views updated May 21 2018


laurence steinberg

high-risk neighborhoods
claire smrekar

influence of parents' level of education
joan m. t. walker
claire smrekar

influence on child's educational aspirations and attainment
joan m. t. walker
claire smrekar


The study of parenting and its impact on children and adolescents has long been a central concern to scholars interested in child development and education. Although some contemporary commentators have suggested that social scientists have overestimated the influence of parents on their children's development and have underemphasized the importance of genetic factors and forces outside the family, most experts continue to believe that children's emotional, cognitive, and behavioral development is profoundly affected by the ways in which their parents have raised them.

This confidence in parental influence notwithstanding, it is important to note that much research on parenting and child development, which tends to be correlational in nature, leaves open the question of causal direction. The observation that children with certain characteristics are more likely than not to come from parents who engage in certain ways of parenting can be accounted for with a variety of explanations, of which parental influence is just one. Consider, for example, the commonly observed correlation between parental harshness and childhood aggression. Although it is reasonable to suggest that this observation reflects the fact that parental hostility creates aggressive children, it is also reasonable to suppose that parents are influenced by their children (i.e., that aggressive children elicit harsh parenting), that other environmental or genetic factors influence both parents and children in certain directions (e.g., that poverty makes parents harsh and children aggressive, or that harsh parents and aggressive children share a genetic predisposition for violence).

Researchers interested in disentangling these different accounts have generally followed one of three approaches. First, through the use of longitudinal designs, researchers have studied the links between parenting and child adjustment over time, examining whether certain types of parenting precede, rather than simply accompany or follow from, the emergence of certain child characteristics. Second, in studies of animals, researchers have been able to randomly assign infants and juveniles to rearing environments in which adults vary in their parenting practices, and by doing so, scientists have been able to examine the impact of variations in parenting on adjustment through experimentation. Finally, a number of investigators have studied the impact of parent-focused interventions on child adjustment. In these studies, parents' behavior is changed through some sort of psychoeducational treatment, and any resultant change in child adjustment is examined in relation to the parenting intervention. All three designs (longitudinal, experimental, and interventional) have buttressed the findings from correlational work.

Parenting, of course, encompasses many different phenomena. Nancy Darling and Laurence Steinberg (1993) have suggested that researchers distinguish between parenting style and parenting practices. They define parenting style as a constellation of attitudes toward the child communicated to the child by the parent, that taken together create an emotional climate in which the parent's behaviors are expressed. These behaviors include both the specific, goal-directed behaviors through which parents perform their parental duties (what Darling and Steinberg refer to as parenting practices ) as well as non-goal-directed parental behaviors, such as gestures, changes in tone of voice, or the spontaneous expression of emotion. The focus of the current entry is on parenting style. Information on specific parenting practices, especially those related to parenting practices designed to influence educational achievement, may be found in other entries.

Dimensional Approaches to Research on Parenting

Whether through correlational, longitudinal, or experimental designs, research on parenting style and its impact has traditionally followed one of two approaches. In the dimensional approach, researchers isolate critical dimensions of parenting along which parents differ and examine the relations between variability on one or more of these dimensions and variability in one or more child outcomes. The most frequently studied dimensions of parenting have been warmth (sometimes referred to as acceptance or responsiveness), firmness (sometimes referred to as demandingness or behavioral control), and restrictiveness (sometimes referred to as intrusiveness or psychological control). Four broad sets of child adjustment indicators have been examined in relation to each of these dimensions of parenting: psychosocial development (including social competence, self-conceptions, and self-reliance); school achievement (including school performance, school engagement, and academic motivation); internalized distress (including depression, anxiety, and psychosomatic problems); and problem behavior (including delinquency, aggression, and drug and alcohol use).

Generally speaking, research shows that children and adolescents fare better when their parents are warm, firm, and nonrestrictive. Although variability in parental warmth has been associated with variability in all four areas of child adjustment listed in the preceding paragraph, it appears that variations in parents' firmness and restrictiveness contribute relatively more to some aspects of children's development than to others. In general, variations in firmness are linked most strongly to variations in problem behavior (with children whose parents are low in firmness exhibiting more problem behavior than their more vigilantly reared peers), whereas variations in restrictiveness are linked most strongly to variations in internalized distress (with children whose parents are high in restrictiveness scoring higher on measures of depression, anxiety, and the like). Thus the distinction between behavioral and psychological control is important not only because each is related to different outcomes but also because optimal child development is associated with high levels of one type of control (behavioral) but low levels of the other (psychological).

Configurational Approaches to Research on Parenting

The dimensional approach attempts to separate various aspects of parenting from one another, to isolate their independent relations to child outcomes. In contrast, the configurational approach to parenting attempts to identify particular types or styles of parenting that are defined by certain constellations of parenting characteristics (e.g., a group of parents who are high on warmth, low on behavioral control, and low on psychological control; a group who are high on warmth, high on behavioral control, and low on psychological control, etc.). This has been done by using configurations that are defined a priori on the basis of theory as well as by identifying naturally occurring clusters of parents whose parenting has been assessed on several of the key dimensions identified earlier. The advantage of the a priori approach is that all possible constellations of parents are identified, even those that are relatively rare. The advantage of identifying naturally occurring clusters of parents is that the end result is a categorization system that accurately reflects the type of parenting found within the particular ecological niche studied. This can be an important consideration for researchers who are interested in cultural groups whose parenting may not be easily classified using preexisting configurational models. Some critics, for example, contend that the most commonly used configurational models of parenting have greater applicability within white, middle-class, American samples than within samples of parents from other backgrounds.

The most widely used configurational model of parenting is one that derives from the work of Diana Baumrind (1971), whose theory of parenting style has been enormously influential. Although Baumrind's initial conceptualization of parenting styles was not explicitly based on the dimensions of parental warmth, behavioral control, and psychological control, more contemporary models of parenting, such as those of Darling and Steinberg, have attempted to bridge Baumrind's configurational approach with research on these three dimensions of parenting. Within this parenting-style framework, parents are classified as authoritative (high in warmth, high in firmness, and low in restrictiveness), authoritarian (low in warmth, high in firmness, and high in restrictiveness), or indulgent (high in warmth, low in firmness, and low in restrictiveness). Contemporary variations of this framework have also included a fourth group, indifferent parents, who are characteristically low in warmth, low in firmness, and low in restrictiveness. Although it is theoretically possible to derive additional configurations of parents based on other combinations of warmth, firmness, and restrictiveness, most empirical research suggests that, at least in contemporary Western cultures, the authoritative, authoritarian, permissive, and indifferent styles account for the vast majority of parents.

Authoritative parents. These four general styles of parenting can be distinguished in many respects beyond their scores on measures of parental warmth, firmness, or restrictiveness. For example, in addition to being both warm and firm, authoritative parents set standards for the child's conduct but form expectations that are consistent with the child's developing needs and capabilities. They place a high value on the development of autonomy and self-direction but assume the ultimate responsibility for their child's behavior. Authoritative parents deal with their child in a rational, issue-oriented manner, frequently engaging in discussion and explanation with their children over matters of discipline.

Authoritarian parents. In contrast, authoritarian parents place a high value on obedience and conformity, favoring more punitive, absolute, and forceful disciplinary measures. Verbal give- and-take is not common in authoritarian households, because the underlying belief of authoritarian parents is that the child should accept without question the rules and standards established by the parents. They tend not to encourage independent behavior and, instead, place a good deal of importance on restricting the child's autonomy.

Indulgent parents. Indulgent parents behave in an accepting, benign, and somewhat more passive way in matters of discipline. They place relatively few demands on the child's behavior, giving the child a high degree of freedom to act as he or she wishes. Indulgent parents are more likely to believe that control is an infringement on the child's freedom that may interfere with the child's healthy development. Instead of actively shaping their child's behavior, indulgent parents are more likely to view themselves as resources that the child may or may not use.

Indifferent parents. Finally, indifferent parents try to do whatever is necessary to minimize the time and energy that they must devote to interacting with their child. In extreme cases, indifferent parents may be neglectful. They know little about their child's activities and whereabouts, show little interest in their child's experiences at school or with friends, rarely converse with their child, and rarely consider their child's opinion when making decisions. Rather than raising their child according to a set of beliefs about what is good for the child's development (as do the other three parent types), indifferent parents are "parent centered"they structure their home life primarily around their own needs and interests.

In light of research findings linking positive child adjustment to the presence of parental warmth and firmness, and to a lack of parental restrictiveness, it is not surprising to find that child adjustment varies as a function of parenting style, with children from authoritative households exhibiting relatively healthier adjustment than their peers and children from neglectful homes exhibiting poorer functioning on virtually all measured indicators. More specifically, children and adolescents from authoritative homes score better than their peers on measures of psychosocial development, school achievement, internalized distress, and problem behavior, whereas those from neglectful homes score worse across all four sets of outcomes. Youngsters raised in authoritarian or permissive homes score somewhere between the two extremes, with authoritarian parenting associated with special problems in self-reliance, social competence, and internalized dis-tress, and permissive parenting associated with somewhat lower school achievement and elevated rates of problem behavior.

Although occasional exceptions to these general patterns have been noted from time to time, the evidence linking authoritative parenting and healthy child and adolescent development is remarkably strong, and it has been found in studies of a wide range of ethnicities, cultures, regions, social classes, and family structures. At the other extreme, parenting that is indifferent, neglectful, or abusive has been shown consistently to have harmful effects on the adolescent's mental health and development, leading to depression and a variety of behavior problems, including, in cases of physical abuse, aggression toward others.

The Power of Authoritative Parenting

Why is authoritative parenting so consistently associated with healthy child and adolescent development? First, authoritative parents provide an appropriate balance between restrictiveness and autonomy, giving the child opportunities to develop self-reliance but providing the sorts of standards, limits, and guidelines that developing individuals need. Authoritative parents, for instance, are more likely to give children more independence gradually as they get older, which helps children develop self-reliance and self-assurance. Because of this, authoritative parenting promotes the development of and enhances their ability to withstand a variety of potentially negative influences, including life stress and exposure to antisocial peers.

Second, because authoritative parents are more likely to engage their children in verbal give- and-take, they are likely to promote the sort of intellectual development that provides an important foundation for the development of psychosocial competence. Family discussions in which decisions, rules, and expectations are explained help the child to understand social systems and social relationships. This understanding plays an important part in the development of reasoning abilities, role taking, moral judgment, and empathy.

Finally, because authoritative parenting is based on a warm parent-child relationship, adolescents are more likely to identify with, admire, and form strong attachments to their parents, which leaves them more open to their parents' influence. Adolescents who have had warm and close relationships with their parents are more likely, for example, to have similar attitudes and values. Adolescents who are raised by indifferent parents, in contrast, often end up having friends their parents disapprove of, including those involved in antisocial activity.

Cultural Differences in Parenting

A number of researchers have asked whether parents from different ethnic groups vary in their child rearing and whether the relation between parenting and child and adolescent outcomes is the same across different ethnic groups. These, of course, are two different questions: The first concerns average differences between groups in their approaches to parenting (e.g., whether ethnic minority parents are firmer than white parents), whereas the second concerns the correlation between parenting practices and child adjustment in different groups (e.g., whether the effect of firmness is the same in ethnic minority families as it is in white families).

In general, researchers find that authoritative parenting is less prevalent among African-American, Asian-American, or Hispanic families than among European-American families, no doubt reflecting the fact that parenting practices are often linked to cultural values and beliefs. Nevertheless, even though authoritative parenting is less common in ethnic minority families, its effects on adolescent adjustment are beneficial in all ethnic groups. In other words, ethnic minority youngsters for the most part benefit just as much from parenting that is responsive and demanding as do their nonminority peers.

Research has also indicated that authoritarian parenting is more prevalent among ethnic minority than among white families, even after taking ethnic differences in socioeconomic status into account. As opposed to research on authoritative parenting, however, which suggests comparable effects across ethnic groups, research on authoritarian parenting indicates that the adverse effects of this style of parenting may be greater among white youngsters than among their ethnic minority counterparts. Several explanations have been offered for this finding.

First, some writers have suggested that because ethnic minority families are more likely to live in dangerous communities, authoritarian parenting, with its emphasis on control, may not be as harmful and may even carry some benefits. Second, as several researchers (Ruth Chao, 1994; Nancy Gonzales, Ana Mari Cauce, and Craig Mason, 1996) have pointed out, the distinction between "authoritative" versus "authoritarian" parenting may not always make sense when applied to parents from other cultures. For example, nonwhite parents frequently combine a very high degree of restrictiveness (like white authoritarian parents) with warmth (like white authoritative parents). If they focus too much on parents' strictness when observing family relationships, European-American researchers may mislabel other ethnic groups' approaches to child rearing (which appear very controlling, but which are neither aloof nor hostile) as authoritarian.

In the last years of the twentieth century, new models of parenting began to emerge, which attempted to move beyond the traditional, often stale, debates between those who believe that parents are relatively impotent in the face of genetic and non-familial influence on child development and those who believe that parents' influence is limitless. These new models emphasize the importance of studying parenting as a bidirectional process, in which parents both influence and are influenced by their child, and as an embedded process, in which a range of forces in the proximal and distal environment influence the parent-child relationship. New research on parenting examines such questions as whether and in what ways the child's temperament moderates the impact of certain types of parenting on child adjustment; whether and how the impact of parenting varies across neighborhood and community contexts; and whether and through what processes the influence of parents on their children is itself affected by the other settings in which the child spends time, such as the peer group, day-care center, or classroom.

See also: Adolescent Peer Culture, subentry on Parents' Role; Parental Involvement in Education; Parenting, subentries on High-Risk Neighborhoods, Influence of Parents' Level of Education, Influence on Child's Educational Aspirations and Attainment.


Baumrind, Diana. 1971. "Current Patterns of Parental Authority." Developmental Psychology Monograph 4 (1), part 2.

Chao, Ruth. 1994. "Beyond Parental Control and Authoritarian Parenting Style: Understanding Chinese Parenting through the Cultural Notion of Training." Child Development 65:11111119.

Collins, W. Andrew, et al. 2000. "Contemporary Research on Parenting: The Case for Nature and Nurture." American Psychologist 55:218232.

Darling, Nancy, and Steinberg, Laurence. 1993. "Parenting Style as Context: An Integrative Model." Psychological Bulletin 113:487496.

Gonzales, Nancy; Cause, Ana Mari; and Mason, Craig. 1996. "Interobserver Agreement in the Assessment of Parental Behavior and Parent-Adolescent Conflict: African American Mothers, Daughters, and Independent Observers." Child Development 67:14831498.

Harris, Judith R. 1998. The Nurture Assumption: Why Children Turn Out the Way They Do. New York: Free Press.

Steinberg, Laurence. 2001. "We Know Some Things: Adolescent-Parent Relationships in Retrospect and Prospect." Journal of Research on Adolescence 11:120.

Steinberg, Laurence, et al. 1994. "Over-Time Changes in Adjustment and Competence Among Adolescents from Authoritative, Authoritarian, Indulgent, and Neglectful Families." Child Development 65:754770.

Laurence Steinberg


Avenues of inquiry regarding successful parenting in high-risk neighborhoods, particularly as it relates to students' ability to succeed in school, include the following: How do researchers define "high-risk," and how does the concept differ from "disadvantaged"? What is known about the socio-demographic conditions associated with individuals and neighborhoods characterized by "risk"?

To answer these questions, three intersecting lenses of analysis are examined: (1) individual: parenting and resilience; (2) community: social capital and capacity; and (3) interinstitutional: ecology of schooling. The discussion focuses upon the elements associated with educational management functions among families in high-risk neighborhoods.

Definition of "At-Risk"

The concept of a high-risk neighborhood is derived from the set of social and economic conditions that place individuals "at-risk" of failure, or of encountering significant problems related to employment, education, self-sufficiency, or a healthy lifestyle. At-risk conditions include both environmental or community characteristics, such as crime and limited employment opportunities, and individual qualities, such as poverty and low educational attainment. The problems or failures encountered by those labeled at-risk are oriented toward the future but linked to current conditions.

The understanding that interactions between particular environmental and individual characteristics may lead to a heightened risk of negative outcomes is rooted in the health and medical literature, and is widely examined in studies of social stratification, educational inequality, and social policy. Common arguments, such as those of sociologists Karl Alexander and Doris Entwisle, among others, suggest that individuals "disadvantaged" by low socioeconomic status are more susceptible to adverse environmental or community conditions, such as unsafe housing and poor quality schooling. Decades of social science research provide compelling evidence that the extent and concentration of neighborhood poverty and the presence (or absence) of affluent neighbors are associated with an array of outcomes, including rates of teenage pregnancy and school dropout. But policymakers and social scientists also underscore the finding that in socially depleted neighborhoods, residents are often constrained in their efforts to transmit positive values and productive norms because of a lack of community structure and effective social controls.

High-Risk Neighborhoods

Historically, neighborhoods have functioned as the social, political, and cultural webbing for families and children. This context links families and individuals to a set of norms, routines, and traditions. The social scripts embedded in the geography and culture of the neighborhood, if well known and well defined, become institutionalized practices for children and adults. Social actions flow from perceptions of safety and opportunity, expectations regarding appropriate parenting styles and child behavior, norms regarding home maintenance and respect for property. The neighborhood environment defines the formation of particular social networks among families and the levels of trust, familiarity, and face-to-face engagement among members.

Clusters of interlocking and corrosive conditions are persistent in high-risk neighborhoods, and are evidenced by the dense and dilapidated housing, a real and constant threat of violent crime, inadequate and inaccessible health care, a lack of employment opportunities that pay a living wage, and unreliable and limited public transportation. These concrete indicators of poverty and social isolation give rise to an insidious and entrenched culture of fear, disconnection, and distrust in high-risk neighborhoods. Families may be paralyzed by fear of gangs and guns. Omnipresent drug traffic and a constant threat of victimization minimize opportunities for interdependence and delimit social interaction among neighbors within the community. High transience rates in these neighborhoods lead to blocks of unstable and abandoned housing.

How does this social fabric influence children's well-being, particularly their success in schooling, when the population is so heavily marked by concentrated poverty, unemployment, low levels of education, and large numbers of struggling, single parents? How is a parent's pattern of involvement in home- and school-based learning activities affected by these neighborhood-level conditionsbeyond individual characteristics (income, education, family structure)? These community-level conditions frame the challenging conditions for parents engaged in managing their children's educational experiences at home and at the school site. Researchers agree that these out-of-school environments constitute vital components that are deeply connected but external to students' experiences in formal school settings.

Resiliency and Community Capacity

Although it is clear that certain family conditions are associated with higher rates of povertylow parent education, young parental age, and single parent statusit is less well understood how parenting practices in circumstances of poverty may overcome or mediate these "high-risk" conditions to produce successful educational outcomes for children. Emerging research findings point to the important role of resiliency in guiding the actions of individuals. Resiliency research refers to a long tradition of studies aimed at understanding how individuals or groups overcome high-risk conditions, such as poverty, or succeed despite severely adverse family situations, such as an alcoholic or abusive parent.

Certain elements present in the individual or community, known as "protective factors" function to assist people in high-risk environments to over-come the adverse conditions. Internal protective factors include social competence (ability to form positive and productive relationships with others); problem solving (the ability to identify problems and apply appropriate resources to solving them); autonomy (an ability to act independently and with control over their environment); and sense of purpose (the disposition to set goals, persist in achieving them, and maintain a focus). These internal elements function in partnership with external protective factors to produce resiliency and positive outcomes. Thus, schools and neighborhoods that offer resiliency to individuals include the following properties: a sense of caring and heightened familiarity for individual members or students; high expectations coupled with appropriate resources to reach these goals; opportunities for meaningful participation and demands for personal responsibility.

The research literature on community capacity extends and elaborates upon the important influence that neighborhood conditions exert in shaping social action in positive ways that lead to productive outcomes among members. Robert Chaskin has identified four central elements that are often weak or tenuous in high-risk neighborhoods.

  1. A sense of community or degree of connectedness among neighborstheir sense of being similarly situated socially, economically, and geographically
  2. Level of commitment among neighbors who view themselves as stakeholders and assume responsibility for collective outcomes
  3. A mechanism for problem identification, planning and priority-setting, and problem solving
  4. Access to financial, political, and human resources

Community capacity focuses upon the significance of social interaction across individuals, organizations, and networks of organizations. A central asset required for community capacity is human capitalthe skills, knowledge, and dispositions among individual members of a community that are profitable for both individuals and the neighborhood in optimizing the processes outlined in the communit-building literature. As James Coleman and Thomas Hoffer note, residents in high-risk neighborhoods who fit the traditional definition of "disadvantaged," that is, are marked by low levels of education and low income, have little human capital and face challenging obstacles in their efforts to build community capacity.

Social capital bridges human capital theory, which underscores the economic value of individuals for collective purposes, and social organization theory. The capacity of neighborhoods to provide constructive assets for parents engaged in managing their children's educational success can be examined through the concepts embedded in social capital.

Social Capital

The concept of social capital emphasizes the role of organizational (e.g., school) relationships in establishing social ties between members who share similar attitudes, norms, and values instrumental in promoting a strong sense of obligation, shared expectations, and trust. These critical elements of social capital help promote trust, facilitate open and fluid communication, and produce purposeful and meaningful activities that benefit students and adults alike. Social capital is sustained when there is "a sense of community" or a set of organizational and institutional affiliations (e.g., civic, religious, professional) that bind families in stable, predictable, and enduring social ties.

The economic and social environments in high-risk neighborhoods may militate against the development and sustainability of social capital. These neighborhoods often reflect their social and economic context: scarce economic resources, unstable social networks, limited social trust, and a perceived lack of consensus on parenting. There are few after-school programs, church-related youth groups, or recreation/civic programs for children, youth, and families. Research studies of parenting practices in high-risk neighborhoodscommunity contexts bereft of social capital assetsdescribe parenting as a highly private, protected, and isolated set of activities. Under manifestly dangerous conditions, parents in high-risk neighborhoods manage risk and opportunity by adopting stringent child monitoring and youth control, or "lock-down" strategies. These individual patterns of confinement and insularity in childrearing and parenting reflect the larger, collective neighborhood dynamics. As more and more parents adopt these defensive tactics, increasing numbers of neighbors are disconnected and social networks of support dissolve.

Thus, the capacity of parents in high-risk neighborhoods to manage and promote educational success and healthy outcomes for their children is powerfully influenced by the nature of, and the ability to activate, social capital assets and community capacity-building in the neighborhood. Successful parents, that is, parents whose children are thriving socially and academically despite the distracting and disabling conditions in their neighborhood environments, demonstrate resiliency and an ability to activate internal protective factors. These parents manage to capture "scarce opportunities" in ways that suggest "super motivation" and "unusual diligence," according to Frank Furstenberg and his colleagues, who have studied urban neighborhoods and youth development for decades in Baltimore.

What role do schools play in promoting enduring social ties between families and educators in high-risk neighborhoods? Against this backdrop of distracting and disabling social contexts, how does a school community bind families in networks of support that enhance parents' abilities to promote positive educational outcomes for their children?

School Community

Research suggests that the type and strength of community in schools differentially affects the critical social connections that bond families and schools in the joint enterprise of education. This concept of community refers to two types: functional and value. Functional communities are characterized by structural consistency between generations in which social norms and sanctions arise out of the social structure itself, and both reinforce and perpetuate that structure. Functional communities exhibit a high degree of uniformity and cohesion within geographical, social, economic, and ideological boundaries. Value communities describe a collection of people who share similar values about education and childrearing but who are not a functional community; they are strangers from various neighborhoods, backgrounds, and occupations united around an educational organizationtheir children's school. Re-search findings indicate that Catholic schools often reflect the elements of functional communities; magnet schools sometimes suggest the elements of a value community.

The families of students in high-risk neighborhoods, however, may possess few if any of the constitutive elements of either a functional or value community. Although public neighborhood schools a century ago served residential areas that were functional communities, social, economic, and technological changes have transformed many of these communities from enclaves of shared values and daily face-to-face talk, to somewhat disparate sets of interests and weak affiliations.

Parent Involvement

Substantial research evidence indicates the positive effects of both home- and school-based parent involvement programs for all parents, teachers, and students. Findings, such as those of Carole Ames in 1993, indicate that parent involvement enhances parents' attitudes about themselves, school, school personnel, and the role each plays in the development of the child. This increased understanding promotes greater cooperation, commitment, and trust between parents and teachers. Finally, evidence, such as that of James Comer in 1980 suggests that students' achievement and cognitive development increases when effective parent involvement practices are in place.

Most significant in the generally positive and optimistic reports on parent involvement may be the evidence that patterns of parental participation are related to differences in socioeconomic status: Higher income and more educated parents participate at higher rates than lower class parents, both in terms of school-based activities and home learning exercises. Studies have identified educative enrichment activities that are crucial for children's cognitive development and school success (reading to children, taking children to the library, attending school-based events) that middle-class parents engage in more frequently than lower class parents. Beyond the benefit of home-based activities (reading, math games, inquisitive conversation) on children's learning, there are strong indications of the connection between teachers' expectations for student performance and the actions and attitudes of parents. Decisions regarding retention/promotion and ability grouping may well hinge on teachers' perceptions of parental interest and commitment.

Research by Deborah Vandell and colleagues in 1999 suggests that parents' patterns of participation (as reported by teachers) may be an important factor in mediating the negative impact of neighborhood risk on academic performance of elementary school students. The types of involvement reported by teachers to benefit children in high-risk neighborhoods include visiting the school for discussions with teachers, supervising homework, and providing children with enrichment activities at home. Vandell and colleagues point to resilience factors evidenced among parents to explain these families' active and purposeful participation in a range of home and school-based activities that benefit their children's academic performance.

School-Linked Social Services

The critical interaction between social structure and school organization in high-risk neighborhoods is amplified by the school-linked social services movement launched more than 100 years ago and rekindled with new programmatic priorities in the late 1980s. The school-linked social services movement has triggered a shift from a model of education based upon separate spheres between home and school to an ecological perspective of family life that considers the human context of need and locates the school as the nexus for expanded social and economic services.

Rebuilding community-based groups and youth development organizations, such as neighborhood centers, recreation programs, youth groups, and after-school art and educational enrichment programs, is critical to improved family functioning in high-risk neighborhoods. The research on family functioning, poverty, and neighborhoods is clear: A multipronged community-capacity building effort is necessary to enhance the ability of parents who are embedded in a context of economic survival and social isolation. Only then can parents overcome the daunting array of formidable obstacles to manage successfully their children's educational experiences in the neighborhood and inside the classroom.

See also: Adolescent Peer Culture, subentry on Parents' Role; Family, School, and Community Connections; Parental Involvement in Education; Parenting, subentry on Influence on Child's Educational Aspirations and Attainment.


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Wang, Margaret C., and Gordon, Edmund W., eds. 1994. Educational Resilience in Inner-City America. Hillsdale, NJ: Erlbaum.

Wang, Margaret C.; Haertel, Geneva D.; and Walberg, Herbert J. 1996. "Educational Resilience in Inner-City America." In Strategies for Improving Education in Urban Communities, ed. Edmund W. Gordon and Maynard C. Reynolds. Philadelphia: Temple University Center for Research in Human Development and Education.

Werner, Emmy E., and Smith, Ruth S. 1982. Vulnerable but Invincible: A Longitudinal Study of Resilient Children and Youth. New York: McGraw-Hill.

Werner, Emmy E., and Smith, Ruth S. 1992. Overcoming the Odds: High Risk Children from Birth to Adulthood. Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press.

Wilson, William J. 1987. The Truly Disadvantaged. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

Zill, Nicholas, and Nord, Christine W. 1994. Running in Place. Washington, DC: Child Trends.

Claire Smrekar


Traditionally, family status variables such as parents' level of education have been regarded as predictors of children's academic achievement. Increasingly, research has suggested that, rather than having a direct association with children's academic achievement, parents' level of education is part of a larger constellation of psychological and sociological variables influencing children's school outcomes.

Attendant on higher levels of education may be access to resources, such as income, time, energy, and community contacts, that allow for greater parental involvement in a child's education. Thus, the influence of parents' level of education on student outcomes might best be represented as a relationship mediated by interactions among status and process variables.

The literature also suggests that level of education influences parents' knowledge, beliefs, values, and goals about childrearing, so that a variety of parental behaviors are indirectly related to children's school performance. For example, higher levels of education may enhance parents' facility at becoming involved in their children's education, and also enable parents to acquire and model social skills and problem-solving strategies conducive to children's school success. Thus, students whose parents have higher levels of education may have an enhanced regard for learning, more positive ability beliefs, a stronger work orientation, and they may use more effective learning strategies than children of parents with lower levels of education.

While many theorists and researchers argue that student attributes conducive to achievement are deeply rooted in processes of socialization, such as learning through observation of parental modeling, others contend that through their personal qualities, children actively shape the parenting they receive: Parents socialize their children, but children also influence their parents. Supporting both theoretical perspectives is research indicating that the combination of learning behavior and intelligence exceeds the contributions of any single source in predicting children's scholastic achievement.

Parents with higher levels of education are also more likely to believe strongly in their abilities to help their children learn. A recent study exploring the relationships between level of parent education, parent self-efficacy, children's academic abilities, and participation in a Head Start program found that level of parent education and program participation was significantly related to parental self-efficacy. In turn, parental self-efficacy beliefs significantly predicted children's academic abilities.

However, examinations across varied cultural and ethnic groups within the United States suggest that level of education does not appear to determine the value parents place on education, their interest in their children's schooling or their aspirations for their children's academic success. For example, in a 1997 study comparing the relative value of varied predictors of parental involvement, Thomas Watkins found that parents' efficacy for involvement and educational goals for their children were stronger predictors of school success than parental level of education and ethnicity. Additionally, this study found that teacher communications to parents predicted parental involvement, suggesting that, regardless of education level, parents need encouragement from educators to become involved in their children's education.

In sum, it appears that process variables, or factors susceptible to the influence of parents, their children, and school personnel (e.g., educational expectations, level of involvement, child attributes conducive to achievement, and teacher invitations for parental involvement) are more predictive of children's school success than status variables such as parental level of education. This is an important conclusion, for while educators and researchers cannot influence the status of students' families, they may improve students' educational outcomes by influencing selected mediating process variables.

See also: Parenting, subentries on High-Risk Neighborhoods, Influence on Child's Educational Aspirations and Attainment, Overview.


Baumrind, Diana. 1989. "Rearing Competent Children." In Child Development Today and Tomorrow, ed. William Damon. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.

Clark, Reginald. 1983. Family Life and School Achievement: Why Poor Black Children Succeed of Fail. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

Hess, Robert D., and Holloway, Susan D. 1984. "Family and School as Educational Institutions." In Review of Child Development Research, Vol. 7: The Family, ed. Ross D. Parke. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

Hoover-Dempsey, Kathleen V., and Sandler, Howard M. 1997. "Why Do Parents Become Involved in Their Children's Education?" Review of Educational Research 67 (1):342.

Lareau, Annette. 1989. Home Advantage: Social Class and Parental Intervention in Elementary Education. New York: Falmer Press.

McGillicuddy-Delisi, Ann V. 1992. "Parents' Beliefs and Children's Personal-Social Development." In Parental Belief Systems: The Psychological Consequences for Children, ed. Irving E. Sigel, Ann V. McGillicuddy-De Lisi, and Jacqueline J. Goodnow. Hilllsdale, NJ: Erlbaum.

Scarr, Sandra, and McCartney, Kathleen. 1983. "How People Make Their Own Environments: A Theory of Genotype-Environment Effects." Child Development 54:424435.

Schaefer, Barbara A., and McDermott, Paul A. 1999. "Learning Behavior and Intelligence as Explanations for Children's Scholastic Achievement." Journal of School Psychology 37 (3):299313.

Schunk, Dale H., and Zimmerman, Barry J. 1997. "Social Origins of Self-Regulatory Competence." Educational Psychologist 32 (4):195208.

Seefeldt, Carol; Denton, Kristin; Galper, Alice; and Younoszai, Tina. 1999. "The Relation between Head Start Parents' Participation in a Transition Demonstration, Education, Efficacy and Their Children's Academic Abilities." Early Childhood Research Quarterly 14 (1):99109.

Steinberg, Laurence; Elmen, Julie; and Mounts, Nina. 1989. "Authoritative Parenting, Psychosocial Maturity and Academic Success among Adolescents." Child Development 60:14241436.

Watkins, Thomas J. 1997. "Teacher Communications, Child Achievement and Parent Traits in Parent Involvement Models." Journal of Educational Research 91 (1):314.

Joan M. T. Walker

Claire Smrekar


A considerable body of research conducted within the United States and across countries has over-whelmingly demonstrated the profound influence of parents' beliefs and behaviors on children's educational aspirations and academic achievement. What remains unclear is how parental belief systems are transmitted to and manifested in children, and how belief systems function among families of varied socioeconomic and ethnic backgrounds.

Effects of Socialization

Many theorists and researchers regard the development of student beliefs and behaviors conducive to achievement (e.g., belief in one's ability, effective learning strategy use, motivation for academic tasks, strong work orientation) as the product of socialization processes. In a 1996 study, Manuel Martinez-Pons tested a theoretical model indicating that parental belief and behavior systems induce their children's educational aspirationsthrough parental modeling of attitudes and strategies, encouragement and facilitation of academically related goals and activities, and reinforcement or rewarding of student achievement.

Examples of specific parental behaviors that may influence children's educational aspirations can be found in recent reviews of parental involvement in homework. This literature suggests that parents use a wide array of cognitive and social strategies to facilitate their children's learning. These strategies range from simple efforts such as creating a physical space for completing homework and providing general oversight and encouragement of the homework process to interacting with the child's school or teacher about homework and engaging in homework tasks with the child. Parents also appear to use more sophisticated strategies that are designed to create a "fit" between a particular task and the child's abilities (e.g., breaking tasks into discrete, manageable parts), support children's understanding of specific homework tasks (e.g., helping the child organize personal thinking about the assignment), and support their understanding of strategies conducive to achievement (e.g., developing problem-solving skills).

Parenting Styles

In addition to their involvement in specific aspects of their children's education, styles of parenting also affect children's attitudes toward academic achievement. For example, adolescents who described their parents as "warm, democratic, and firm" (i.e., a parenting style characterized as authoritative parenting ) were more likely than their peers to develop positive attitudes toward and beliefs about their achievement. These results, however, were true for a predominantly white middle-class to upper-middle-class population. Investigation of links between parenting practices and academic achievement among varied ethnic groups have suggested that the relationship between parenting style and achievement is more complex.

Students' educational aspirations appear to be influenced not only by parents, but also by peers. For example, Laurence Steinberg, Sanford Dornbusch, and B. Bradford Brown (1992) found that high-achieving white students benefited from the combination of authoritative parenting and peer support for achievement, while lower-achieving Hispanic students suffered from a combination of authoritarian parenting (characterized by high demands and low warmth) and low peer support. For African-American students, the benefits of authoritative parenting appeared to be offset by low peer support for achievement, while the negative consequences on Asian-American students of authoritarian parenting were tempered by peer support.

Theories of Influence

The combined influence of parents and peers supports theorists who argue that parents' educational aspirations for their children, and children's own aspirations, stem from socially constructed roles. Role theory suggests that beliefs are derived from expectations held by groups for the behavior of its individual members (e.g., a family's expectations for a child's academic achievement). Roles are also sets of behaviors characteristic of specific kinds of group members (e.g., minority elementary-school students). As such, role construction involves three interactive processes: (1) structural demands (i.e., What do others expect of me?), (2) personal role conceptions (i.e., What do I expect of myself?), and (3) role behavior (i.e., What do I/should I do?). Put simply, role can be characterized by two components: beliefs individuals hold and actions that individuals take.

Because it accounts for interactions among varied psychological and sociological factors experienced by members of different races, social classes, and ethnicities, role theory is a valuable tool for explaining the conflicting evidence surrounding parents' influence on children's educational aspirations. Further, some researchers speculate that understanding how parental roles are constructed may enhance educators' abilities to effectively involve parents in their children's education, and thus enhance student outcomes.

Another useful theoretical tool for disentangling differential patterns of parental belief and behavior systems is John U. Ogbu's cultural ecological theory. From this perspective, within minority groups, students' choice of strategies for succeeding in school are believed to stem from their desire to take the path of least resistance to the dominant social group, and to improve their status within their own peer group. Further, Ogbu characterizes minority groups' status as voluntary (i.e., immigrant families) and involuntary (i.e., native-born families), and he contends that voluntary minorities have more social pressure to do well in school than involuntary minorities. His argument is supported by a collection of ethnographies and other qualitative studies describing the combined influence of self, peer, and parental expectations and valuing of education among immigrant students and their native-born peers.

Specifically, these studies have noted that while many immigrant students invest personal time and energy in studying and seeking extra help, what appears to drive these self-regulatory efforts is a constellation of self, peer, and parental values that place great importance on the role of education. Moreover, when voluntary and involuntary minority families are compared, the children of immigrant families appear to have higher educational aspirations and academic achievement than their native-born peers.

Compounding the difficulty in understanding how parental aspirations influence children's ability beliefs and learning behaviors is the fact that children receive and require differing levels of support and guidance from parents and peers according to their cognitive, social, and emotional development. In general, educational psychologists view the development of beliefs and behaviors conducive to achievement as a movement from largely socially regulated experiences in the early grades to more self-regulated learning experiences in middle and high school. Thus, the quality and quantity of parental influence on students' positive aspirations for achievement differ as children move from elementary to high school.

See also: Parental Involvement in Education; Parenting, subentries on High-Risk Neighborhoods, Influence of Parents' Level of Education, Overview.


Biddle, Bruce J. 1979. Role Theory: Expectations, Identities, and Behavior. New York: Academic Press.

Fuligni, Andrew J. 1997. "The Academic Achievement of Adolescents from Immigrant Families: The Roles of Family Background, Attitudes and Behavior."Child Development 68 (2):351363.

Halle, Tamara G.; Kurtz-Costes, Beth; and Mahoney, Joseph L. 1997. "Family Influences on School Achievement in Low-Income, African-American Children." Journal of Educational Psychology 89 (3):527537.

Hoover-Dempsey, Kathleen V., and Sandler, Howard M. 1997. "Why Do Parents Become Involved in Their Children's Education?" Review of Educational Research 67 (1):342.

Martinez-Pons, Manual. 1996. "Test of a Model of Parental Inducement of Academic Self-Regulation." The Journal of Experimental Education 64 (3):213227.

Ogbu, John U. 1978. Minority Education and Caste: The American System in Cross-Cultural Perspective. New York: Academic Press.

Schunk, Dale H., and Zimmerman, Barry J. 1997. "Social Origins of Self-Regulatory Competence." Educational Psychologist 32 (4):195208.

Singh, Kusum; Bickley, Patricia G.; Trivette, Paul; and Keith, Timothy Z. 1995. "The Effects of Four Components of Parental Involvement on Eighth-Grade Student Achievement: Structural Analysis of NELS-88 Data." School Psychology Review 24 (2):299317.

Steinberg, Laurence; Dornbusch, Sanford M.; and Brown, B. Bradford. 1992. "Ethnic Differences in Adolescent Achievement: An Ecological Perspective." American Psychologist 47 (6):723729.

Steinberg, Laurence; Elmen, Julie; and Mounts, Nina. 1989. "Authoritative Parenting, Psychosocial Maturity and Academic Success among Adolescents." Child Development 60:14241436.

Suarez-Orozco, Marcelo M. 1989. Central American Refugees and U.S. High Schools: A Psychosocial Study of Motivation and Achievement. Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press.

Joan M. T. Walker

Claire Smrekar


views updated May 11 2018


Anxiety is the hallmark of modern parenthood. Early- twenty-first century parents agonize incessantly about their children's physical health, personality development, psychological well-being, and academic performance. From birth, parenthood is colored by apprehension. Contemporary parents worry about Sudden Infant Death Syndrome, stranger abductions, and physical and sexual abuse, as well as more mundane problems, such as sleep disorders and hyperactivity.

Parental anxiety about children's well-being is not a new development, but parents' concerns have taken dramatically different forms over time. Until the mid-nineteenth century, parents were primarily concerned about their children's health, religious piety, and moral development. In the late nineteenth century, parents became increasingly attentive to their children's emotional and psychological well-being, and during the twentieth century, parental anxieties dwelt on children's personality development, gender identity, and their ability to interact with peers. Today, much more than in the past, guilt-ridden, uncertain parents worry that their children not suffer from boredom, low self-esteem, or excessive school pressures.

Shifting Assumptions about Parenting

In the early twenty-first century, we consider early childhood life's formative stage, and believe that children's experiences during the first two or three years of life mold their personality, lay the foundation for future cognitive and psychological development, and leave a lasting imprint on their emotional life. We also assume that children's development proceeds through a series of physiological, psychological, social, and cognitive stages; that even very young children have a capacity to learn; that play serves valuable developmental functions; and that growing up requires children to separate emotionally and psychologically from their parents. These assumptions differ markedly from those held two or three centuries previously. Before the mid-eighteenth century, most adults betrayed surprisingly little interest in the very first years of life and autobiographies revealed little nostalgia for childhood. Also adults were far less age conscious than they have since become, and tended to dismiss children's play as trivial and insignificant.

The basic assumptions that underlie parenting are cultural constructs that arise at particular points in history. Parenting has evolved through a series of successive and overlap-ping phases, from a seventeenth-century view of children as "adults-in-training" to the early-nineteenth-century emphasis on character formation; the late-nineteenth century notion of scientific child rearing, stressing regularity and systematization; the mid-twentieth-century focus on fulfilling children's emotional and psychological needs; and the late-twentieth-century stress on maximizing children's intellectual and social development.

Childhood in Colonial America

Diversity has always been a hallmark of American parenting. At no time was this more readily apparent than during the colonial era. Parenting took quite different forms among Native Americans, enslaved African Americans, and European colonists of various regions and religious backgrounds.

European observers were shocked by the differences between their child-rearing customs and those of the Indian peoples of the Eastern woodlands. There were certain superficial similarities. Native peoples, like Europeans, surrounded pregnancy with rituals to ensure the newborn's health, and practiced rites following a childbirth that Europeans regarded as perversions of baptism and circumcision (such as rubbing an infant in bear's fat and piercing the newborn's tongue, nose, or ears). The differences in child rearing were especially striking. Girls were not expected to spin, weave, or knit, as they were in Europe, and boys were not expected to farm. Nor were children subjected to corporal punishment, since this was believed to produce timidity and submissiveness.

Maturation among Indians was much more enmeshed in religious and communal rituals than among Europeans. For boys, there were ceremonies to mark one's first tooth, killing of one's first large game, and a vision quest, in which boys went alone into the wilderness to find a guardian spirit. Many girls were secluded at the time of first menstruation. Among certain Southeastern tribes, there was a ceremony called huskinaw through which boys and girls shed their childish identity and assumed adult status.

English colonists regarded children as "adults-intraining." They recognized that children differed from adults in their mental, moral, and physical capabilities, and drew a distinction between childhood, an intermediate stage they called youth, and adulthood. But they did not rigidly segregate children by age. Size and physical strength were more important than chronological age in defining a young person's roles and responsibilities. Parents wanted children to speak, read, reason, and contribute to their family's economic well-being as soon as possible.

Infancy was regarded as a state of deficiency. Unable to speak or stand, infants lacked two essential attributes of full humanity. Parents discouraged infants from crawling, and placed them in "walking stools," similar to modern walkers. To ensure proper adult posture, young girls wore leather corsets and parents placed rods along the spines of very young children of both sexes. The colonists rarely swaddled their infants, and not surprisingly some youngsters fell into fireplaces or wells.

Colonial America's varied religious cultures exerted a profound influence on child rearing. The New England Puritans encouraged children to exhibit religious piety and to conquer their sinful nature. To encourage children to reflect on their morality, the Puritans spoke frequently about death. They also took children to hangings so that they would contemplate the consequences of sin. To encourage youthful piety, Puritan parents held daily household prayers; read books, such as James Janeway's Token for Children, offering examples of early conversion; and expected even young children to attend Sabbath services. One of the Puritans' most important legacies was the notion that parents were responsible not only for their children's physical well-being, but also for their choice of vocation and the state of their soul.

In the Middle Colonies (New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, and Delaware), a very different pattern of parenting arose. Quaker households, in particular, were much less authoritarian and patriarchal than the Puritans'. They were also more isolated since fewer families took in other families' children as servants as Puritans did. Instead of emphasizing sinfulness, Quaker parents sought to gently nurture each child's "Light Within," the spark of divinity that they believed was implanted in each child's soul, through "holy conversation." Quaker parents, unlike those in New England, emphasized early independence, providing their children with land at a relatively early age.

In the Chesapeake colonies of Maryland and Virginia, a sharply skewed sex ratio and a high death rate produced patterns of parenting very different from those in the Middle Colonies or New England. Marriages in the seventeenth-century Chesapeake were brief, and orphanhood and step-parenthood were common. Fathers, who could not expect to see their children reach adulthood, granted their children economic independence at an early age. The seventeenth-century Chesapeake included large numbers of teenage indentured servants who were under very strict discipline and frequently suffered corporal punishment.

Eighteenth-Century Ferment

During the eighteenth century, the world of childhood underwent dramatic shifts. Fewer first children were named for parents, who also abandoned the custom of naming later-born children for recently deceased siblings. Children also received middle names, suggesting a greater recognition of each child's individuality. Representations of childhood changed. Stiffly posed portraits depicting children as miniature adults gave way to more romantic depictions of childhood, showing young people playing or reading. Meanwhile, such educational toys as globes, jigsaw puzzles, and board games, appeared, as did children's books, with wide margins, large type, and pictures. Animal stories, morality tales, and science books sought to entertain as well as instruct.

Eighteenth-century child-rearing tracts suggest a shift in parental attitudes. Alongside an earlier emphasis on instilling religious piety, there was a growing stress on implanting virtue and a capacity for self-government by teaching "the Government of themselves, their Passions and Appetites." Many manuals embraced John Locke's argument that "a Love of Credit, and an Apprehension of Shame and Disgrace" was much more effective in shaping children's behavior than physical beatings. Yet the eighteenth century also saw a growing obsession with masturbation, following the publication in 1710 of Onania: Or the Heinous Sin of Self Pollution. As childhood became associated with asexual innocence, behavior that ran counter to this ideal was rigorously repressed.

Contrasting conceptions of childhood coexisted in eighteenth-century America. These included the Lockean notion of the child as a tabula rasa, or blank slate whose character could be shaped for good or bad; a Romantic association of childhood with purity, imagination, and organic wholeness; and an evangelical conception of children as potentially sinful creatures who needed to be sheltered from the evil influences of the outside world and whose willfulness must be broken in infancy. These views of childhood tended to be associated with distinct social groups. The evangelical emphasis on submission to authority and early conversion was most often found among rural Baptist, Methodist, and Presbyterian families. The southern gentry and northern merchants were especially likely to shower children with affection, since day-to-day discipline was in the hands of servants or slaves. Meanwhile, the middling orders, especially upwardly mobile farm, shopkeeping, and artisan families, emphasized self-control and internalized discipline.

The American Revolution accelerated antipatriarchial currents already underway. An emphasis on order and restraint gave way to a Romantic insistence on the importance of personal feeling and affection. Fewer parents expected children to bow or doff their hats in their presence or stand during meals. Instead of addressing parents as "sir" and "madam," children called them "papa" and "mama." By the end of the eighteenth century, furniture specifically designed for children, painted in pastel colors and decorated with pictures of animals or figures from nursery rhymes, began to be widely produced, reflecting the popular notion of childhood as a time of innocence and playfulness.

According to the ideal of "republican motherhood" that flourished in the late eighteenth century, mothers were responsible for implanting the republican virtues of civility and self-restraint in their sons and ensuring that America's republican experiment would not follow the path of the Greek and Roman Republics. To ensure that women could fulfill this responsibility late eighteenth century saw a surge in female academies and a marked increase in female literacy.

By the early nineteenth century, mothers in the rapidly expanding Northeastern middle class increasingly embraced an amalgam of earlier child-rearing ideas. From John Locke, they absorbed the notion that children were highly malleable creatures and that a republican form of government required parents to instill a capacity for self-government in their children. From Jean-Jacques Rousseau and the Romantic poets middle-class parents acquired the idea of childhood as a special stage of life, intimately connected with nature and purer and morally superior to adulthood. From the evangelicals, the middle class adopted the idea that the primary task of parenthood was to implant proper moral character in children and to insulate children from the corruptions of the adult world.

Parenting in Nineteenth-Century America

Early-nineteenth-century travelers reported that American children were far more independent and much less rigorously disciplined than their European counterparts. A British visitor, Frederick Marryat, offered a particularly shocking example. After a youngster disobeyed his father's command, the man described his son as "a sturdy republican," while "smiling at the boy's resolute disobedience."

Yet as early as the second quarter of the nineteenth century, a new kind of urban middle-class family, much more emotionally intense than in the past, was emerging. These families were much smaller than their colonial counterparts, as parents rapidly reduced the birth rate from an average seven to ten children in 1800 to five children in 1850 and three in 1900. These families were also more sharply divided along generational lines, as child rearing was increasingly concentrated in the early years of marriage. They were also more mother-centered, as fathers left home to go to work and mothers assumed nearly exclusive responsibility for child rearing. Meanwhile, middle-class children remained within their parents' home longer than in the past. Instead of shifting back and forth between the home and work experiences outside the home, the young remained at home into their late teens or early twenties.

As socialization within the home was prolonged and intensified, child rearing became an increasingly self-conscious activitya development underscored by a proliferation of advice manuals, mothers' magazines, and maternal societies, where pious mothers discussed methods for properly raising and disciplining children. The advice, which increasingly came from secular authorities rather than ministers, emphasized several themes. One was the crucial significance of the early years. As the Rev. Horace Bushnell wrote in 1843, "Let every Christian father and mother understand, when the child is three years old, that they have done more than half of what they will do for his character." Another key theme was the critical importance of mothering. As Lydia Maria Child put it in 1832, her "every look, every movement, every expression does something toward forming the character of the little heir to immortal life." The goals and methods of child rearing were conceived of in new terms. Mothers were to nurture childrenespecially sonswho were resourceful and self-directed; they were to do so by internalizing a capacity for inner discipline and self-control not through physical punishment, but through various forms of maternal influence, including maternal example, appeals to a child's conscience, and threats to withdraw love.

Class, Ethnic, and Regional Diversity

At the same time that the northeastern middle class embraced the idea of intensive mothering and a sheltered childhood, very different patterns prevailed among slave, farm, frontier, mining, and urban working-class families. Their children actively contributed to their family's well-being by hunting and fishing, assisting in parents' work activities, tending gardens or livestock, toiling in mines or mills, scavenging or participating in street trades, and caring for younger siblings.

Parenting under slavery was especially difficult. As a result of poor nutrition and heavy labor during pregnancy, half of all slave newborns weighed five-and-a-half pounds or less, or what we would consider dangerously underweight, and fewer than two out of three slave children reached the age of ten. Nearly half of the former slaves interviewed by the Works Progress Administration were raised apart from their father, either because he resided on another plantation, their mother was unmarried or widowed, or their father was a white man. By the time they reached the age of sixteen, fully a third of those interviewed had been sold or transferred to another owner.

Childhood represented a battlefield in which parents and masters competed over who would exercise primary authority over children. One of enslaved children's harshest memories was discovering that their parents were helpless to protect them from abuse. Still, slave parents managed to convey a sense of pride to their children and to educate them about how to maneuver through the complexities of slavery. Through their naming patterns, transmission of craft skills, religious customs, music, and folklore, slave parents gave their children the will and skills necessary to endure slavery and sustained a sense of history, morality, and distinctive identity.

Urban working-class and immigrant families depended for subsistence on a cooperative family economy in which all family members, including children, were expected to contribute to the family's material support. During the nineteenth century, as much as twenty percent of many working-class families' income was earned by children under the age of fifteen. Key decisionsregarding emigration, school attendance, and the timing of entry into the workforce and marriagewere based on family needs rather than individual choices, and working-class and immigrant parents frequently invoked their authority to ensure that children handed over their unopened paychecks.

Rural families also depended heavily on their children. On the western frontier, parents encouraged children to act independently and to assume essential family responsibilities at an early age. Even very young children were expected to perform essential tasks such as cutting hay; herding cattle and sheep; burning brush; gathering eggs; churning butter; and assisting with plowing, planting, and harvesting. In rural areas schooling tended to be sporadic and intermittent.

Turn-of-the-Century Parenting

The late nineteenth and early twentieth century witnessed far-reaching improvements in children's health, as physicians successfully treated digestive problems such as diarrhea, dysentery, and worms; respiratory problems such as consumption, croup, pneumonia, and whooping cough; and such diseases as scarlet fever and infections. The pasteurization of milk was particularly important in reducing child mortality. These medical successes encouraged well-educated parents to embrace the notion that child rearing itself should be more scientific. During the 1880s and 1890s, the Child Study movement, spearheaded by the psycholo-gist G. Stanley Hall, collected information from mothers and teachers and promoted greater awareness of the stages of childhood development (including adolescence, a term that he popularized) and increased sensitivity to children's fears, insecurities, and anxieties.

The belief that scientific principles had not been properly applied to child rearing produced new kinds of child-rearing manuals, of which the most influential was Dr. Luther Emmett Holt's The Care and Feeding of Children, first published in 1894. Holt emphasized rigid scheduling of feeding, bathing, sleeping, and bowel movements and advised mothers to guard vigilantly against germs and undue stimulation of infants. At a time when a well-adjusted adult was viewed as a creature of habit and self-control, he stressed the importance of imposing regular habits on infants. He discouraged mothers from kissing their babies, and told them to ignore their crying and to break such habits as thumb-sucking. Upper-class and upper-middle-class mothers, like Dr. Benjamin Spock's mother, were much more likely to adopt Holt's advice than were working-class mothers. The behaviorist psychologist John B. Watsonwho, in the 1920s, told mothers to "never hug and kiss" their children or "let them sit in your lap"claimed Holt as his inspiration.

During the 1920s and 1930s, the field of child psychology exerted a growing influence on middle-class parenting. It provided a new language to describe children's emotional problems, such as sibling rivalry, phobias, maladjustment, and inferiority and Oedipus complexes; it also offered new insights into forms of parenting (based on such variables as demandingness or permissiveness), the stages and milestones of children's development, and the characteristics of children at particular ages (such as the "terrible twos," which was identified by Arnold Gesell, Frances L. Ilg, and Louise Bates Ames). The growing prosperity of the 1920s made the earlier emphasis on regularity and rigid self-control seem outmoded. A well-adjusted adult was now regarded as a more easygoing figure, capable of enjoying leisure. Rejecting the mechanistic and behaviorist notion that children's behavior could be molded by scientific control, popular dispensers of advice favored a more relaxed approach to child rearing, emphasizing the importance of meeting babies' emotional needs. The title of a 1936 book by pediatrician C. Anderson AldrichBabies Are Human Beings summed up the new attitude.

Child-guidance clinics, founded in the late 1910s to treat juvenile delinquency, attracted an expanding clientele of middle-class parents, concerned about eating and sleeping disorders, nail biting, bed-wetting, phobias, sibling rivalry, and temper tantrums, and by problems involving school failure, running away, disobedience, and rebellious behavior. Yet many parents failed to address children's informational needs regarding sexuality, especially girls' need for information about menstruation, and increasingly favored having schools assume this responsibility. As early as 1922, half of all schools offered some instruction in "social hygiene," an early form of sex education.

The Depression, World War II, and the Baby Boom

The Great Depression imposed severe strains on the nation's parents. It not only threw breadwinners out of jobs and impoverished families, it also forced many families to share living quarters and put off having children. More than 200,000 vagrant children wandered the country. Many fathers were overwhelmed by guilt because they were unable to support their families, and unemployment significantly lowered their status within the family. The father's diminished stature was mirrored by a great increase in the money-saving and -earning roles of mothers.

Wartime upheavals caused by World War II also had a profound impact on parenting. The war produced a sudden upsurge in the marriage and birth rate; spurred an unprecedented tide of family separation and migration; and thrust millions of mothers into the workforce. The war also accelerates a trend toward more affectionate child rearing, as mothers took the position that it was normal and healthy to embrace their children. At the same time, the war temporarily reduced opposition to child labor, both paid and volunteer worksuch as gathering scrap materials or tending victory gardenssince work might reduce juvenile delinquency, which appeared to be a mounting problem.

World War II produced intense concerns about "faulty" mothering, especially maternal overprotectiveness and its mirror opposite, maternal neglect. Americans were shocked by the number of men, more than 5 million, rejected for military service on the basis of physical or psychological deficiencies. Philip Wylie, author of the 1942 best-seller A Generation of Vipers, blamed such problems on the combination of a dominant, overly protective mother and a passive or absent father. There was also a tendency to blame juvenile delinquency, latchkey children, illegitimacy, truancy, and runaways not on unsettled wartime conditions, but on neglectful mothers. An important wartime legacy, based on JohnBowlby's studies of British children separated from their parents during the war, was a heightened stress on the significance of maternal attachment in developing feelings of security and competence in children.

No families were more deeply affected by the war than Japanese Americans. In the spring of 1942, 120,000two-thirds of them U.S. citizenswere relocated from homes on the West Coast to detention camps located in barren and forbidding parts of Arizona, Arkansas, California, Colorado, Idaho, Utah, and Wyoming. Toilets, showers, and dining facilities were communal, precluding family privacy. The internment camps inverted traditional family roles and loosened parental controls.

Severe problems of family adjustment followed the war. Many returning GIs found it difficult to communicate with children, while many wives and children found the men excessively strict, nervous, or intolerant. Estrangement and problems with alcohol were not infrequent as families tried to readjust after the war. The next decade witnessed a sharp reaction to the psychological stresses of wartime. Americans married at a younger age and had more children than in preceding generations. Responding to the postwar housing shortage, millions moved to new single-family homes in the suburbs. Many war-weary parents, scornful of the child-rearing homilies of their parents and grandparents, embraced the advice of Dr. Benjamin Spock, who rejected the idea of rigid feeding, bathing, and sleeping schedules, and told parents to pick up their babies and enjoy them.

Nevertheless, class and ethnic differences in parenting practices remained widespread. Allison Davis and Robert Havighurst found that middle-class parents began training children in achievement, initiative, personal responsibility, and cleanliness earlier than working-class parents, who placed a higher premium on obedience and relied more on corporal punishment; and that African-American parents had a more relaxed attitude toward infant feeding and weaning than their white counterparts.

Postwar parenting was characterized by an undercurrent of anxiety, sparked partly by concern over children's physical and mental health. The early 1950s was the last period when large numbers of children were left crippled by polio or meningitis. Psychologists such as Theodore Lidz, Irving Bieber, and Erik Erikson linked schizophrenia, homosexuality, and identity diffusion to mothers who displaced their frustrations and needs for independence onto their children. A major concern was that many boys, raised almost exclusively by women, failed to develop an appropriate sex role identity. In retrospect, it seems clear that an underlying source of anxiety lay in the fact that mothers were raising their children with an exclusivity and in an isolation unparalleled in American history.

During the 1960s, there was a growing sense that something had gone wrong in American parenting. Books with titles like Suburbia's Coddled Kids criticized permissive child rearing and parents who let their children bully them. Meanwhile, maverick social critics, including Edgar Z. Friedenberg and Paul Goodman, argued that middle-class parents were failing their children by conveying mixed messages, stressing independence and accomplishment but giving their offspring few avenues of achievement or autonomy. At a time when Americans were worrying about gaps of all kindssuch as the so-called missile gap and the "credibility" gapthe generation gap was the most distressing of all. This gap was easily exaggerated and romanticized, and social scientists demonstrated that there was little divergence of ideas between the young and their parents on most moral and social issues, and that the biggest division was among youth themselves, especially between white middle-class and white working-class adolescents. Nevertheless, many families witnessed bitter clashes over dress, language, music, sexual morality, and, especially, politics.

Trends in Parenting since 1970

Since the early 1970s, parental anxieties greatly increased both in scope and intensity. Many parents sought to protect children from every imaginable harm by baby-proofing their homes, using car seats, and requiring bicycle helmets. Meanwhile, as more mothers joined the labor force, parents arranged more structured, supervised activities for their children. Unstructured play and outdoor activities for children three to eleven declined nearly 40 percent between the early 1980s and late 1990s.

A variety of factors contributed to this surge in anxiety. One factor was demographic. At the end of the twentieth century most children had one sibling or none. As parents had fewer children, they invested more emotion in each child, and many lived in fear that their offspring would underperform academically, athletically, or socially. An increase in professional expertise about children, coupled with a proliferation of research and advocacy organizations, media outlets, and government agencies responsible for children's health and safety made parents increasingly aware of threats to children's well-being and of ways to maximize their children's physical, social, and intellectual development. Unlike postwar parents, who wanted to produce normal children who fit in, middle-class parents now wanted to give their child a competitive edge.

Excessive efforts to overload children with activities led experts such as David Elkind to decry a tendency toward "hyper-parenting" as ambitious middle-class parents attempted to provide their children with every possible opportunity by filling up their afterschool time with lessons, enrichment activities, and sports. These experts feared that overscheduling and overprogramming placed excessive pressure on children and deprived them of the opportunity for free play and hanging out.

Shocking news reports intensified parental fears, including the revelation in 1973 of the serial murders of twenty-seven juveniles by Elmer Wayne Henley and Dean Corll, and the poisoning of eight-year-old Timothy O'Bryan by cyanide-laced Halloween candy in 1974. These incidents were followed by highly publicized claims that young people's well-being was rapidly declining. During the mid-1970s there was alarm about an epidemic of teenage pregnancy. This was followed by a panic over stranger abductions of children, triggered by the mysterious disappearance of Etan Patz in New York City in 1979 and the abduction and murder of Adam Walsh in 1981 in Florida. Other panics followed, involving the sexual abuse of children in day care centers; violent youth gangs and juvenile "superpredators" youthful substance abuse; and declining student performance on standardized tests.

These panics were highly exaggerated. The teenage pregnancy rate had peaked in 1957 and was declining, not rising. A federal investigation disclosed that few missing children were abducted by strangers; the overwhelming majority were taken by noncustodial parents or were runaways. No cases of multiple caretaker sexual abuse in day-care centers were substantiated. Although youth violence did rise in the late 1980s and early 1990s (in tandem with violence by adults), the rate fell sharply in the mid-and late 1990s until it declined to levels unseen since the mid-1960s. Similarly, rates of drug, alcohol, and tobacco use by juveniles dropped until they were lower than those reported in the 1970s. Finally, the reported decline in student performance on standardized tests reflected an increase in the range of students taking the tests, not deteriorating student achievement.

Nevertheless, these panics produced a nagging, if inaccurate, sense that recent shifts in family lifeespecially the increasing divorce rate and the growing number of single parent households and working mothershad disastrous consequences for children's well-being. They also left an imprint on public policy, as many municipalities instituted curfews for juveniles; many schools introduced dress codes, random drug tests for student athletes, and "abstinence-only" sex education programs; and states raised the drinking age, adopted graduated driver's licenses, and made it easier to try juveniles offenders as adults in the court system. Other efforts to restore parental authority and discipline included the establishment of a rating system for CDs and video games; installation of v-chips in TVs to allow parents to restrict children's television viewing; and enactment in some states of laws requiring parental notification when minors sought abortions.

In evaluating recent changes in parenting, there is a tendency to exaggerate evidence of decline and ignore the genuine gains that have occurred. There is no evidence to suggest that most parents are less engaged in childcare than in the past or that adults have become "anti-child." While fewer parents participate in PTAs, many more take an active role in soccer leagues and Little League. While parents are having fewer children, they are investing more time and resources in those they do have. Contemporary parents are much more aware of the children's developmental needs and of the dangers of abuse, and most fathers are more engaged in child rearing than their fathers were.

Rising divorce rates and increasing numbers of working mothers have not had the negative psychological consequences that some have claimed. Research suggests that children suffer more when their parents stay together but have high levels of conflict than when they divorce. Also, working mothers are less likely to be depressed than stay-at-home mothers, and provide valuable role models, especially for their daughters.

There can be no doubt that contemporary parenting is more stressful than it was in the early postwar era. Today's parents are beset by severe time pressures and work-related stress, and fewer have supportive kin or neighbors to help out in a pinch. Their children are growing up in a violent, sex-saturated environment, where the allure of drugs, alcohol, cigarettes, and consumer products is widespread. Many of the vacant lots and other "free" spaces where earlier generations were able to play without adult supervision have disappeared. The result has been a hovering, emotionally intense style of parenting and a more highly organized form of child rearing, which may have made it more difficult for children to forge an independent existence and assert their growing maturity and competence.

See also: Baby Boom Generation; Child Care; Child-Rearing Advice Literature; Fathering and Fatherhood; Mothering and Motherhood; Same-Sex Parenting; Theories of Childhood.


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Steven Mintz

Parenting Styles

views updated May 11 2018

Parenting Styles

The study of human development is centrally concerned with understanding the processes that lead adults to function adequately within their cultures. These skills include an understanding of—and adherence to—the moral standards, conventional rules, and customs of the society. They also include maintaining close relationships with others, developing the skills to work productively, and becoming self-reliant and able to function independently. All of these may be important to successfully rear the next generation. Researchers studying human development have assumed that the family is a particularly important context for developing these competencies, and therefore, they have examined how parents socialize their children to understand variations in adult outcomes. They have attempted to find associations between the way parents raise their children and children's social, emotional, and cognitive development. It has been assumed that variations in parents' discipline style, warmth, attention to the needs of the child, and parenting attitudes and beliefs all can be characterized in terms of consistent patterns of child-rearing, referred to as parenting styles, that are systematically related to children's competence and development. Research that began in the mid-1980s has focused more on the particular dimensions of parenting that underlie the different parenting styles to provide a more detailed understanding of how parenting influences healthy child and adolescent development.

Parenting Styles

Alfred Baldwin and his colleagues provided one of the most important early attempts to describe systematic patterns of child rearing. This research, conducted in the 1930s and 1940s, followed a group of children and their families longitudinally over time. They observed parents and children interacting together in their homes, and they also assessed progress in children's development at different ages. They identified two sets of parental childrearing dimensions that were related to differences in children's outcomes. As others had done, they distinguished parents along a dimension of emotional involvement versus detachment. They also distinguished between democratic and autocratic parents. Autocratic parents were more likely to simply hand down their rules, while democratic parents were more likely to involve the child in family decision making and provide explanations for their expectations. Their research demonstrated that democratic parents had children who were less hostile and who worked more effectively in the absence of adult supervision (Maccoby 1992; Maccoby and Martin 1983).

There have been many subsequent attempts to improve on Baldwin's descriptions of parenting styles. The most influential has been the research of Diana Baumrind, who believed that the democratic style as defined by Baldwin was not sufficient to produce culturally competent adults and that democracy must be combined with authority to produce optimal competence. Beginning in the 1960s, Baumrind identified a set of characteristics that she believed defined competence for children in North American society (Baumrind 1971), and then she examined parents' childrearing beliefs and practices to determine the parenting styles that were associated with those outcomes. She initially developed a typology of three distinct parenting styles that were related to child outcomes, but research from 1980 onward has expanded to include four distinct parenting styles.

Baumrind's widely used typology describes parenting styles as varying along two completely independent dimensions of demandingness and responsiveness that, when crossed, yield four parenting styles. Authoritative parents are both responsive and demanding. They set clear, reasonable standards for responsible behavior that are consistent with children's developing abilities, are firm in their enforcement, and provide explanations for their positions. They are also kind, warm, and responsive to children's needs and will negotiate their expectations. Authoritarian parents are demanding but not responsive. These parents place high values on obedience to rules, discourage give-and-take between parents and children, and do not take their child's needs into consideration. Permissive or indulgent parents are responsive but not demanding. These parents are warm and accepting and tolerant of the child's impulses. They also make few demands on the child for mature behavior, do not use much punishment, and avoid exerting their authority. More recently, permissive parents have been distinguished from rejecting-neglecting parents, who also do not make many demands on their children, primarily because they are disengaged, and thus are neither demanding nor responsive (Baumrind 1989).

Baumrind's research indicates that authoritative parenting is most effective in leading to healthy adjustment for children. Authoritative parenting consistently has been associated with a wide range of positive adolescent outcomes, including better academic performance, increased competence, autonomy, and self-esteem, more advanced moral development, less deviance, anxiety, and depression, and a more well-rounded orientation to peers (Maccoby and Martin 1983; Steinberg 2001). Baumrind has proposed that authoritative parenting is most effective because of parents' high expectations and support for mature behavior. Much of the research on parenting styles in relation to child and adolescent adjustment has been conducted on white middle-class families, but since the start of the 1990s, researchers have become increasingly interested in ethnic and cultural variations.

Cultural and Ethnic Variations in Parenting Styles

Laurence Steinberg (2001) has asserted that the benefits of authoritative parenting in childhood and adolescence "transcend the boundaries of ethnicity, socioeconomic status, and household composition" (p. 12) and that research from around the world also demonstrates the beneficial effects of authoritative parenting. Numerous studies have examined parenting in a very diverse set of countries with different value systems using measures of parenting derived from Baumrind's work. These studies have shown that authoritative parenting is associated with better psychosocial development and mental health across cultures.

Research has suggested that authoritative parenting is more prevalent in European-American parents than in ethnic minority parents and that African-American and Asian-American parents are more authoritarian in their parenting practices than are white parents. Some researchers have suggested that authoritarian parenting may have positive effects on ethnic minority children's psychosocial adjustment and, in particular, academic achievement. In reviewing the available research, Steinberg (2001) has concluded that although African-American and Asian-American children are not as negatively affected by authoritarian parenting as are children from other ethnic groups, authoritarian parenting is not associated overall with positive adjustment. Authoritative parenting appears to confer some benefits in protecting Asian-American and black adolescents from engaging in deviant behavior and in promoting psychosocial development. However, authoritative parenting is not clearly associated with better academic achievement among ethnic minority youths.

Ruth Chao (1994) has argued that the authoritarian parenting style does not capture the essence of Chinese (and more broadly, Asian) parenting and that the control and restrictiveness that are seen as characteristic of Chinese families reflect a different set of underlying beliefs than for European-American parents. For many white families, strictness is located in Protestant Christian beliefs, whereas for Chinese parents, strictness is rooted in a notion of training (chiao shun and guan) that reflects role relationships defined by Confucianism. The goal is to assure harmonious family relationships rather than to dominate or control the child. Therefore, she argues that parenting styles developed on North American samples cannot be simply translated to other cultures, but instead must reflect their sociocultural contexts.

Concerns about the generalizability of parenting styles across diverse ethnic and cultural contexts, as well as a more general movement towards understanding the dimensions that underlie different parenting styles, has lead to a great deal of research that has focused on disaggregating Baumrind's parenting styles into their component parts. The goal of this research is to better understand how different parenting processes and behaviors interact to affect various child outcomes in different social contexts. Later theorizing and research have focused on separating parenting styles from parenting practices and differentiating forms of parental control.

Differentiating Parenting Styles and Parenting Practices

One proposition is that parenting styles affect child adjustment because they provide an emotional context in particular parenting practices have different meanings. For instance, Nancy Darling and Steinberg (1993) proposed that authoritative parenting may be effective because the warmth and involvement that characterizes this style may create an emotional climate in which the child is more receptive to parenting, which in turn influences its effectiveness. Also, authoritative parents' willingness to engage children in decision making provides them with negotiation skills that may be useful in their social interactions with others outside the family, for instance, with peers. Therefore, these skills may facilitate children's competence in different settings. Finally, the combination of support and structure that characterizes authoritative parenting may be important to children's ability to regulate their behavior (Steinberg 2001). The same parenting practices, in the emotional climate of authoritarian or indulgent parenting, may have different meanings and therefore have different consequences for adjustment.

Differentiating Forms of Parental Control

The research on parenting styles has viewed parental control as a single dimension that ranges from excessive control to insufficient control, but research that began in the early 1990s has focused on distinguishing among different forms of parental control. The primarily distinctions are between psychological control and behavioral control. As described by Steinberg (1990) and elaborated by Brian Barber and his colleagues (Barber 1996, 2002), psychological control refers to parents' attempts to control children's activities in ways that negatively affect their psychological world. Psychological control, including parental intrusiveness, guilt induction, and love withdrawal, undermines psychosocial development by interfering with children's ability to become independent and develop a healthy sense of self and personal identity. In contrast, behavioral control refers to the rules, regulations, and restrictions that parents have for their children and their supervision and management of their activities. One aspect of behavioral control that has been extensively investigated is parental supervision and monitoring, or parents' awareness of where their children are, who they are with, and what they are doing. Parental monitoring is increasingly important in adolescence, as adolescents spend less time with their parents and more time with peers. This distinction between psychological and behavioral control further distinguishes the parenting styles described by Baumrind. Authoritative parents, who have firm rules for their children's behavior, use a great deal of behavioral control but little psychological control. In contrast, authoritarian parents use both.

Research has demonstrated that high levels of psychological control are associated with children's internalizing problems, such as anxiety, depression, loneliness, and confusion. Both inadequate behavioral control and high levels of psychological control also have been found to be associated with externalizing problems, such as acting out, drug use, truancy, and antisocial behavior.

Barber (2002) provides evidence that psychological control (or closely related constructs) is relevant cross-culturally. Psychological control has been found in males and females in a range of cultures (including Mexico, China, India, Russia, Israel, Colombia, Australia, and South Africa, as reviewed by Barber 2002). These cultures vary in degree of industrialization, extent of individualism versus collectivism, religion, and exposure to political violence. Psychological control is related to internalizing and externalizing problems in a variety of cultures, much as has been found in the United States. Summarizing the available research, Barber (2002) found higher levels of psychological control reported by males than females, by younger than older children, among lower than upper socioeconomic status families, and by ethnic minority than European American families. However, these conclusions are based on a relatively small number of studies that typically employ a single method to assess psychological control, so these conclusions must be confirmed by further research.

Differentiating Parenting as a Function of Children's Behavior

The research on parenting styles assumes that parents have a consistent mode of parenting that is applied across contexts and situations. However, research has demonstrated that parenting practices are affected by situational factors. As reviewed by Judith Smetana (1995, 1997), observational studies of responses to transgressions indicate that North American caregivers (for instance, parents and teachers) naturally coordinate their choice of discipline strategy with the nature of children's misdeeds. Caregivers are more likely to provide explanations that focus children on the consequences of their actions for others in response to transgressions that entail fairness, physical or psychological harm, lack of consideration of others, or violations of others' rights. All of these have been defined as moral transgressions, or actions that have intrinsic consequences for others' rights or welfare. Other-oriented reasoning, in turn, has been associated with greater moral internalization, greater resistance to temptation, and the development of concern for others. Caregivers are more likely to issue commands and directives, without explaining why actions are wrong, when children violate more arbitrary and contextually relative conventional norms, such as rules of etiquette and manners.

Similar findings have emerged from research examining parents' short-term and long-term socialization goals. Parents tend to use more power assertion when their goal is to obtain immediate compliance. Leon Kuczynski (1984) found that such responses are effective in terminating unwanted behavior, but they do not lead to moral internalization, because they do not provide children with an understanding of why their actions are wrong. When parents' goals are to enhance long-term socialization, parents report using more reasoning and induction. Therefore, although reasoning and induction may facilitate children's development, it does not lead to immediate child compliance, perhaps because while parental reasoning may make the parents' perspective clearer, it also may encourage children to negotiate and assert their choices. This notion is consistent with the speculation about why authoritative parenting is effective for children's development.

Differentiating Parents' Use of Affect: Anger, Shame, and Guilt

Parents also use different affective strategies to socialize their children. Research has shown that parents are more likely to employ negative affect, including dramatizations of distress and greater anger, in response to moral than other types of transgressions. When used with explanations that focus on others' welfare and rights, this may enhance the effectiveness of reasoning because it helps focus children on the harm or injustice their actions caused and therefore may lead them to experience other-oriented emotional reactions such as sympathy. However, parental anger may be effective only when it is moderate and not too negatively arousing, because highly arousing negative affect may become aversive and lead children to focus on the self, rather than on the consequences of their acts for others. A great deal of recent work by Nancy Eisenberg and her colleagues (reviewed in Eisenberg 1998) on vicarious emotional arousal has distinguished between other-oriented emotional reactions (such as sympathy) and self-oriented aversive emotional reactions.

In examining children's emotional reactions to parenting, researchers also have distinguished between shame and guilt. It is assumed that guilt and shame differ in their effects on children's development and the internalization of societal standards and that they are influenced by different parenting practices. June Tangney (2001) proposed that shame pertains to the self, whereas guilt pertains to the behavior. Children experience shame when they discover themselves to be deficient, unacceptable, or incompetent in relation to a social norm and when they see interpersonal relationships as being damaged or threatened. In contrast, guilt has been associated with feelings of responsibility to others, acknowledgement of misdeeds, and the desire to make the situation better. According to Tangney, guilt is constructive for children's development because it is associated with empathic responsiveness and perspective taking. In turn, parenting that displays high levels of parental warmth and open expression of emotions while displaying low levels of power assertion appears to be conducive to the development of internalized guilt feelings (Maccoby and Martin 1983). According to Martin Hoffman (1982, 1983), this type of parenting capitalizes on children's internal discomfort associated with wrongdoing and produce high levels of moral internalization. Moreover, there is empirical support for the relationship between this form of parenting and children's pro-social and moral behavior.

At the same time, research reviewed in Tangney and Fischer (1995) demonstrates that parenting that displays high levels of restrictive or coercive discipline, such as threats or physical discipline and/or high levels of love withdrawal, produces a fear-based sense of guilt and in some cases, expressions of shame. In turn, these have been associated with children's distress, lack of empathy, arousal of anger, and maladjustment. This type of parenting is assumed to induce an external moral orientation by shifting children's focus away from the internal discomfort produced by their wrongdoing and towards the consequences to them. Fear-based guilt and shame have been associated with less resistance to temptation and lower self-esteem (Grusec and Lytton 1988). Furthermore, guilt appears to be more associated with hostility and anger, while shame has been associated with depression and obsessive-compulsiveness.

Cultural Differences in Guilt and Shame

Research has also investigated cultural differences in parents' socialization of shame and guilt. Harald Wallbott and Klaus Scherer (1995) have asserted that in cultures that are collectivist and high in power distribution and uncertainty-avoidance, parents use typical or true shame, whereas in individualistic cultures that are low in power distribution and uncertainty-avoidance, shame more closely resembles guilt. In collectivist cultures, the experience of shame is more acute, less immoral, and has fewer negative consequences for self-esteem and social relationships than in individualistic cultures. Across the thirty-seven countries studied, Wallbott and Scherer found overall support for Tangney's distinction between shame and guilt. These researchers interpreted their findings as demonstrating that shared societal values are strongly related to the emotional experiences of individuals within the society.

Ethnographic research on Chinese culture suggests that it is a shame-socialized culture. Children are socialized to be conscious of what others think of them and are expected to act so as to get the most out of the approval of others while trying to avoid their disapproval. This begins when Chinese parents shift from being highly indulgent during infancy and toddlerhood to using parenting practices such as scolding, shaming, and physical punishment at the age of understanding, which is seen to occur around four to six years of age. Shame is used to teach children right from wrong, and Chinese parents appear to understand that shame should be used only when necessary, because too much shame may harm the child's self-esteem (Fung 1999). Observational research by Peggy Miller and her colleagues (Miller; Fung; and Mintz 1996) using small samples of Chinese mothers and children has shown that Chinese mothers' narrative retelling of young children's transgressions focuses on inducing both guilt and shame. This has been found to differ from comparable observational studies of European-American middle-class mothers, whose disciplinary practices are more focused on maintaining and enhancing children's self-esteem (Wiley et al. 1998). These findings suggest that cultural differences in parenting may be more complex than the simple dichotomy between guilt and shame suggests and that more research examining parent-child interactions in different cultures is needed.


Starting with the 1960s, the research on parenting has evolved from a focus on global parenting styles, which were assumed to be employed consistently by parents across situations and to vary in systematic ways across cultures, ethnic groups, and socioeconomic statuses. This notion has given way to a more differentiated and transactive view of parenting and child development. In current research, it is assumed that parents may use different disciplinary techniques, parenting practices, and emotional strategies that are affected by the contexts of parenting, cultural beliefs, situational demands, and characteristics of the child. More research will be needed to understand how these interact and moderate each other to influence children's competence and development.

See also:Academic Achievement; Anxiety Disorders; Attachment: Parent-Child Relationships; Attention Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD); Boundary Dissolution; Child Abuse: Physical Abuse and Neglect; Child Abuse: Psychological Maltreatment; Child Abuse: Sexual Abuse; Conduct Disorder; Conflict: Parent-Child Relationships; Coparenting; Development: Moral; Development: Self; Discipline; Family Life Education; Fatherhood; Gay Parents; Leisure; Lesbian Parents; Motherhood; Oppositionality; Parenting Education; Power: Family Relationships; Self-Esteem; Spanking; Stepfamilies; Temperament; Therapy: Parent-Child Relationships


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walbot, h. g., and scherer, k. r. (1995). "cultural determinants in experiencing shame and guilt." in self conscious emotions: the psychology of shame, guilt, embarrassment, and pride, ed. j. p. tagney and k. w. fischer. new york: guilford press.

wiley, a. r.; rose, a. j.; burger, l. k.; and miller, p. j. (1998). "constructing autonomous selves through narrative practices: a comparative study of working-class and middle-class families." child development 69:833–847.

judith g. smetana nicole campione

Parenting Styles

views updated Jun 11 2018

Parenting Styles





Parenting or child rearing styles are parents characteristic, consistent manner of interacting with their children across a wide range of everyday situations. Research on parenting styles has demonstrated their influence on childrens developmental outcomes, including academic skills and achievement, aggression, altruism, delinquency, emotion regulation and understanding, moral internalization, motivation, peer relations, self-esteem, social skills and adjustment, substance abuse, and mental health.


Researchers have developed three primary ways of classifying parenting styles. In the late 1950s and early 1960s, Earl Schaefer and Wesley Becker proposed circumplex models of parenting. Their models have in common two independent dimensions proposed as important in understanding parenting style (see Figure 1). One dimension involves parents emotional or affectionate attitude toward the child; the other, parents exertion of control over the childs behavior. Because each dimension forms a continuous measure, parents individual styles may be mapped anywhere within the circumplex.

The system developed by Jeanne Humphries Block in the mid-1960s is multifaceted. Block noted that the structure of parenting or childrearing styles may vary across groups of parents; thus, defining a universal set of parenting dimensions may be neither desirable nor possible. Nonetheless, like Schaefer and Becker, Blocks work has identified dimensions related to parental control or restriction of childrens behavior, and to parents emotional attitude or responsiveness to the child. Additionally, Block noted that the degree to which parents find child-rearing to be satisfying and are involved with their child, among other dimensions, may be important in understanding parenting styles and their influence on childrens outcomes. In the late 1980s, William Roberts and Janet Strayer conducted further work with Blocks measurement system that suggested five dimensions: (1) parents warmth and closeness rather than coolness and distance; (2) parental strictness and use of punishment; (3) parental encouragement of childrens boldness and maturity; (4) parents enjoyment of and involvement in parenting; and (5) parents encouragement or discouragement of childrens emotional expressions. Composition of these dimensions differed somewhat between mothers and fathers.

In the late 1960s, Diana Baumrind formulated a typology including three distinct parenting styles: authoritative, authoritarian, and permissive. These parenting styles vary according to parents demand that their children meet standards for behavior and their responsiveness to their childrens needs. Authoritative parents are high in both demand and responsiveness. They communicate to their children about expectations and standards in a warm and responsive manner. Authoritarian parents are highly demanding but are neither warm nor responsive to their childrens behavior. Their expectations and demands are communicated with little to no rationale or warmth. Permissive parents are moderate in responsiveness and warmth and low in demand, tending to accept childrens

impulses. There is an absence of parental enforcement of expectations or standards for childrens behaviors.

In 1983 Eleanor Maccoby and John Martin integrated extant theory and research and proposed four parenting styles, differing along the two dimensions of control or demand and warmth or responsiveness that are held in common in all three preceding systems and incorporating parental involvement into those dimensions. Maccoby and Martins reconceptualization proposes three styles similar to Baumrinds typology, and in addition a fourth style, uninvolved or neglectful parenting, which is characterized by both a low degree of parental demand that the child meet behavioral expectations and by low warmth and responsiveness to childrens needs (see Figure 1). These parents may appear distant and uninterested in their children, or may respond to children in a manner designed only to end childrens requests rather than to help their child develop. These four parenting styles are generally used.


Parent and child self-report and naturalistic observations have been used to assess parenting style. Q sort tasks, in which parents or outside observers (i.e., researchers, teachers) divide a set of statements into piles according to how characteristic they are of the parents typical style, have been popular in measuring parenting or childrearing style because they may reduce some self-report or observer bias. One area of controversy in measurement is whether parents should be assigned to mutually exclusive categories (typological approach) or whether parents extent of using each parenting style or dimension (dimensional approach) should be measured. For example, using the typological approach, a parent would be described as authoritative if most of his or her parenting behaviors fit that style, even if he or she showed frequent authoritarian and occasional permissive behaviors. Using the dimensional approach, the same parent would receive scores for each parenting style, high for authoritative, moderate for authoritarian, and low for permissive, reflecting the extent to which they were used. In 1994 Laurence Steinberg and colleagues described the typological approach as most appropriate for assessing short-term child outcomes because parents predominant style is emphasized. Conversely, because the dimensional approach includes measurement of all parenting styles, in their 1989 work Wendy Grolnick and Richard Ryan noted the advantage of investigating independent and joint effects of parenting styles on childrens outcomes.


Parenting styles are often used in investigating diverse developmental outcomes, such as academic competence, achievement, self-esteem, aggression, delinquency and substance abuse, moral reasoning, and social adjustment. Research suggests that authoritative parenting is conducive to optimal development. Specifically, children reared by authoritative parents demonstrate higher competence, achievement, social development, and mental health compared to those reared by authoritarian or permissive parents. Negative effects of authoritarian parenting on childrens outcomes include poorer self-esteem, social withdrawal, and low levels of conscience. Permissive parenting has been related to negative outcomes such as behavioral misconduct and substance abuse. The worst outcomes for children are associated with neglectful parenting. This lack of parenting is associated with delinquency, negative psychosocial development, and lower academic achievement. Longitudinal research by Steinberg and colleagues supports these concurrent associations such that children raised by authoritative parents continued to display positive developmental outcomes one year following measurement of parenting style, whereas those raised by neglectful or indifferent parents had further augmented negative outcomes.

From Baumrinds framework, in authoritative homes childrens adaptive skills are developed through the open communication characteristic of parent-child interactions. Parents clear expectations for childrens behavior and responsiveness to childrens needs provide an environment that supports childrens development of academic and social competence. Authoritative parenting does seem to be robustly associated with positive outcomes across ethnically and socioeconomically diverse populations, though the strength of the association varies.

Less clear is whether permissive and authoritarian parenting styles have negative effects on childrens development in varying contexts. In 1981 Catherine Lewis questioned whether the positive outcomes associated with authoritative parenting were due to the combination of demand and responsiveness, or rather to the warm and caring parent-child relationship. When a parent-child relationship has few conflicts, and therefore there is little need for parents to exert control over childrens behavior, permissive parenting might be as effective as authoritative parenting. Indeed, from an attribution theory framework, parents absence of controlling childrens behavior would be expected to lead to childrens internalization of behaviors and values. Research in the United States and in China in the 1990s and 2000s suggested that the combination of greater parental warmth or support and less parental control or punishment is related concurrently or retrospectively to positive outcomes such as self-esteem, prosocial behavior, socioemotional skills, and family harmony.

Lewis proposed that the firm but not punitive control characteristic of authoritative parenting might be more reflective of childrens willingness to obey than of parents style. In 1994 Joan Grusec developed a theoretical model that elaborated childrens role in accurately perceiving and choosing to accept or reject their parents communication of behavioral standards through disciplinary practices and parenting style. Few researchers have investigated such bidirectional child effects on parenting styles. An exception is Janet Strayer and William Robertss 2004 research, in which they statistically tested whether childrens anger elicited parents control and lack of warmth and found greater evidence for parenting style leading to childrens anger and thereby impacting childrens empathy.

Some research indicates a lack of negative or even positive outcomes for children whose parents are highly strict and authoritarian, depending on the familys ethnicity (e.g., African American, Clark et al. 2002; Palestinian-Arab, Dwairy 2004). In 2004 Enrique Varela and colleagues found that it was not ethnicity per se (nor assimilation, socioeconomic status, or parental education), but rather ethnic minority status that was related to greater endorsement of authoritarian parenting by Mexican immigrant and Mexican American families living in the United States compared to both white, non-Hispanic families living in the United States and Mexican families living in Mexico. Varela and colleagues have called for research to examine ecological influences on parenting style and on the effects of parenting style on childrens outcomes.

Finally, reminiscent of Blocks perspective, some research suggests that additional or redefined parenting styles and dimensions may be necessary to understand parenting cross-culturally. Filial piety and individual humility, which involve emphasizing family or group obligations, achievements, and interests over individual goals and expressions, are two parenting values that have been identified in Hong Kong and mainland Chinese families. Peixia Wu and colleagues (2002) cautioned that, despite seeming similarities between Chinese parenting dimensions such as directiveness and maternal involvement and the demand and responsiveness characteristic of authoritative parenting, the meaning of the dimensions and their relations to one another seem to vary considerably between Chinese and American mothers. Thus, although parenting style may provide a useful framework for understanding developmental outcomes, it is critical to consider the meaning of parenting practices and styles within the familys cultural context.

SEE ALSO Attachment Theory; Child Development


Baumrind, Diana. 1967. Child Care Practices Anteceding Three Patterns of Preschool Behavior. Genetic Psychology Monographs 75 (1): 4388.

Chao, Ruth K. 1994. Beyond Parental Control and Authoritarian Parenting Style: Understanding Chinese Parenting through the Cultural Notion of Training. Child Development 65 (4): 11111119.

Darling, Nancy, and Laurence Steinberg. 1993. Parenting Style as Context: An Integrative Model. Psychological Bulletin 113 (3): 487496.

Grusec, Joan E. 2002. Parenting Socialization and Childrens Acquisition of Values. In Handbook of Parenting, Vol. 5: Practical Issues in Parenting, 2nd ed., ed. Marc H. Bornstein, 143167. Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates.

Maccoby, Eleanor E., and John A. Martin. 1983. Socialization in the Context of the Family: Parent-Child Interaction. In Handbook of Child Psychology, Vol. 4: Socialization, Personality, and Social Development, eds. Paul H. Mussen and E. Mavis Hetherington, 1101. New York: Wiley.

Spera, Christopher. 2005. A Review of the Relationship among Parenting Practices, Parenting Styles, and Adolescent School Achievement. Educational Psychology Review 17 (2): 125146.

Steinberg, Laurence et al. 1991. Authoritative Parenting and Adolescent Adjustment across Varied Ecological Niches. Journal of Research on Adolescence 1 (1): 1936.

Steinberg, Laurence, et al. 1994. Over-time Changes in Adjustment and Competence among Adolescents from Authoritative, Authoritarian, Indulgent, and Neglectful Families. Child Development 65 (3): 754770.

Strayer, Janet, and William Roberts. 2004. Childrens Anger, Emotional Expressiveness, and Empathy: Relations with Parents Empathy, Emotional Expressiveness, and Parenting Practices. Social Development 13 (2): 229254.

Wu, Peixia, Clyde C. Robinson, and Chongming Yang. 2002. Similarities and Differences in Mothers Parenting of Preschoolers in China and the United States. International Journal of Behavioural Development 26 (6): 481491.

Julie C. Dunsmore

Pa Her


views updated Jun 11 2018


Parenting is the process by which adults socialize the infants, children, and adolescents in their care. Methods such as monitoring, emotional closeness, discipline, control, and demands are used to shape society's younger members so that they behave appropriately for their future role in society. Parenting is at once both a careful dance between child and parent and a process that is heavily influenced by the larger social context. Urie Bronfenbrenner is well known for developing his ecological model, which describes the role of contexts such as family, peers, schools, and political climate in human development. Thus, social scientists no longer study parent-child interaction in a vacuum. Rather, the family is best understood as a social system with subsystems, including parent-child, marital, and sibling systems, that is enmeshed in the larger social context.

From time to time researchers have questioned how important parenting is to long-term outcomes for children. The answer over and over has been a resounding "very important." With such a broad constellation of influences on the developing child, how can one be so sure that differences in what average parents do really matters? The answer lies in the fact that parents affect their children directly and indirectly. Parents shape children by interacting with them directly. In addition, parents act in concert with institutions such as peers, schools, and media. Parents determine the neighborhood children are raised in, for example, which sets in motion a chain of events that heavily influences a child's future identity.

Quantitative Aspects of Parenting

A wealth of research findings indicate there is great variation within each type of family structure— such as two-parent, divorced, remarried, cohabitating, and single-parent—such that family structure alone is a very poor indicator of quality of home environment or child outcomes. Children can have their emotional, social, cognitive, and physical needs met in the context of diverse family structures when parents have the personal and economic resources and the desire to provide a healthy environment for children in their charge. According to the U.S. Bureau of the Census, in 1999, 68 percent of children in America lived with two parents. This represented a drop from 77 percent in 1980. Among children living in two-parent households, 91 percent lived with both biological parents while 9 percent lived with a stepparent—more commonly a stepfather.

Who Is Socializing U.S. Children?

Despite progressive shifts in cultural attitudes regarding the appropriateness of mothers and fathers sharing caregiving activities and involvement with children, only small changes in actual parenting patterns are recorded by existing research completed after 1980. Fathers continue to spend less time than mothers with infants and children in the United States and other industrialized countries. When they are with their children, fathers are more likely than mothers to be involved in play rather than the children's routine maintenance such as feeding and grooming. Fathers also spend a greater amount of time on personal activities, such as watching television and reading, in comparison to mothers. Parenting infants, as opposed to children or teenagers, differs greatly with respect to the common activities and skill utilization parents have the opportunity to employ. Although qualitative changes in parenting are dramatic as children mature, the traditional division of labor between mothers and fathers persists through developmental changes.

Division of labor is not an issue for the growing number of parents who manage all the varied responsibilities for their children on their own. The substantial majority of single parents are mothers. In 1999 the Census Bureau reported that 23 percent of children lived with only their mothers while 4 percent lived with only their fathers. Other data indicated that growth of one-parent families was slowing. In particular, the number of single-father households was rising, while the number of single-mother households remained nearly constant between 1995 and 1998, after almost tripling from 1970 to 1995. Time and money continue to be the biggest challenges for mothers parenting alone. In America, the richest country in the world, 19 percent of children lived in poverty in 1998. This statistic reveals that many divorced or never-married mothers struggle to make ends meet. The median household income for single fathers is significantly higher than that of their female counterparts. Some of the financial difficulties faced by single parents may be assuaged by contributions made by cohabitating partners. Sixteen percent of children living with fathers and 9 percent of children living with mothers also lived with a parent's cohabitating partner.

Fluctuations in family structure have been accompanied by a changing American work force. From the 1960s on, much media, legislative, and academic attention has been devoted to mothers' increased presence in the workplace. Mothers have challenged societal gender norms as the proportion of employed mothers has steadily risen. Even as far back as 1980, 50 percent of American women were employed for pay and the typical woman worker was a mother. The percentage of mothers who held jobs and had children under age one continued to increase; according to the Census Bureau, 59 percent of mothers of infants worked in 1998—up from 38 percent in 1980. These numbers are compelling, and they have sparked a national debate regarding the effect of child care on the emotional, social, cognitive, and physical development of American children. Concern about overuse of child care may be quelled by data indicating that the majority of mothers of very young children are not employed full time. Children under age two are generally in home-based care when mothers do work. Children ages three to six are likely to be in a part-time or full-time center-based, preschool-type program. The extent to which center-based care is learning-focused varies widely; a minority of programs feature developmentally appropriate, effective learning environments. Good quality, learning-based preschool experience is related to positive long-term outcomes for children, especially children with lower-quality home environments. In addition, smaller amounts of state and federal monies are spent on social programs over time for individuals who attended a good-quality preschool.

In findings published in 1998-2000 from the most comprehensive study of early child care, the National Institutes of Child Health and Human Development (NICHD) Study of Early Childcare indicate that up to thirty hours per week of good-quality child care does not pose a threat to the cognitive, social, or emotional development of children ages zero to three who are from adequate home environments. The fact that American child-care facilities often do not rise to the level of "good" presents greater cause for concern. Further, in communities where a sufficient amount of good-quality child care is present, it is often unaffordable for many middle-class families.

Qualitative Aspects of Parenting

Many formulas for "correct" or effective parenting have been published since the 1930s, when behavioral scientists likened parenting babies to training animals with conditioning paradigms based on strict use of reward and punishment. Unlike other cultures, both industrialized and nonindustrialized, American society experiences wide swings in popular parenting wisdom espoused by parents, psychologists, and pediatricians. Present understanding of parent-child interaction has benefited from a context of reviewing existing research findings and examining long-term consequences of various approaches. There are two contemporary approaches to understanding the impact of parenting on children's development: typo-logical and social interaction. Typological models focus on overall styles or types of parenting while the social interaction approach stresses the nature of specific exchanges between parent and child.

Parenting Style

The most widely appreciated typological approach to understanding parenting was developed by Diana Baumrind in 1973. Baumrind identified authoritative, authoritarian, and permissive parenting styles. Parenting style is a set of attitudes toward the child that a parent transmits to the child to create an emotional climate surrounding parent-child exchanges. Parenting style is different from parenting behaviors, which are characterized by specific actions and socialization goals. The combination of parental warmth and demandingness is central to conceptualization of parenting style. Authoritative parents display a warm, accepting attitude toward their children while maintaining firm expectations of and restrictions on children's behavior. Open communication between parent and child is facilitated within this emotional climate. Long-term outcomes for children and adolescents of authoritative parents are more favorable compared to outcomes for children of authoritarian or permissive parents. For instance, Baumrind found that adolescent sons of authoritative parents were more competent in comparison to children reared with other parenting styles.

The authoritarian parenting style is characterized by a harsh, rigid emotional climate combined with high demands and little communication. Baumrind found in her longitudinal study that boys with authoritarian parents were particularly vulnerable in terms of both cognitive and social competence. Permissive parents display warmth and acceptance toward their children but do not place demands or restrictions on children's behavior.

Behavioral scientists have continued to conduct research based on Baumrind's parenting styles. Findings have confirmed positive outcomes for offspring of authoritative parents, in particular, better academic achievement. Some findings indicate parenting styles may not be relevant cross-culturally since they are conceptually based in Western cultural values and parenting practices, which do not translate readily into other cultural socialization norms. Also, there has been a lack of research on the processes by which associations exist between parenting styles and social, cognitive, and emotional outcomes for children and adolescents.

Parent-Child Interaction

Behavioral scientists have also approached the question of how to best understand relations between the parental role and child outcomes through studying parent-child interaction. This method focuses on the dyadic relationship between one parent (historically the mother) and one child. From a family systems perspective, the dyadic relationship represents one piece of a larger puzzle. Nonetheless, emphasis on the dyadic relationship has been fruitful and has dominated decades of parenting literature. Parent-child interaction research has shown that the interaction between parent and child is linked to a variety of social outcomes including aggression, achievement, and moral development. Significant associations between parent-child interaction and child outcomes are impressive not because of their size, which is often small, but because of the unique influence they have on child development amid the array of other family, school, and community influences on any given child. Behavioral scientists have "turned over many stones" in their search for influential parental characteristics. Examples of parental qualities that have been repeatedly identified as salient predictors of positive development include parental responsiveness, lack of hostility and controlling parenting, and positive parental affect.

Studies conducted in the 1990s found unique effects for fathers' interaction apart from effects from mothers with respect to cognitive and social development. Thus, it is no longer accurate to view fathers' role in the household as instrumental (e.g., breadwinner) while mothers influence all emotional development. Despite the lesser amount of time fathers spend with children, fathers' interaction patterns contribute to children's emotional development apart from the influence of mothers. Further, parent-child interaction research has evolved from simply matching behaviors on the part of parents with behaviors displayed by their children. Contemporary work focuses on psychological processes that underlie associations between parenting and child adjustment, such as emotional understanding, emotional regulatory skills, mental representations, attributions and beliefs, and problem-solving skills.


Whether one approaches parenting from a large-scale family climate perspective or a more fine-detail, parent-child interaction perspective, how to discipline children remains one of the most frequently asked questions from behavioral scientists and parents alike. Specifically, is physical punishment effective, and even if it is, is it damaging to children? A wealth of research indicates that physical punishment yields obedience out of fear, which quickly translates into transgressions when the fear is alleviated. That is, children do not continue to obey when the threat of punishment is lifted. Children are, however, likely to incorporate parents' rules into their normal repertoire of behavior when they have been consistently rewarded for their good behaviors. Reasoning, rather than punishment, has yielded effective socialization outcomes. Further, minor physical discipline such as spanking a child's buttocks in a controlled manner with an open hand is associated with higher levels of bullying aggression displayed by kindergartners as well as noncompliance among young children. Children learn what they live, and spanking clearly does not promote prosocial development based on current research knowledge.

Parental Monitoring and Involvement

Another practical and influential parenting behavior often studied and questioned is parental monitoring. Parental monitoring is a range of activities that includes the supervision of children's choice of social settings, activities, and friends. Monitoring of young children is direct in nature while for adolescents it is indirect in the form of management of social activities. A number of studies have shown that less monitoring and supervision of children's activities is associated with delinquent and antisocial behavior. After-school time and evening are particularly important segments of the day for parents to keep close tabs on preadolescents and adolescents by phone calling, asking questions, verifying answers, and, where possible, escorting and supervising kids. Children on their own after school, especially girls, are susceptible to peer pressure to engage in such activities as vandalism, cheating, and stealing.

Parental involvement is conceptually related to monitoring in that it involves the parents' management of the child's access to opportunities to develop socially, emotionally, physically, and cognitively, such as extracurricular activities and social circles. Parents act as a conduit for children to interface with institutional settings such as church, Brownies, Cub Scouts, library, and pool. Mothers more often than fathers maintain involvement with such organizations. Social class differences are related to children's use of community organizations and the level of maternal participation. Diminished participation by less advantaged families may be explained by lesser ability to pay and get time off from work to attend. Involved parents also act as social coaches in that they arrange opportunities for play and socialization through their own adult peer network.

Influences on Parenting Quality

Parenting is such a wildly complex and subtle process that it is necessary to use several levels of analysis in order to gain a well-rounded understanding of the entire process. For instance, from most fine-grained to most general, one can examine parent-child interaction, parenting style or family climate, the family as a system, and, finally, influences on parenting quality altogether external to the family.

Parental Employment

One factor external to the family, but important to the parenting process, is parental employment. Employment affects parents as individuals since the way they feel about work is often brought home after work, a process called spillover. Parents with very demanding jobs have been found in research studies to shy away from complex parenting tasks such as helping with homework. A disengaged parenting style is one in which a parent seeks to do the minimum required when interacting with offspring. This approach may be more likely when parents are emotionally and cognitively drained from work. Disengaged parenting style has been shown to be related to poor outcomes for children. Jobs also affect parents' skills, attitudes, and perspectives through providing practice at the objective tasks that they perform on the job. From this point of view, jobs shape parents developmentally over time, reinforcing particular strengths and weaknesses.

Parental employment changes the allocation of responsibilities and power in the family. Children may be asked to be responsible for chores at an earlier age when both parents are employed. Although the data are not conclusive, fathers may take on more responsibility for running the household when mothers are employed. The adjustment each family member makes to the time management and effort jobs require of parents determines the effect employment has on children. In other words, with respect to children's development, employment versus nonemployment is less informative than details about the job and family functioning, such as quality of the home environment and parental involvement.

Socioeconomic Status

Socioeconomic status (SES) is a reliable predictor of parenting and child adjustment that is closely tied to parental employment. It is a complex variable based on income and education, along with other "social address" indicators, that determines many of the structural components of children's daily lives such as neighborhood, school district, extracurricular activities, health care, and nutrition. A number of studies have confirmed that there are SES differences in parenting practices and beliefs. Lower SES parents tend to be more authoritarian in their overall parenting style, with more controlling, restrictive, and disapproving parent-child interaction patterns. Parents' use of control strategies may be the result of dangerous living conditions.

Higher SES mothers tend to be more verbal when interacting with their children. Researchers are far from understanding why SES is such a reliable indicator of parenting factors. Current efforts are focused on developing more detailed information on how specific components related to SES—such as neighborhood, job quality, and family structure—affect parenting, and examining risk and resiliency models within this framework.

Individual Differences

Individual parents have unique levels of personal resources stemming from cumulative effects of up-bringing, education, employment, and mental health, for instance. Therefore, parents bring themselves to the parenting equation—including their own developmental stage. The lifespan developmental model emerged in the 1970s and is built on the premise that human development is a lifelong process. Parents, therefore, are at a specific point in their own growth as they face their child's continually changing needs. For instance, mothers may be negotiating their own new identity as "homemaker" or "career woman" as they make decisions about bedtimes, child care, or nutrition. Similarly, marriages evolve over time. Marital happiness and stability is a good predictor of parenting quality whether or not parents fight in front of children. Marital discord can be draining emotionally and financially taxing, and may present many unique complications in between. These factors in the socioemotional lives of parents represent very real barometers of what parents have to give to child rearing.

In a similar vein, children bring to the careful dance of child rearing their own individual selves complete with desires, habits, and temperament. Temperament is the biological preparedness infants bring into the world that predisposes them to deal with social, cognitive, and perceptual challenges in particular ways. Children's responses to such challenges play a significant role in adaptation to their environment. During the 1990s there was increasing recognition that children's individual differences in a variety of behaviors shape the way parents respond to children. For instance, infants with difficult temperament are thought to elicit more arousal and distress from caregivers than their less difficult counterparts. Temperamental differences are thought to be modifiable depending on parental personality traits, among other environmental factors.

Parental Education

Finally, behavioral scientists have made efforts to determine whether parenting is modifiable through parental education. Many different programs for parent education exist, with varying success rates in the short and long term. The success of a program can be measured according to changed parenting or improvement in child adjustment. In general, more training has been shown to lead to better outcomes. Parent education programs commonly focus on positive forms of discipline, information about children's developmental stages, activities to enhance children's cognitive skills, and the importance of warmth combined with consistent rules. Longitudinal data from "welfare to work" studies indicate that parental education programs need to include a minimum of biweekly home visits and last over two years to be effective in terms of changed parental behavior. Such programs are prohibitively expensive. Thus, a high-quality parent education program can change the parenting of poorly educated, young, poor mothers, but these improvements are not necessarily related to better cognitive and social development for children. This may be because parenting is just one of the challenges disadvantaged families face. For instance, better parenting may not be able to completely eclipse environmental threats, such as poverty or domestic violence.



Baumrind, Diana. "The Development of Instrumental Competence through Socialization." In Anne D. Pick ed., Minnesota Symposium on Child Psychology. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1973.

Eccles, Jacquelynne S., Allan Wigfield, and Ulrich Schiefele. "Motivation to Succeed." In William Damon and Nancy Eisenberg eds., Handbook of Child Psychology: Social, Emotional, and Personality Development. New York: Wiley, 1998.

NICHD Early Child Care Search Network. "The Effects of Infant Child Care on Infant-Mother Attachment Security: Results of the NICHD Study of Early Child Care." Child Development 68 (1997):860-879.

NICHD Early Child Care Search Network. "The Relationship ofChild Care to Cognitive and Language Development." Presented at the Society for Research in Child Development Meeting, April 3-6, 1997, Washington, DC.

NICHD Early Child Care Search Network. "Early Child Care and Self Control, Compliance, and Problem Behavior at Twenty-Four and Thirty-Six months." Child Development 69 (1998): 1145-1170.

U.S. Bureau of the Census. "Survey of Income and Program Participation." March Current Population Survey. Washington, DC: U.S. Government Printing Office, 1996.

U.S. Bureau of the Census. "Household and Family Characteristics." March Current Population Survey. Washington, DC: U.S. Government Printing Office, 1998.

U.S. Bureau of the Census. March Current Population Survey. Washington, DC: U.S. Government Printing Office, 1999.

Abigail TuttleO'Keeffe


views updated May 14 2018


The birth and early development of the United States were accompanied by fundamental transformations in the way people thought about and practiced parenting. The political, economic, geographic, and cultural forces shaping the new nation profoundly affected conceptions about gender, and thus about motherhood and fatherhood.

the colonial backdrop

In the British colonies of North America, fatherhood and motherhood were shaped by the attitudes and economic arrangements of a preindustrial and agrarian society. Especially in the New England colonies, such attitudes were also shaped by Calvinist Protestantism, which assumed the innate depravity of children. The colonial economies rested on the foundation of the independent household, which was typically headed by an adult white male and included servants and apprentices as well as blood kin. Such households, sustained through the labor of all household members, were large, with eight or more children not uncommon. Because males were thought to possess greater powers of intellect, moral discipline, and emotional self-control than were women, fathers were recognized as the primary parents. Fathers were responsible for ensuring the physical, spiritual, and moral well-being of their dependents and for providing their sons and apprentices with education, moral values, and the skills necessary for work in farming, handicrafts, or business. Because the village workplace was typically not far from home, most fathers exercised an active role in domestic governance. Fathers also influenced their children's marital choices and helped them achieve economic security through their control and disbursement of family property. Mothers, meanwhile, were responsible for rearing young children, training their daughters in home maintenance, and performing such household tasks as cooking, washing, and spinning. Mothers were presumed to have a tendency toward emotional overindulgence of children such that their parenting was often considered dangerous to a child's spiritual and moral development. Therefore custody of children generally went to fathers in colonial America's rare cases of divorce.

parenting in transition

During the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries, a series of overlapping and mutually reinforcing political, economic, intellectual, and religious developments transformed motherhood and fatherhood. A new power dynamic emerged between fathers and mothers, resulting in the emergence of ideals and practices of parenting often called "modern." Enlightenment thinking had emphasized that the young mind was basically good, rational, and impressionable. Such ideas reshaped Western thought and challenged arbitrary patriarchal authority, pointing toward more democratic family relationships. Parental affection, the encouragement of independent judgment, and an emphasis on voluntary and reason-based filial obedience were increasingly perceived to be the bases of domestic and social stability. Similarly, republican political ideology and the American Revolution that it inspired disparaged monarchical tyranny, encouraging fathers and mothers alike to foster in their children the independence and love of virtue necessary for good citizenship in the new republic. By the early nineteenth century, Romanticism had generated a "sentimental" approach to family relations, which exalted affectionate and emotionally intense family relationships and idealized the mother-child relationship in particular. Meanwhile, a growing challenge to orthodox Calvinist theology, evident during the burst of religious revival activity that characterized the early

nineteenth century, discouraged the stern and emotionally reserved exercises in will-breaking often employed by traditional Calvinist fathers. The new thinking stressed that humans had an innate capacity for morality, the development of which required nurture—understood as the natural talent of women—and an overall gentler parenting style.

The changing physical and economic realities of the new nation reinforced these shifts. Ongoing population growth, out-migration to newly opening western areas, and the abandonment in American law of customary English inheritance practices reduced (though by no means eliminated) fathers' ability to enforce their authority through their control of property. The expansion of market capitalism and growth of industrial production in the early nineteenth century, especially in northern urban areas, eroded the premodern household economy, creating a new white middle class. Fathers in this emergent middle class were defined as breadwinners whose primary parental responsibility was to provide income. In pursuit of that income they were often separated physically, and therefore psychologically, from their families for significant amounts of time. Although this development enhanced fathers' economic authority and even lent it something of a mystique, it also enhanced mothers' responsibility for day-today household governance. At the same time, the demise of the preindustrial economy magnified the importance of the family's psychological and emotional functions over its traditional economic ones and prompted a gradual decrease in family size (from an average of 7.04 children for white women in 1800 to 5.42 in 1850). Smaller families in turn allowed a more intensive approach to parenting. Commentators and authors of parental advice literature increasingly identified mothers, insulated from the amoral world of economic and political activity, as naturally pious beings solely able to ensure the morality of their children and husbands. Mothers remained legally subordinate to their husbands and retained many of the household tasks of their colonial forebears, but by about 1830 the Victorian apotheosis of the mother had begun and, at least for the white middle class, motherhood, morality, and homemaking had become closely identified. For both fathers and mothers of the white middle class, parenting became—and to a considerable degree remains increasingly focused on educating children and preparing them for middle-class careers and marriages.

regional, racial, and class variations

For Americans outside the northern white middle class, experiences of race, class, and region counteracted and muted to a considerable degree the impact of the various forces described above. Thus different patterns of fatherhood and motherhood emerged. Southern planters, for instance, shared with middle-class northerners the emerging ideals of gentle parenting, romantic sentimentalism, mothers' moral guardianship, and republican citizenship. However, the presence of slaves and accompanying ideologies of racial hierarchy perpetuated older patterns of patriarchal household leadership, gave mothers responsibility for slaves' children as well as their own, allowed white women to use house slaves to mitigate their own child rearing responsibilities (though they were often mistrustful of their black servants' care), and tied the ideal of the moral, self-sacrificing mother to the requirements of the slave economy.

For slaves themselves, parenthood was shaped by the realities of bondage and, to a degree still debated among scholars, by the legacies of their West African cultures. Many slave women, though often described by whites as lacking the nurturing instincts "natural" to white women, considered motherhood sacred and integral to their identities and mothers as central to family structure. Although some scholars have suggested that reduced fertility was common among slave women in the Caribbean islands, slave populations in the United States began experiencing natural increase by about 1750, and slave women began experiencing increased pressure to reproduce after the new nation withdrew from the international slave trade in 1808. Indeed, slaveowners' often manipulative encouragement of slave motherhood probably explains the fact that slave women tended to have their first children at age eighteen, about two years earlier than southern white women. Yet slave women also became mothers to ensure their own security, to reduce the likelihood of their being sold away from their families and friends, or to augment their family's rations of food and clothing—a point underscored by the fact that they typically had to care for their children in addition to their regular workload.

Reliable statistics on birthrates among slave women do not exist, but research does indicate that about one-third of slave families—a significantly higher proportion than among white families—were female-headed. This does not mean, however, that slave fatherhood was of negligible importance or fit the white-perpetuated stereotypes of alienation, absence, and irresponsibility. In fact, research has revealed that paternal presence, involvement, and leadership in a two-parent setting were the norm in slave families. To be sure, slave fathers lacked property rights, breadwinner status, and legal control over their children, and lived apart from their families more frequently than did white fathers; but they provided love and attention for their children, served as male role models, transmitted family customs and culture, hunted and fished to supplement their families' modest food allotments, passed on survival and craft skills to their children, and sought to insulate their families from the harshest aspects of slavery and racism.

Working-class parents were usually unable to realize the middle-class ideals of the breadwinner father and homemaker mother. Even when they aspired to achieve middle-class status, father, mother, and children alike were forced to work as a buffer against financial uncertainty. The need for income from all family members tended to perpetuate older patterns of family functioning, with large family size (although, as in the case of African Americans, precise birthrate statistics are lacking) and traditional patriarchal dominance remaining long after these characteristics had begun to fade from middle-class family life. Because men were paid more than women, fathers generally provided most of a working-class family's income. However, their economic vulnerability and the increasing obsolescence of traditional artisanal skills undermined their economic leadership and domestic authority, and the employment of mothers and children often sparked tensions and power struggles among family members. With more mothers at work, children spent more time away from direct parental supervision, preventing the working-class home from becoming the haven of sentimental nurture idealized by middle-class writers.

Yet the ideals and practices of white middle-class parenthood provided a powerfully influential model for nonwhite and non-middle-class groups in the new nation. White middle-class men and women themselves, viewing their parenting as normative and as the key to national economic strength and social stability, began by the 1820s to form voluntary organizations—and would later enlist the state—to export their standards of domestic life beyond their own race and class. Meanwhile, African Americans, working-class Americans, and others outside the northern white middle class, although in some instances strenuously resistant to white middle-class values, gradually followed the pattern of reduced fertility and drew decisively on white middle-class domestic visions of breadwinning fatherhood and homemaking motherhood as they began in their fledgling unions and other activist organizations to define their agendas for social change in the young Republic.

See alsoChildbirth and Childbearing; Childhood and Adolescence; Contraception and Abortion; Divorce and Desertion; Domestic Life; Domestic Violence; Home; Manliness and Masculinity; Marriage; Siblings; Widowhood .


Apple, Rima D., and Janet Golden, eds. Mothers and Motherhood: Readings in American History. Columbus: Ohio State University Press, 1997.

Coontz, Stephanie. The Social Origins of Private Life: A History of American Families, 1600–1900. London and New York: Verso, 1988.

Degler, Carl N. At Odds: Women and the Family in America from the Revolution to the Present. New York: Oxford University Press, 1980.

Fliegelman, Jay. Prodigals and Pilgrims: The American Revolution against Patriarchal Authority, 1750–1800. Cambridge, U.K., and New York: Cambridge University Press, 1982.

Frank, Stephen M. Life with Father: Parenthood and Masculinity in the Nineteenth-Century American North. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1998.

Griswold, Robert L. Fatherhood in America: A History. New York: Basic Books, 1993.

Johansen, Shawn. Family Men: Middle-Class Fatherhood in Early Industrializing America. New York: Routledge, 2001.

Mintz, Steven, and Susan Kellogg. Domestic Revolutions: A Social History of American Family Life. New York: Free Press, 1988.

Ryan, Mary. Cradle of the Middle Class: The Family in Oneida County, New York, 1790–1835. Cambridge, U.K., and New York: Cambridge University Press, 1981.

Bret E. Carroll


views updated Jun 11 2018


Throughout history, pregnancy and parenthood were uncontrollable hazards of life for sexually active women. This changed from the 1960s onwards, as the contraceptive revolution allowed sexual activity to be divorced from reproduction. For women, the most important technical innovation of the twentieth century was the contraceptive revolution: the development of coitus-independent and reliable methods of contraception that can be controlled, or chosen, by women themselves. The three principal methods are the contraceptive pill, the IUD or coil, and sterilization. These modern methods of contraception give women control over their own fertility. For the first time in history, parenthood became a voluntary act, rather than the inevitable outcome of marriage. In countries where women can choose if, and when, to become parents, fertility levels have declined sharply, making it clear that the high fertility levels observed in the past were not entirely chosen, even if accepted by couples.

Social Impact of the Contraceptive Revolution

The contraceptive revolution produced two social developments in modern societies: the rise of voluntary childlessness, and the polarization of lifestyles between couples with and without children. In the past, childlessness was generally due to infertility of one or both partners, and childless couples were pitied. Childless women were often stigmatized as social and physical failures, or as unnatural. In countries where the contraceptive revolution has been fully implemented, voluntary childlessness typically rises to around 20 percent of the adult population. People in this group have a distinctive lifestyle, focused on careers, leisure, and intensive consumption. In contrast, couples with children invest a substantial proportion of their resources in the education and socialization of their offspring. Smaller numbers of children mean that greater effort is put into the care and education of each child. The total volume of parenting work thus grows even though the number of children per family declines. In countries where child mortality remains high, parents have less incentive to invest substantial resources in any individual child. Public concern over child labor, child abuse, and children's education are characteristic of societies where family sizes and child mortality are low.

Economics of Parenthood

The nature of parenting changes as the economic relationship between parents and offspring changes. In less developed countries, children are important contributors of labor to the family enterprise, or they contribute earnings from independent jobs, from an early age. Parents also rely on their offspring for financial and social support when they become infirm or old. In effect, the family provides mutual welfare services, and within-family transfers between generations are balanced. Parenting is thus an economic investment with a clear long-term benefit. In modern societies, the principal within-family income transfer is from the older generation to the younger generation, from parents to their offspring, so that children become consumption goods. It is in this sense that having children becomes a lifestyle choice in modern societies, rather than being an absolute necessity for parents' own survival.

The cost of children, as consumption goods, rises steadily as their dependence on their parents is extended beyond early adolescence–initially to late adolescence, then into early adulthood, then into prime adult age, due to the gradual prolongation of full-time education. In 1999 the average age of leaving the parental home in the European Union was 23 for women and 25 for men. However it was markedly higher in southern Europe: 27 for women and 30 for men in Italy, 28 for women and 29 for men in Spain. In prosperous modern societies, parenting is no longer concentrated exclusively on the early years of a child's life.

Parenting Work

Throughout history, mothers have always worked. Survival depended on it. The non-working wife (or concubine) in a single-earner family has always been an indicator of prosperity and higher social status, in all societies. For most women, productive and remunerative work had to be combined with childcare and other family work. For the space of less than 100 years, in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, women were "domesticated": western European and north American societies promoted the idea of the single earner model of the family as the ideal to aim for in all social classes. Many achieved the goal of one full-time homemaker, for at least part of the family life-cycle. By the end of the twentieth century, women had returned to the labor market in most modern societies, and the dual-earner family was being re-established as the dominant pattern. Nonetheless, mothers retain a much greater attachment to their children, especially during early childhood, which some claim to be the result of evolutionary development rather than the childbearing process.

The majority of mothers in modern societies thus reduce their involvement in paid work when their children are very young. Some women abandon their jobs to become full-time mothers and homemakers on a permanent basis. Sociologist Catherine Hakim (2000) estimates this choice is made by one-fifth of all adult women. Another minority (about one-fifth) contracts out virtually all parenting work–either to state nurseries and schools, or to private nannies and boarding schools. Most women are able to combine childcare with some type of involvement in paid work. The most popular arrangement is the part-time job, which leaves plenty of time for parenting and family work. Seasonal work, term-time work, and temporary jobs are also used to fit paid work around mothers' parenting responsibilities. In countries where part-time jobs are in short supply (such as the United States and southern Europe), mothers are obliged to choose between a full-time job and no paid work at all. Mothers who choose full-time jobs then complain about their "double shift" as sociologist Arlie Hochschild (1990) described it.

In modern societies, many parenting activities are transferred from families to the state. The most obvious example is the formal education and socialization of children. In many countries, the state also provides informal socialization, through clubs and associations, free or subsidised sporting facilities, and cultural activities. The one enduring and irreplaceable contribution of parents seems to be the emotional and social development of young children. Children deprived of one or both parents are more likely to develop antisocial attitudes and behaviors, and be less successful in adult life. There is, apparently, no substitute for parental love and care in the early years. In the early twenty-first century, this seems to be the permanent obstacle to the mass-production of humans outside the family envisaged by Aldous Huxley in his classic novel Brave New World.

See also: Childlessness; Cost of Children; Family Life Cycle; Family Policy; Grandparenthood.


Hakim, Catherine. 2000. Work-Lifestyle Choices in the 21st Century: Preference Theory. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Hochschild, Arlie. 1990. The Second Shift: Working Parents and the Revolution at Home. London: Piatkus.

Huxley, Aldous. 1932 (1994). Brave New World. London: Flamingo.

Rogers, Barbara. 1981. The Domestication of Women: Discrimination in Developing Societies, London: Tavistock.

Westoff, Charles F., and Ryder, Norman B. 1977. The Contraceptive Revolution. Princeton NJ: Princeton University Press.

Catherine Hakim


views updated May 21 2018


The term "parenthood" has acquired a semitechnical sense in anthropology and psychoanalysis, and it has the same connotations in both disciplines. Ethnologists began using the term in the 1970s (Goodenough, 1970; Carroll, 1970; Goody, 1971). It specifies one of three kinds of social relations that make up kinship: the relationship between parents and children (the other two kinds of kinship systems govern blood relations and relations by marriage).

The term "parenthood" also raises the issue of the child as "property." To be recognized as a child's parent, is it sufficient for a man to engender, or a woman to give birth to, the child? The English ethnologist Esther Goody, in her book Parenthood and Social Reproduction: Fostering and Occupational Roles in West Africa (1982), theorized about parenthood for the first time. She distinguished five groups of functions that individuals can or must take on in order to be considered as parents of children: (1) conceiving or engendering; (2) raising, feeding, protecting; (3) instructing, educating; (4) considering oneself responsible for what the child does; (5) endowing the child at birth with a status, a name, and a group of rights and duties. In different societies, these various functions may exist in combination or separately; adult responsibilities vis-à-vis the child are thus susceptible of broad variety of dissociation and division (the case of adoption is a classic example).

For psychoanalysis, parenthood consists of a process of psychic maturation that begins at conception for both mother and father. Therese Benedek (1973) and G. Bibring-Lehner (1959, 1961), two American psychoanalysts, introduced the term "motherhood," which they defined as all the affective processes that develop and are integrated in a woman when she becomes a mother. In France this notion was introduced by the psychiatrist Paul-Claude Racamier (1961).

In psychodynamic terms, insofar as motherhood is a mental process that cannot be reduced to physiology, the father too may be supposed to go through an identity crisis analogous to that of the mother. This is directly in line with the thinking of Therese Benedek, who showed that men and women share the same two sources of parenthood: their biological bisexuality and their common dependency on a mother or mother figure. Indeed, in men and women the urge to reproduce has a common origin (the pregenital stage); only its organization is different in each sex. Taking up a theme from "Totem and Taboo" (Freud, 1912-1913a), Theodor Reik, in his interpretation of the custom of couvade in "Die Couvade und die Psychogenese der Vergeltungsfurcht" (The couvade and psychogenesis of the fear of reprisals; 1914), emphasized that the attainment of fatherhoodthe fulfillment of an oedipal wishentails a thoroughgoing reorganization of the libido in men as well as in women. (Couvade is a custom where the father takes to bed during the birth of a child and submits to certain taboos.)

Some psychoanalysts have adopted the notion of fatherhood in connection with the psychoaffective changes that occur in fathers-to-be. Clinical experience has revealed that future fathers experience a normal crisis equivalent to that of motherhood (Carel, 1974; Delaisi de Parseval, 1981). Such crises, whose unpredictable outcome may have maturational value and may lead to a new equilibrium, should be understood by analogy with the classical psychoanalytical account of clashing instincts that eventually become integrated.

It is notable that in Western societies the lived experience of fatherhood is concealed, even denied, both in fantasy and on the psychosomatic level. These societies in effect promote an implicit ideology of parenthood in which essentially feminine moments such as pregnancy, giving birth, breast feeding, and the earliest relations between mother and infant are privileged as essential. The man, the father, remains a relatively unobtrusive presence in representations of parenthood.

GeneviÈve Delaisi de Parseval

See also: Archaic mother; Benedek, Therese; Infantile psychosis; Premature-Prematurity; Racamier, Paul-Claude; Tenderness.


Benedek, Therese. (1959). Parenthood as a developmental phase. Journal of the American Psychoanalytic Association, 7, 389-417.

. (1973). Psychoanalytic investigations: selected papers. New York: Quadrangle Books.

Delaisi de Parseval, Geneviève. (1981). La part du père. Paris: Seuil.

Goody, Esther. (1982). Parenthood and social reproduction: fostering and occupational roles in west Africa. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press.

Racamier, Paul-Claude. (1961). La mère et l'enfant dans les psychoses du post-partum.Évolution psychiatrique, 4, 525-570.

Reik, Theodor. (1914). Die Couvade und die Psychogenese der Vergeltungsfurcht. Imago, 3, 409-455.

Further Reading

Anthony, J., and Benedek, T. (Eds.). (1970). Parenthood: Its psychology and psychopathology. Boston: Little, Brown and Co.

Parents Magazine

views updated Jun 27 2018

Parents Magazine

Founded in 1926 in New York City, Parents Magazine became the key vehicle for transmitting the message of parent education in the twentieth century. This mass-circulation monthly, initially called Children, The Magazine for Parents, popularized scientific knowledge on child development to help parents rear their children. Over the course of the twentieth century, it reached into millions of homes.

The magazine reflected and shaped the booming parent education movement of the 1920s. Experts in child health, psychology, and education translated research studies into popular terms and offered practical suggestions. Official cooperation came from four universities and a distinguished board of advisory editors. Extensive advertising promoted such items as ready-made baby food, preparatory schools, and summer camps. The magazine's motto, "on rearing children from crib to college," suggested the middle-class expectations readers held for their children.

The founder and publisher for over fifty years was George J. Hecht, a businessman and social service worker who had earned an economics degree from Cornell, then worked for Creel's Committee on Public Information during World War I. Hecht believed that even educated, middle-class parents needed access to knowledge and assistance in raising their children. He received funding for his venture from the Laura Spelman Rockefeller Memorial Foundation, a chief benefactor of the parent education movement.

Hecht recruited Clara Savage Littledale to serve as editor of the new magazine, a position she held for thirty years until her death in 1956. Littledale was a graduate of Smith College, a journalist, and the mother of two children. To make the latest findings in child development research available to parents, Littledale published articles on such topics as infant care, discipline, character building, and sex education. Yet she was wary of parents relying too much on expert advice rather than their own common sense. She balanced research material with pieces based on humor, sentiment, and everyday experience, and included tips that readers sent in. She urged parents to relax and to enjoy their childrena message that presaged by at least a decade Benjamin Spock's Baby and Child Care.

In its attention to expertise and research, Parents Magazine reflected the privatized and professional orientation of parent education that took hold in the 1920s. But the reformist impulse shaped the magazine as well. Hecht and Littledale, who had both come of age in the Progressive Era, exhorted parents to look beyond the concerns of their own families and to support legislation on behalf of children and families. The magazine thus linked the private realm of child rearing with larger public concerns.

The popularity of Parents Magazine was immediate and enduring. Within a year of its founding, the magazine was selling 100,000 copies a month. Circulation reached 400,000 subscribers at ten years and almost a million by the magazine's twentieth anniversary in 1946. By then, the publishing company had created a series of childcare books and children's magazines. The magazine achieved acclaim as the most popular educational periodical in the world. It has continued to be popular, with over two million subscribers in 2002.

See also: Child-Rearing Advice Literature; Parenting.


Schlossman, Steven L. 1981. "Philanthropy and the Gospel of Child Development." History of Education Quarterly 21: 275299.

Schlossman, Steven. 1986. "Perils of Popularization: The Founding of Parents' Magazine." In History and Research in Child Development: In Celebration of the Fiftieth Anniversary of the Society, ed. Alice Boardman Smuts and John W. Hagan. Chicago: Published by the University of Chicago Press for the Society for Research in Child Development.

Diana Selig


views updated May 17 2018