Society and culture might are the second parents of children because of their lasting effects on a child’s development. The shared beliefs in a society or culture make their way into the home by how a parent chooses to educate her child. These cultural and social influences give rise to the many truths and stereotypes about intercultural differences between nations and ethnicities.
The parental concept of a child’s maturity has varied through the ages. For example, people of the middle ages hardly saw children as children, instead preferring to see them as “little adults.” The social and cultural context of the environment in which you raise your children ultimately changes the way you see your children in terms of how close they are to adulthood. Parents in the middle ages, for example, expected their children to work as soon as they reached puberty, a side effect of the culture influence telling parents that children were more mature than they might actually be, hence the high mortality rate for children in that era. Today, parents of different cultural backgrounds fall to the same influences. For example, a 2009 survey on the Zero to Three website explored how black families differ from white families in their approach to children, with black families assuming their children are able to control and regulate their emotions at younger ages than do white families.
The amount of independence parents give their children also partly relies on culture and society. Western and Eastern parents, for example, engage in remarkably different parenting practices in regard to teaching their children independence. The Western parenting style puts heavy emphasis on independence, encouraging children in their hobbies and interests. Eastern parenting styles de-emphasize this type of independence in favor of dependence on the parents. A Chinese mom, for example, lets her children know that they can rely on her. A Chinese child might appear childlike to Westerners because of that, and Chinese children commonly live with their parents until they marry.
Most cultures and societies contain concepts specific to them. For example, the ancient Greeks developed the idea of hubris, a type of pride used to humiliate weaker rivals. In ancient Greek society, hubris was punished as harshly as violence because of its strong taboo nature. Correspondingly, Greek parents taught their children to avoid excessive pride or shaming others. In today’s societies, similar concepts drive the actions and teachings of parents. For example, the Japanese concept of “he,” meaning harmony, pervades society and, likewise, the lessons parents teach their children. A Japanese parent teaches her child to conform, as doing so creates an atmosphere of harmony that is pleasant to all involved. Such a concept might seem contradictory to other cultures’ concepts, such as U.S. concepts of individuality and rebellion.
Blacks are good at sports. Asians are good at math. Whites are good at art. These stereotypes come from their respective cultures, or more specifically, the skills each culture emphasizes. Not only does the education system differ in different cultures, but how parents push their children to develop skills differs as well. The stereotype about Asians being good at math and science stems from the wishes of the parents in Asian nations, such as the wishes for their children to grow up as successful, wealthy members of society. Asian parents encourage their children to become scientists and doctors, whereas many U.S. parents encourage their children to express themselves, encouraging skills such as artistic and verbal ability. What you as a parent emphasize in your child’s life can push her in a certain direction on her career path.
- Representing Childhood: Childhood in Medieval England
- Zero To Three: Cultural Influences on Parenting
- Kan Wai Guo Fu Mu Ren Jia Ru He Jiao Chu Hao Hai Zi; Yen-Mei Yang
- Ralf Nau/Digital Vision/Getty Images