Although psychological research aims to understand the preconditions for healthy child development much of our knowledge about parenting and child development come from industrialized middle-class contexts in Western countries. Research thus ignores the “Majority world’s” children who live outside these specific minority societies. However, parenting and infant development are always embedded in the cultural and physical environment where families live in and affected by the families’ living conditions. Therefore the bias in research greatly limits our knowledge about what is “normal child development or “good parenting” worldwide.
Even though parenting practices vary across different cultures and times, parents all over the world want what they think is best for their children. The parental concepts and ideas, conscious and unconscious, are connected to wider cultural values and sociopolitical factors. Therefore differences in parenting practices are not random but have their own internal logic and meaning.
Parental values and ideas are also connected to the way parents take care of their children and to the way they interact with them. For example, the importance of interpersonal relationships (i.e., getting along with others and being a respected member of the group), is related to the characteristics parents want their children to develop (i.e., learning to take care of others) and therefore to parenting practices (i.e., parents teach the child to control own his/her own emotions and to share with others).
The specific parenting practices also affect child development. Accordingly, cross-cultural studies show important variation in the way children acquire motor, emotional, and cognitive skills that stem from successful adaption into different sociocultural contexts. In two-culture and in immigrant families children’s adaptation to the host culture may sometimes cause surprises and raise questions, as the children may behave in a way the parents do not consider appropriate or good.
We all have thoughts and behavioral models that are affected by the environment(s) in which we grew up and live, and there is no one right way to raise children. In two-culture families parents should first and foremost be aware of their own parenting beliefs and values before taking an interest in the partner’s views. Finally, in all families parenting is affected by many other factors than just cultural background. For example, parents’ personalities, formal education, past experiences, and current life situation always play a central role in parenting practices.
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