About Child Rearing Practices

By Jan Wondra
What a culture values is revealed in its child-rearing.

Much has been written about child rearing practices; the right way, the wrong way, the American way, the modern way. Frankly, child rearing practices change from culture to culture, from generation to generation and from social class to social class. What is perfectly acceptable in one culture or decade, may be seen as shocking in another. As American society becomes increasingly more global and less homogenized, understanding and accepting cultural differences in child rearing will become more important.

Definition

The generally accepted way in which children in a society are raised, constitutes its philosophical and social child rearing practice. These practices evolve. American society is both materialistic and increasingly concerned with children's safety; making common the recent practice of supplying even young children with cell phones. What was considered luxury is now deemed responsible parenting.

Historical Perspective

From the 1600s through the Victorian age, it was thought that “a child should be seen and not heard.” Child rearing practices were strict and focused on social good, not child welfare. In the 1920s the scientific method of child rearing was popularized by self-styled child development experts like Myrtle Meyer Eldred. Her syndicated newspaper column, "Your Baby and Mine," advised, among other things, that children be taught to “self-sooth;” left to cry it out in a crib and not held.

The post war boom created the nuclear family. A generation of children was showered with material goods as substitute for actual time and attention. By the 1970s, child development experts like Dr. Benjamin Spock advocated a relaxed disciplinarian style where children would find their own moral values and learn things in their own time. Many parents substituted the role of “friend” for their parental role.

Only in this latest generation have American men begun take a more equal role in child rearing.

Cultural differences

Diverse cultural backgrounds reflect different child rearing practices. While American culture generally values and rears girls and boys equally, many cultures give preference to male children.

The American standard of one child/one bedroom, is a recent practice; promoted in an age of smaller families and perceived affluence. The practice is not common in other cultures. Historically, in all but the wealthiest homes, children shared not just bedrooms, but beds. Even today, Hispanic immigrant families believe that young children should sleep with siblings and/or parents. The practice, called “augusto,” translates literally as “being relaxed.”

Practices regarding children and money vary widely. Some American parents give children money, expecting nothing in return. Other parents give allowance, but only with established chores. Still others don't give allowances at all, but pay children for work they do for the family. American children generally use that money for whatever they want. Other cultures expect children who live at home, grown or not, to contribute to household expenses. But if that child or young adult needs financial help for something like schooling, the extended family comes to their aid, with no questions asked.

Discipline

Personal child rearing practices are based in whether a parent believes human nature is inherently good, or inherently bad. A parent who believes his child by nature will do the wrong thing unless taught otherwise, may create an authoritarian, punitive environment with strict discipline. Another parent, believing that the child's human nature is inherently good, may create the opposite extreme; an outright permissive environment where anything goes. Parents who take the middle road value their child, but create an authoritative, but nurturing environment, where rules are enforced, but lessons are learned by encouragement and natural consequences.

According to Lifestyle: Child Rearing Practices, Rewards and Punishment, American parents are more likely than parents in other cultures to punish bad behavior, but overlook, or not praise, a child's good behavior. This creates, not just a family dynamic, but a culture, where children, get attention for being bad.

Values and Attitudes

Children first learn the values and attitudes practiced in their home environment, then from schools and peers. One example: if parents decide to teach the value of work, they may encourage children to take summer jobs. But teenagers encourage employment because they want spending money or are saving for things like cars or college.

Depending upon a society's values, the education system of an entire country may support a child-rearing practice. For instance, in America, schools place more emphasis on individualism. In Japan, teachers place more emphasis on group-consciousness.

About the Author

Jan Wondra began writing in 1979 for the "Milwaukee Journal," "Minneapolis & St. Paul Skyway News," Sauk County Media and "Adoptive Family" magazine. She holds a Bachelor of Science in journalism and design from the University of Wisconsin.