Child rearing is a generic term for raising children which is the basic provision of food, shelter and clothing it also encompasses the socialisation of the child, shaping of their personality, character, talents, cultural and moral values aswell and the emotional and physical well-being of the child into adult life.
There are many contributing factors that have an impact on what methods or styles of child rearing used which can include: parental intuition and attitudes, beliefs, learned parenting skills, race, culture, social class and wealth. The values and norms of the society at the time also have an effect and for example, in the UK during the 1960’s authoritarian parenting was the most popular style until the 1970’s when permissive parenting became the norm.
Barry et al, 1959 identified six central dimensions of child rearing believed to be common to all societies: obedience training, responsibility training, nurturance training, achievement training, self-reliance training and general independence training. Three recent studies by Narvaez 2010, also identified six characteristics of child rearing that were common to our distant ancestors: lots of positive touch, prompt response to the child, breastfeeding, multiple adult caregivers, free play with multi-age playmates and natural childbirth. Narvaez believes the US has been on a downward trajectory on all the these characteristics of care and research shows that the health and well-being of American children is worse than it was 50 years ago; anxiety and depression is endemic among the young; aggressive behaviour and delinquency rates in young children are rising; and empathy, the backbone of compassionate, moral behaviour, has been shown to be decreasing among college students.
Children learn by copying behaviour, known as modelling. As children are exposed to behaviours the more this become normal and the more likely they are to display the same behavioural characteristics. This works for both positive and negatice behaviour traits. For example, mothers who had an eating disorder during the first year of life displayed more negative emotions towards the child during meal times and were more intrusive diring eating and play, The children tended to be lighter and weight relatioed to the amount of conflict and to the extent to which the mother was concerned about her own shap. Stein el at 1994. When trying to teach good behaviour to a child it is helpful for the parents to apply the same rules to themselves and not attempt to apply different rules as this may teach the child that there are separate sets of rules for separate people rather than all acting the same way. When mistakes do happen and parents model inappropriate behabiour, acknowledging it and explaining why it is wrong are equally important for the benefits to be realised.
We can draw broad conclusions that parents who stimulate, talk, cuddle their child will generally result in a more responsive and socially competent adult (Belsky, Lerner & Spanier, 1984). The more attention and stimulation and infant receives early in its life shows a more accelerated performance on tests of cognitive development (Yarrow et al 1975).
Over the years there have been many different styles of parenting. However, there is no single or definitive model that can be right and applied to all. Baumrind identified three main parenting styles; authoritarian, authoritative and permissive and these have been expanded to others such as non-conformist and harmonious. Authoritarian and permissive parenting are on opposite sides of the spectrum, with most conventional and modern styles of parenting fall somewhere in between. There are many differing theories and opinions on the best ways to rear children, as well as differing levels of time and effort that parents are willing to invest. There are also cultural and traditional impacts to the method used. Many parents create their own style from a combination of factors which can evolve over time as the child develops.
Authoritarian parents focus on shaping, restricting and controlling the behaviour of their children with strict guidelines on right and wrong and insisting the child has total respect for authority. It offers very little nurturing but lots of psychological control. Parents demand obedience and will often use forceful measures to ensure behaviour is maintained at all times. The British Psychological Society, 1980 suggested that punishment including physical punishment was insufficient in modifying behaviour as it is situation specific and only a short term effect. This also produces the possibility of providing fear and learned imitative behaviour. However, results from studies show it is difficult to establish direct causal links between partcilular childhood experiences and later life characteristics but there is a general correlation that early physical punishment can lead to modelling of physical aggressive displays later in life. This type of parenting shows little flexibility, is often cold and dismissive of the child’s point of view with little empathy for their feelings. Children are not involved in the decision making process and not given choices or encouraged to make their own decisions. Parents are often harshly critical and tend to focus on bad behaviour rather than good behaviour.
Authoritative parents believe in developing a close and nurturing relationship providing lots of support and love whilst upholding and maintaining a relatively high level of expectation. The guidelines set are age appropriate, flexible and take into account personality styles and the viewpoint of the child. The relationship between parent and child is often have a warm, friendly, and mutually respectful. This approach is common in middle class settings throughout the world, and linked with the most successful child outcomes with the child more likely to become independent, socially accepted, academically successful, and well-behaved and less likely to show signs of depression and anxiety, and less likely to engage in antisocial behaviours. Research suggests that having at least one authoritative parent can make a big difference (Fletcher et al 1999). A common trend for punishments are that good behaviours are rewarded and bad are ignored or punished but not in an authoritarian style.
Operant conditioning is where an association is made between a behaviour and a consequence for that behaviour through rewards and punishments; the theory was identified by BF Skinner. Skinner believed that internal thoughts and motivations could not be used to explain behaviour and instead, we should look only at the external, observable causes of human behaviour. There are four major techniques used which result from combining the two major purposes of operant conditioning (increasing or decreasing the probability a specific behaviour will occur in the future), the types of stimuli used (positive/pleasant or negative/aversive), and the action taken (adding or removing the stimulus). Learning is the result of the application of consequences and a child will connect certain responses with certain stimuli.
Permissive parenting is a style of child-rearing that features two key traits: being nurturing and warm and being reluctant to impose limits, standards or rules and research suggests this isn’t the best approach to parenting. However, it is not clear that permissiveness is always inferior to authoritative parenting. A recent Spanish study found no differences between teenagers raised by permissive or authoritative parents (Garcia and Gracia 2009).
Permissive parents do share similarities with authoritative parents. Both types of parent are emotionally supportive and responsive to the child’s needs and will consult kids about policy decisions but unlike authoritative parents, permissive parents aren’t demanding. They don’t provide the child with rules and responsibilities or imposed behaviour standards. Permissive parents don’t present themselves as authority figures or role models.
There is often a generalisation that children from authoritarian families rarely learn to think for themselves, are less resourceful and less socially adept with lower self esteem and achieve less academically which applies across a variety of cultures. Studies of American teenagers reported that they were the least likely to feel socially accepted by peers if from authoritarian families. They were also less self-reliant (Lamborn et al 1991; Steinberg et al 1992; Steinberg et al 1994). In China a study found that students from authoritarian families rated by their teacher were less socially competent, more aggressive and likely to be less accepted by their peers (Chen et al 1997 and Zhou et al 2004).
Children from authoritarian background may also suffer more emotional problems such as anxiety, low self-esteem, and depression. A survey of middle-aged Americans from all ethnic groups reportedthat those who recalled authoritarian childhoods were more likely to report depressive symptoms with poor psychological adjustments (Rothrauff et al 2009). Further studies have found the same results from other cultures. Studies of Spanish and Brazilian adolescents reported lower self-esteem (Martinez and Garcia 2007; Martinez and Garcia 2008). Researchers in Germany found that teens more likely to suffer from anxiety (Wolfradt et al 2003). Researchers in China suggest that children have more trouble regulating emotions (Chang 2003; Wang et al 2006). Nor is permissive parenting always linked with good emotional health. For example, a study of Palestinian Arabs found boys with permissive parents were more likely to suffer from low self esteem, anxiety, and depression (Drairy 2004) and a ten year study on American children concluded they were more prone to developig anxiety and depression if they were raised by permissive parents (Williams et al 2009).
Research has provided evidence of better behaviour in children from authoritarian background. Ginsburg et al 2004 studied drug and alcohol use while disruptive, aggressive and anti-social behaviours have been studied by Lamborn et al 1991 and Sternberg et al 1996 and 2006. However, we need to be mindful that many studies are retrospective and based on the subjects answering questions on their own behaviour. Children from authoritarian background may well be especially reluctant to be open to researchers as they may be seen as figures in authority. When researchers have tried to measure behaviour in other ways results are quite different. For example, a study involving authoritarian parents of African-American toddlers were more likely to report behviour problems than authoritative parents. Perhaps authoritative parents were reluntant to be truthful as this would show their style may not be working (Querido et al 2002). A further study by Underwood et al 2009 tracked American children of different ethnicities over four years (age 9-13) and in this case the researchers used the teachers to rate social and physical aggression. The results suggests that authoritarianism may contribute to increased child aggression over time.
The effects of authoritarianism largely depends on how severe, harsh, cold, or punitive the parent is. For instance, some research suggests that corporal punishment is linked with higher rates of depression and anxiety among children. The parents may be authoritarian but use less corporal punishment if the child is compliant from an early age. For childs perception of normal parenting also plays a role so culture is involved. If a child perceives authoritarian parenting as normal and mainstream, they may be less distressed by it. Ruth Chao has argued that the Chinese version of authoritarian parenting is fundamentally different and that Chinese authoritarian parents have closer relationships with their children compared to Western authoritarians. (Chao 2001). Depending on the culture of the child they may interpret that the authoritarian approach is a sign that the adult cares about them and accept it as a loving upbringing.
Authoritarian parenting may also have a detrimental impact on learning. Studies have found that the authoritarian parenting style was linked with lower school grades for all ethnic groups (Dornbusch et al 1987, Steinberg et al 1989; Steinberg et al 1992). Research has shown that a common act of authoritarianism, such as shaming a child for poor performance, can actually make the child perform even worse (Kamins and Dweck 1999). In addition, experiments have shown that people generally learn better from positive feedback than from negative feedback, and this may be especially true for children and parent with this style may have children who are more resilient problem solver and better learner (Kamins and Dweck 1999, Schmittmann et al 2006; van Duijvenvoorde et al 2008). But there are other factors that need to be considered aswell. The learning benefits of authoritative parenting are maximized when the learning environment follows the same ethos. For instance, is a school climate is authoritative, children from authoritative families will find it easier to fit in and progress well (Pellerin 2004). A further study of child-rearing practices of Chinese parents concluded low child-rearing involvement of fathers and punitive types of discipline were significantly related to the identified behaviour problems of toddlers. Kong et al. 1988.
While it may be a factor the style of parenting may have less impact than the socioeconomic group of the child and some studies have failed to show any difference in academic performances between authoritative and authoritarian families (Lamborn et al 1996; Steinberg et al 2009). It’s even been suggested that kids with relatively less-educated parents do better in school when they are from authoritarian homes (Leung et al 1998). One conclusion that can be drawn is that children living in dangerous, disadvantaged neighborhoods that are from authoritarian background who show unquestioning obedience are more likely to survive without getting into trouble with authity and show better results of children from authoratitve familes but living in the same neighbourhood.
Peer pressure can also override the effects of parenting on adolescents. Some peer groups support school achievement while others discourage it. One study of U.S. school students found that Asian Americans tended to have peer groups that encouraged scholarship, and they performed well at school no matter what style of parenting they came from while African Americans tended to have peer groups that rejected good students and there performed poorly in school even when their parents were authoritative and highly-educated (Steinberg et al 1992). An often-cited cultural value for North Americans, for example, is the importance of individualism, while in Africa, Asia, Latin America, and the Pacific, the collective is more important than the individual (Triandis, Brislin, & Hui, 1988). However, there is evidence that children from authoritative homes are more attuned with their parents and less influenced by their peers. In one study students from authoritative families were more likely than others to say that their parents and not their peers would influence their moral problems and decisions (Bednar and Fisher 2003).
Before we draw conclusions from any given study, we need to know exactly how researchers defined and measured parenting styleas many studies note that the measure have been developed for Euro-American parents and may not apply to other cultural groups. Findings may not be representative of the culture they Are assumed to represent if a sub-culture falls within a wider culture of a speciric country. There are many ways to measure the different styles and diffferent measurements might lead to different outcomes. For instance, it seems possible that a parent who is typed as “permissive” in one study might be labeled as “authoritative” in another. Its also the case that most parents may not fall neatly in one category, but infact display charasterictics characteristics of more than one style which can alter as the child matures. If the research has been conducted in artificial settings then those behaviours that are measured, observed and studied are through the eyes of the researcher and their own philosophy, beliefs, societal and cultural norms can all influence the results in obvious and subtle ways.
There is agreement across all studies the authoritative parenting style is consistently associated with superior outcomes, and it has never been linked with bad outcomes. “I know of no study that indicates that adolescents fare better when they are reared with some other parenting style” (Steinberg 2001). However, in 1998, Judith Harris argued that scientific evidence showed that all different forms of parenting do not have significant effects on children’s development, except for cases of severe abuse or neglect. The purported effects of different forms of parenting are just that, effects rather than the causes that lead to the child’s outcome. Other factors are heredity, the culture at large, and children’s own influence on how their parents treat them. According to Thomas and Chess and easy child makes the adult feel more competent while a difficult child remove any confidence. Indeed, studies in this area are only correlational and we can’t rule out effects such as heredity, culture, ethnicity, tradition and socio-economic status.
The world is changing dramatically. Over the years we have been led to believe that bottle feeding is acceptable, encouraged to hold our babies less (the use of car seats, rockers, prams etc), encouraged to make our children more independent earlier (nurseries, day care etc). The role of the woman and the family unit has also changed drastically with a move away from extended families to smaller socially mobile units where single parent, same sex parents, inter-racial adoption parental units are increasing. Traditionally, new mothers and fathers received advice from older family members and other, experienced parents. In today’s societies there is increased global movement between countries and an ever increase diversity of sub-cultures. Many complex attachment behaviours and styles are evident across the world.