (cultural) contexts. The idea of examining this field of study is partially derived from Chapter 2 (Culture), Chapter 7 (Race and Ethnicity) and Chapter 9 (Family) in the book named Sociology: The Points of the Compass, written by Robert Brym and John Lie. The whole paper is divided into several sections. First, it starts with the illustration of ethnical (cultural) aspects that differentiate families. It is then followed by the classification of parenting. The paper then focus on the influence of culture on parenting styles and finally provides a conclusion as a whole.

Families Are Different

“Family define themselves as a family. Membership in a family can be decided only by each member of that family” (Couchenour and Chrisman 22). Families differ from one another in many ways; ethnicity and culture are two crucial differences greatly impact on a family’s beliefs, practices, and values (McGoldrick, Giordano and Garcia-Preto 1).

  • Ethnicity

Ethnicity is a shared concept and culture heritage by groups of people whose commonality are transmitted from their ancestors generation by generation (Couchenour and Chrisman 22). The identity of these ethnic groups is uniquely marked based on the combination of race, religion, traditions, and ancestors (Robert and Lie 302). They differ from others in terms of languages, foods, stories, customs, values, and other aspects. Families carry on their ethnicities through their own family traditions, celebrations, religions, stories, and entertainments (McGoldrick, Giordano and Garcia-Preto 14). The importance of ethnicity on each family varies (Couchenour and Chrisman 23).

  • Culture

Culture is the unique experiences of ethnic groups using languages, symbols, beliefs, values, ideologies, and material objects to deal with real-life problems (Robert and Lie 40). It acts to shape family’s values, thoughts, reactions and socialization goals (Bigner 8). Therefore, the styles of communication between parents and children can be quite different among various cultures, which means what is considered to be an acceptable way of interaction in one culture could be very offensive in another cultural context. “When parents are exposed to a dominant given culture with high frequency, they are affected by the norms and values of that culture” (Keshavarz and Baharudin 67). Consequently, those culturally affected norms and values could easily serve as the guidelines for parents to interact with their children. In this sense, “understanding the cultural context of the society can potentially help to predict differences parenting styles that predominate in that society and to understand why these differences occur” (Keshavarz and Baharudin 67). Trawick-Smith states, “Only through a full understanding of parental beliefs, socialization practices, and family relationships, can the individual needs of individual children be well met (qtd. in Couchenour and Chrisman 25).

The Classification of Parenting Styles

“The principal role of parenting involves the promotion of nurturing, balanced relationships or, contrastingly, the exacerbation of stress-prone, hostile exchanges between parents and children” (qtd. in Keshavarz and Baharudin 67). Darling and Steinberg emphasize that “parenting style is a constellation of attitudes towards the child that are communicated to the child and create an emotional climate in which the parent’s behaviors are expressed” (493). Baumrind has investigated parenting styles in a series of studies and found three primary categories of parenting styles identified as authoritative, authoritarian and permissive (Reeves), which later on are conceptually expanded by with “two linear constructs: responsiveness and demandingness” (qtd. in Sonnek 8).

  • Authoritative Parenting

Referring to those studies conducted by Baumrind, authoritative parents are conscientious, consistent, warm secure in their ability to parent and unconditionally committed to their children (Reeves). On one hand, they state behavioral expectations to children; on the other hand, they respect their children’s opinions and independence; while setting high but realistic goals for their children, they also provide the necessary supports for them to achieve these goals. The authoritative parenting was found most effective in “fostering social responsibility, sense of self-esteem, confidence and adaptability in their children to meet challenges of academic and other contexts where strong beliefs in one’s abilities are required” (Couchenour and Chrisman 94). Some researchers have examined the relationship between parenting style and children’s adjustment, and confirmed that “authoritative parenting style is positively associated with healthy adjustment and reducing maladjustment than other styles of parenting” (qtd. in Keshavarz and Baharudin 67).

  • Authoritarian Parenting

Authoritarian parents provide firm and high control over their children and require them to be very responsive to their demands; they are very punitive and affectively cold; they set firm goals to their children but allow little verbal exchange; compared with two other parenting styles, authoritarian parents are less likely to use gentle methods of persuasion (Reeves). To this extent, children have poor communication skills, and social incompetence; they are easily to become anxious while being compared with others. Studies on the relationship between parenting style and children’s adjustment have found that “children of authoritarian parents tend to have low self-esteem and lack spontaneity” (qtd. in Keshavarz and Baharudin 68).

  • Permissive Parenting

Characteristics of permissive parents are identified as warm, high nurturance, responsive but low in parental control and demand few maturity behaviors (Reeves). Permissive parents would like to allow their children to control their activities as their willingness. They expect little of children, and place few demands on them. This parenting style tends to be “unsuccessful in enabling children to develop a range of self-directing abilities that underlie academic success” (qtd. in Keshavarz and Baharudin 68). Researches later on split the permissive parenting style into a fourth category- ‘indulgent and neglecting’ parenting, which most fits with its definition (qtd. in Sonnek 8).

Cultural Influences on Parenting Styles

In the nineteenth century, parenting experiences varied considerably by gender, age, social class, and culture, just as they do today (Baker 94). Individuals may consider parenthood as “fulfilling a moral obligation” (Bigner 9). Vygotsky indicates that human knowledge is rooted in culture (qtd. in Couchenour and Chrisman 8), which means what much of what children know derives from their families, such as, how to celebrate holidays; how to prepare, cook and eat foods; and how to behave properly in the public places. On many occasions, children’s behaviors of are mostly based on their parents’ expectations and demands. The values and ideals of a culture are transmitted to the next generation through child-rearing practices (Keshavarz and Baharudin 68). Therefore, children in different cultural contexts can be cultivated by their parents to behave differently; in this sense, it is necessary to take into consideration the importance of culture when evaluating parenting behaviors.

“Cultural models of individualism and collectivism” can bring direct as well as indirect impacts on parenting behaviors (Keshavarz and Baharudin 68). “Its direct influence on parenting behavior could be explained by passing on values of a culture to their children to become productive and integrated members of their culture” (qtd. in Keshavarz and Baharudin 68); its indirect influences on parenting behavior are via “more societal forces such as language patterns and customs, and economic structure indirectly (Health Canada 8). To this extent, parents can relate their parenting with those direct and indirect cultural effects.

Individualism and collectivism refers to the manner in which people perceive themselves in relation to other members in the society (Brislin 23). Literally, individualism indicates independence. It includes “the wide-spread and growing belief that people have the right to choose their own martial partners, to be happy in marriage, and to find new partners if their relationships turn out to be unsatisfactory” (Baker 24). In contrast, collectivism implies interdependence. It includes the mutual emotions and beliefs shared by people as a result of living together (Robert and Lie 371). Robert and Lie further explain that collective actions include “routine actions” and “non-routine” ones, which take place when people act simultaneously in accordance with or opposition to external changes, such as social, political, economic, etc; their difference is that the former ones are “typically nonviolent and follow established patterns of behavior in existing social structures”, whereas the latter ones occur “when usual conventions cease to guide social action and people transcend, bypass, or subvert established institutional pat­terns and structures” (371). In this sense, different family relationships, family interactions, self-concept, and academic achievement can be assumed via collectivism and individualism (Newman 51). Therefore, “the arrangement of children’s activities differs from parents to parents with differing childrearing goals and cultural meaning systems” (Keshavarz and Baharudin 67).

Collectivism can be fully reflected by most Asian countries. Parents emphasize desirable traits such as interdependence, duty, sacrifice, compromise, conformity, highly involvement in one another’s lives, however, it does not mean a complete ignorance of individual’s well-being or interest; it actually means that “maintaining the family’s well-being is ultimately the best guarantee for the individual’s well-being” (Newman 51). To this extent, authoritarian parenting may be more appropriate in those collectivistic societies compared with other parenting styles (Keshavarz and Baharudin 69). “High levels of economic hardship” have been greatly linked with authoritarian parenting and even neglecting parenting -a split of permissive parenting (qtd. in Sonnek 16).

In sharp contrast, “cultures like Western Europe, the United States, Canada, and Australia tend to value individual freedom, autonomy, personal development, and gratification over group obligation and duty” (Newman 52); Newman emphasizes that childhood is sometimes regarded as the preparation for leaving home as the sign of independence, even those people who experience unwillingness and sadness at the thought of breaking these ties accept that it is a necessary step towards growing up (52).

Therefore, it could be concluded that it is much more appropriate to examine parenting styles and their meanings in the cultural context (Bigner 9). In the conceptualization, “culture is theorized to afford different meaning to behaviors (e.g., parenting) and has different effects on children and adolescents across different cultures” (Keshavarz and Baharudin 69). For instance, in China, where I was born and brought up, proper and mild physical punishments are sometimes used by parents for controlling their children; they are considered as part of the authoritarian parenting; however, this parenting style is greatly opposed by many other cultures, and regarded unacceptable. Researchers mention that children will accept parenting behaviors which are consistent with cultural values (qtd.Keshavarz and Baharudin 69). For example, Chinese kids (including me when I was young) view spanking, which could be one of the physical punishment, as their parents’ concerns and affections on them in the Chinese culture.


Chapter 9 of Sociology: The Points of the Compass concludes that Parenting styles and behaviors perform a crucial role in the growth of children. Ethnicity, described in Chapter 7, is a socially constructed label which has “profound consequences for people’s lives”, and differentiates people by “perceived physical or cultural differences” (Robert and Lie 198); these cultural or ethnical differences can lead to different parental forms and behaviors in different social context; in other words, the ways that family members interact with each other are affected by the culture of the society, therefore, just as what has been examined in Chapter 2, what counts as good for raising children in one culture can be regarded as negative in another culture; to this extent, cultural and ethnical factors should be counted in order to better understand and examine parenting styles in different societies.

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