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Parenting a case of different strokes for different cultural folks

Tiger, helicopter and free-range parents, meet your Kenyan, Philippine and Colombian counterparts. Just as there are numerous so-called ‘best-practice’ Western parenting styles, there’s also variability in parenting in developing countries. And, as it turns out, some parenting styles are universally beneficial, others advantage only certain cultures, and some are even harmful in particular ethnic contexts.

Those are the key findings of a study by Jennifer Lansford, research professor at the Center for Child and Family Policy at Duke University in North Carolina, in the US.

Her long-term analysis, “Parenting Across Cultures”, examined parenting practices from 13 cultural groups in nine countries: China, Colombia, Italy, Jordan, Kenya, Philippines, Sweden, Thailand and the US. Lansford found that “the value to child development of parental control is culturally variable. In some places, it helps children thrive. But the picture is different elsewhere. A parental behaviour in one culture can produce a different impact when applied in another.”

Warmth was found to be a collectively positive parenting technique, though different cultures expressed it in different ways. For instance, physical affection such as hugging, kissing and saying things like ‘I love you’ was common in some countries; while in other places, warmth was conveyed as devotion to a specific child’s needs, like preparing the exact meal they enjoyed.

Care correlated with parental control, and again, the value of this varied across cultures. In Kenya, for example, more demanding parents tended to be warmer, and therefore have more well-adjusted kids. In Sweden, by contrast, the more easy-going parents were, the more loving they tended to be; consequently, their children thrived the most.

Lansford further discovered that the extent of child-parent obligations can be pernicious, depending on cultural context. In the Philippines and Thailand, deferring to parents for advice and supporting them in their later years is expected. Children who did this were generally better-off. However, if these duties were imposed on Western children, such as those from the US, they could be damaging. These children were more likely to develop depression, anxiety and behaviour problems.

All this, Lansford suggests, means one thing: it’s not the Western parenting way or the highway: “Our research highlights the importance of learning, tolerance and understanding cultural context when considering best practice in raising children.”

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