Researchers, practitioners, and programs from international organizations increasingly emphasize the importance of understanding how parenting and child development are influenced by cultural contexts. This understanding can help practitioners and policymakers develop and tailor more effective parenting supports and interventions that are broadly appropriate to families and narrowly appropriate to specific cultures.
My colleagues and I have learned a lot about child development in different cultural contexts, as well as about how parenting changes as children develop. In 2008, we recruited 8-year-olds and their mothers and fathers in nine countries (China, Colombia, Italy, Jordan, Kenya, the Philippines, Sweden, Thailand, and the United States) as part of a long-term study of parenting and child development. We have interviewed the children and their parents annually since that time, and the children are now young adults.
Based on our findings, here are some of the ways parenting has changed over time.
Warmth and control
Warmth captures the dimension of parenting related to providing love, affection, and acceptance. Behavioral control captures the dimension of parenting related to parents’ attempts to regulate their children’s behavior and socialize them to become well-functioning members of their society. Although warmth appears to be a universally positive aspect of parenting, behavioral control appears to be more culturally variable. Across cultural groups, parents’ warmth and behavioral control generally decrease as their children move through adolescence.
Programs can emphasize the importance of demonstrating warmth to make children feel loved and accepted.
It may be more difficult for parents to continue displaying high levels of warmth as children transition to adolescence and there is more frequent and intense conflict in the parent-child relationship. An increase in such conflict is often tied to parents’ attempts to exert control over their children’s behavior, so some parents reduce these attempts as one way to reduce the conflict.