Cultural Variations in Parenting: Perceptions of Caucasian, African-American, Hispanic, and Asian-American Parents

Article excerpt

Parents develop their own parenting theory based on their cultural and reference group socialization, in addition to individual and family experiences, personality style, and characteristics of their child(ren) (Belsky, 1984; Brooks, 1991; Coleman, Ganong, Clark, & Madsen, 1989). Because of the cultural diversity within the United States, there exists a variety of beliefs and values about raising children (McGoldrick, 1982). Parents' attitudes and perceptions about raising children affect parental behavior and, as a result, influence children's developmental outcomes (Belsky, 1984). Parke (1978) has argued that more attention should be given to the effects of parental perceptions, attitudes, and values as mediators of parent-child relationships.

Extant research on culturally diverse parenting is limited by its focus on social problems and comparison of only one ethnic group at a time with Caucasian families (Taylor, Chatters, Tucker, & Lewis, 1990; Vega, 1990). Also, this literature tends to focus on the parenting of the mother, suggesting a lack of paternal involvement in child rearing and/or that the father functions outside the family in the breadwinner role. In addition, there is still a tendency in these studies to confound social class with culture; that is, many studies have failed to control socioeconomic status and have continued to compare Caucasian, middle-class family patterns with disproportionately lower-income ethnic groups (McKenry, Everett, Ramseur, & Carter, 1989; Vega, 1990). Thus, in this era of heightened interest in culturally diverse families and use of culturally variant models, previous research has not adequately examined the extent to which there are cultural differences in parenting when economic factors are removed (Brooks, 1991; Staples & Mirande, 1980; Vega, 1990).

The purpose of this exploratory study was to determine, when socioeconomic status (SES) is controlled, the extent and pattern of unique cultural variation in parenting according to the perceptions of mothers and fathers in two-parent families. Culture was operationally defined as membership in one of the primary American ethnic groups--African American, Hispanic, and Asian American--in addition to Caucasian.

PARENTING AMONG ETHNIC MINORITY FAMILIES

African Americans, Hispanics, and Asian Americans constitute the three major ethnic groups in the United States (Brooks, 1991; Harrison, Wilson, Pine, Chan, & Buriel, 1990). Ogbu (1985) notes many common traits among these three because they are all "castelike," that is, these ethnic groups were originally incorporated into a society more or less involuntarily and permanently through slavery, conquest, and/or colonization. McLoyd (1990) contends that ethnic status means living with a sense of invisibility, negative images, stereotypes, narrow portrayals of capabilities, and being misunderstood. Ethnic groups share the same aspirations of the majority culture, but often lack the means to attain these goals. Also common to these three groups is their use of adaptive strategies including extended families, role flexibility, biculturalism, and collectivism versus individualism, including loyalty to the group (Harrison et al., 1990).

These experiences and adaptive strategies are reflected in child rearing goals that differ from the majority group. Although parents from ethnic groups use the same techniques for socialization of their children as do Caucasian parents, that is, modeling, reinforcement, and identification, they often use these techniques to pass on the unique values and behaviors of their cultural group. Common child rearing goals among ethnic group parents include positive orientation to the culture, socialization for interdependence, and cognitive flexibility (Brooks, 1991; Harrison et al., 1990). Brooks (1991) cautions that parental differences based on culture may disappear when socioeconomic status is controlled (Brooks, 1991; Patterson, Kupersmidt, & Vaden, 1990). …