A graphic of the Earth with green and yellow continents. The text surrounding the Earth reads "Parenting Around the World: Child-Rearing Practices in Different Cultures."

What is Child Rearing?

Child rearing refers to the processes, strategies, and approaches used to raise a child from birth through adulthood. The methods parents use in child-rearing varies significantly across the United States and around the world. Parenting is influenced by cultural differences and differing viewpoints on issues like discipline, establishing rules, and expectations of obedience to authority.

There is no one “right way” to raise a child. Parents successfully raise independent and confident children using many approaches. However, in study after study, one common theme emerges: parental care and involvement, more than any specific child-rearing strategy, is essential to successful child-rearing. The best outcomes are associated with setting clear rules and working with children to resolve challenges.

Studying child-rearing strategies and their application in the lives of parents and children is a critical component of Touro’s health and human services degree programs. This study benefits students in a variety of degree disciplines, including:

Child Rearing Definition and Approaches

Writing for CNBC, psychologist Francyne Zeltser describes the four main child-rearing approaches that parents use:

  • Permissive. This is a child-driven approach in which parents rarely give or enforce rules. Children sometimes overindulged to avoid conflict.
  • Authoritative. Parents solve problems with their children and set clear rules and expectations.
  • Neglectful. Parents have low demand, but also low responsiveness to their child’s needs. Parents offer little nurturing, guidance, or attention.
  • Authoritarian. Parents have high demands, but low responsiveness. They enforce rules with little consideration for the child’s feelings or social-emotional and behavioral needs.

According to Zeltser, previous research shows that authoritative parents typically raise kids who are more likely to become independent, self-reliant, and socially competent.

Child Rearing in the United States

Research done by Sara Harkness, a professor of human development at the University of Connecticut, found a common parenting theme in the United States. More than other countries, U.S. parents tend to emphasize early-age cognition. American parents are more likely to focus on the importance of maintaining high levels of mental arousal and activity than parents elsewhere in the world.

However, the picture is more nuanced depending on the region. Studies of American parents find a variety of parental approaches in different regions of the country. For example, parents in the South are more likely to demand obedience and respect from their children than parents in Central Florida. Floridian parents are far more likely to include children in discussions of family decisions, allow disagreements, and allow children to make their own decisions.

The research also suggests that the authoritative parenting style is the most common in the U.S. However, the authoritarian style – demanding, but not responsive – is also common.

Global Differences in Child Rearing

There is no official guidebook handed out to parents when they have a child. They take different approaches to child rearing based on what older family members teach them, accepted cultural standards, and what they see as successful methods used by others. From these global variables come different child-rearing strategies. The Australian website Parent TV provides some interesting examples:

  • In many countries, mothers get a recuperation period after giving birth, allowing them time to bond with the child without distractions. In China, it lasts for one month, while in Guatemala it lasts nine months.
  • Dutch parents don’t push children too hard. The opposite is true in Asia, where parents believe they have a duty to encourage children from a young age to achieve academic excellence.
  • In Norway, childhood is strongly institutionalized, with kids entering state-sponsored daycare at the age of one.
  • In Japan, children are independent early in childhood, with kids as young as six getting themselves to school and running errands, even in Tokyo. In Japanese society, people expect other adults to watch out for and protect children.
  • In Scandinavian countries, there is an emphasis on “friluftsliv,” or open-air living. This can be seen in the practice of letting children nap outside, even in wintertime.
  • Many kids in China and Vietnam are potty trained, using a whistle, starting when they are just a few months old
  • In the United Kingdom, it’s far more common than in the U.S, for kids to take a gap year between high school and college. Also, kids in Finland typically rank high on education tests but don’t start school until they are seven
  • Italian children often drink wine at dinner time along with the adults.

Parenting in the United States

Sarah Harkness’ study makes clear that values such as independence and hard work rank high for U.S. parents, who tend to emphasize individualistic traits rather than collectivist traits.

In the article Culturally-Based Differences in Child Rearing Practices, communication expert Marcia Carteret wrote that “In study after study, cultural anthropologists have found that the overriding goal of American parents is to make a child independent and self-reliant. Babies are bundles of potential and a good parent is one who can uncover the latent abilities and talents in their child, encouraging the good while discouraging the bad.”

American parents tend to focus on raising children with more emphasis on personal freedom and becoming more materially successful than themselves.

On the other hand, the norm in most places around the globe is raising children with collectivist ideals such as obedience, calmness, politeness, and respect toward others. This approach emphasizes feeling responsible for their behavior and avoiding shame for the child, their family, and their community.

These differing approaches to child rearing provide fascinating insights into why people from the U.S. behave differently than those from other parts of the world – for good and ill. Both individual and collectivist cultures have their own ideas on what is meant by “success” when raising a child. It’s those differences that can lead to cultural clashes. Success is measured in many ways, including:

  • Financial stability
  • Happiness
  • Family togetherness
  • Strong religious faith
  • The passing down of cultural traditions

Studying these differences in parenting styles throughout the US and the world gives students a better understanding of cultures and families and how cultural differences affect child rearing around the globe.

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