Assessment: Critical Analysis of Cross-Cultural Research

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IntroductiontoSpecialsectiononCross-culturalResearchonParentingandPsychologicalAdjustmentofChildren.pdf

ORIGINAL PAPER

Introduction to Special Section on Cross-Cultural Research on Parenting and Psychological Adjustment of Children

Marwan Dwairy

Published online: 27 November 2009

� Springer Science+Business Media, LLC 2009

Abstract Parental factors such as control, rejection, and

inconsistency have been reported as associated with psy-

chological maladjustment. The papers in this Special Sec-

tion are based on a multi-national study examining the

association between these parental factors and adolescents’

psychological disorders in nine western and eastern coun-

tries, differing in family connectedness. Questionnaires

assessing these factors were administered to 2,884 male and

female adolescents. In this paper we discuss the parental

factors and describe the methodology. We hypothesize that

parental factors, family connectedness, and the association

between these factors and adolescents’ mental health differ

across cultures. In the papers that follow, we present the

results and discuss their implications.

Keywords Parental control � Rejection � Inconsistency � Mental health � Culture

Introduction

Since Freud, parents’ behavior has become a central factor

in our understanding of children’s mental health. Both

excessive satisfaction and extreme neglect of the child’s

needs may impair the psychological development of the

child (Freud 1923/1962). Since then, many parental factors

have been studied and associated with children’s psycho-

logical adjustment. Baumrind (1966, 1991, 2005) sug-

gested two orthogonal dimensions, high-low warmth and

high-low control, and Schaefer (1965) suggested another

two similar orthogonal dimensions (warmth-hostility and

detachment-involvement). Rohner (1986, 1999) focused on

the acceptance–rejection dimension. The literature about

these factors maintains that authoritarian and permissive

(Baumrind 1966), hostile and detached (Schaefer 1965)

and rejecting parenting (Rohner 1986) have a negative

impact on children’s psychological adjustment. Whatever

the parenting style, inconsistency and incoherent parenting

is another important factor associated with children’s

psychological disorders (Dwairy 2007; Dwairy et al. 2006).

This introduction to the Special Section reviews the

literature on parenting across cultures. We present Baum-

rind’s and Rohner’s approach to the study of the relation-

ship between parenting variables and children’s

psychological adjustment. In addition, this introduction

provides the initial empirical indications of the association

between inconsistent parenting and children’s psychologi-

cal adjustment.

Baumrind’s Parenting Styles

Baumrind (2005) indicated two orthogonal parental fac-

tors: responsiveness (warmth) and demandingness (con-

trol). Three major parenting styles emerged from her

studies: authoritarian, permissive, and authoritative.

Authoritarian parents emphasize control and obedience and

do not promote the child’s autonomy (Baumrind 1966;

Reitman et al. 2002). They enforce discipline through the

use of punishment and expect children to obey their orders

without arguing. The nurturing skills (warmth) of these

parents are low, while the control skills are high. They

rarely use words of comfort, and are unlikely to demon-

strate affection or to praise their children.

Permissive parents enable their children to make their

own decisions and regulate their own behavior. They do

M. Dwairy (&) Ora St. 3b, P.O. Box 14710, Nazareth Elit 17000, Israel

e-mail: [email protected]

123

J Child Fam Stud (2010) 19:1–7

DOI 10.1007/s10826-009-9336-0

not behave as a figure of authority, and tend to be warm

and supportive. The nurturing skills of parents who adopt

the permissive style tend to be moderate to high, while

their control of their children is poor (Baumrind 1991,

2005; Reitman et al. 2002).

The authoritative parenting style is somewhere between

authoritarian and permissive parenting. Children reared in

this style are not completely constrained; they are allowed

a reasonable degree of latitude in their behavior. Authori-

tative parents do enforce limits in various ways such as

reasoning, verbal give and take, clear-cut instructions, and

positive reinforcement. Authoritative parents tend to have

good nurturing skills and exercise moderate parental con-

trol to allow the child to become progressively more

autonomous (Baumrind 1966, 1991, 2005; Reitman et al.

2002).

The authoritative parenting style has been associated

with better psychological adjustment of the children

(Baumrind 1991, 2005; Steinberg et al. 1991, 1992a, b).

Children of authoritative parents have a high level of self-

esteem and tend to be self-reliant, self-controlled, secure,

popular, and inquisitive (Buri et al. 1988; Wenar 1994).

(For review of parental styles, see Maccoby and Martin

1983).

In the literature on parenting, there are various over-

lapping and ill-defined concepts referring to authoritarian-

ism, such as controlling, strict, dominating, coercive,

restrictive, regimenting, intrusive, interfering, demanding,

and asserting their power. At the other end are terms such

as permissive, granting autonomy, indulgent, egalitarian,

democratic, and laissez-faire (Rohner and Khaleque 2003).

Regardless of the specific term used, authoritarian

(Baumrind 1991; Bigner 1994; Forward 1989; Whitfield

1987) and permissive parenting (Baumrind 1991; Bigner

1994; Wenar 1994) are associated with children’s mental

health problems, whereas authoritative parenting is asso-

ciated with better mental health and well-being (Buri et al.

1988; Lamborn et al. 1991).

Rohner’s Acceptance–Rejection and Control Theory

According to Rohner’s parental acceptance–rejection the-

ory, parenting styles can be placed on a continuum between

acceptance (warm and affectionate) and rejection (cold,

hostile, and indifferent), based on how warm they are

towards their children (Rohner 1999; Rohner et al. 2005).

The perceived rejection is a major parental factor, associ-

ated with several personality dispositions of children such

as hostility, conduct problems, depression, emotional

unresponsiveness, dependency, low self-esteem, low self-

adequacy, emotional instability, and a negative worldview.

It has been claimed that this association is universal

‘‘regardless of culture, race, ethnicity, gender, socioeco-

nomic status, and other such defining conditions’’ (Khale-

que and Rohner 2002, p. 87). Adolescents’ reports of

higher parental rejection explained approximately 27 to

46% of the variance in their reports about psychological

adjustment (Kim et al. 2006).

Rohner’s theory also examines parental control, ranging

from permissiveness to strictness (Rohner et al. 2005).

Permissive parents do not control their children’s behavior

and allow them to do things their own way. Restrictive

parents enforce many rules and limit their children’s

autonomy. The relationship between parental control and

children’s psychological adjustment depends on the type of

control. Control that inhibits psychological development is

associated with depression, whereas behavioral control that

regulates the child’s behavior was associated with fewer

conduct problems (Barber et al. 1994) and better academic

achievement (Lamborn et al. 1991).

Both Rohner and Baumrind recognize the important role

played by warmth or acceptance, and by the authoritarian

or controlling parental dimension. In fact, studies on par-

enting and psychological disorders of children have

focused on two factors: rejection and control. Parental

rejection undermines self-esteem and promotes a negative

self-concept, a sense of helplessness, which are the build-

ing blocks of depression (Garber and Flynn 2001). Parental

control reduces perceived mastery and personal control

(Chorpita and Barlow 1998; Weisz et al. 2003), and

induces perceived helplessness (Garber and Flynn 2001).

Despite the recognition that parenting has a significant

influence on children’s mental health, we should be aware

that parenting is only one among many factors (e.g., social

and biological) that affect mental health. In a meta-analytic

study, parenting accounted for 8% of the variance in child

depression (McLeod et al. 2007), less than 4% in child

anxiety (McLeod et al. 2007), and less than 6% in exter-

nalizing problems (Rothbaum and Weisz 1994). Parental

rejection was more strongly related to depression (McLeod

et al. 2007) than was parental control, which was more

related to anxiety than was parental rejection (McLeod

et al. 2007).

Parenting and Culture

Culture is the primary source of information that guides

parental practices (Goodnow 1985). It determines basic

educational values, age-appropriate behavior, and parental

practices. Child-parent relationships differ across cultures

because parents behave according to the values and norms

endorsed in their own culture. Most studies examining the

socio-cultural role of interpersonal relationships have used

the concept of individualism vs. collectivism (Berry et al.

2 J Child Fam Stud (2010) 19:1–7

123

1992). In collective cultures and ‘‘tight’’ (Pelto 1968) or

‘‘uncertainty avoidance’’ cultures (Hofstede 2001), parents

tend to be more authoritarian and to emphasize obedience

and adherence in order to maintain the harmony of the

collective. On the other hand, parents in more liberal and

individualistic cultures tend to give their children more

freedom and to foster their individuality and separateness.

They encourage and view personal objectives and auton-

omy as signs of maturity. Despite these cultural differ-

ences, there are few studies on parent-adolescent

relationships from a cross-cultural perspective. Most pub-

lished studies on this relationship have dealt with American

adolescents (Youniss and Smollar 1985; Bogenschneider

et al. 1998), with little attention paid to various ethnic

groups living in the U.S. (Spencer and Dornbush 1990).

The relationship between parents and their children in

collective societies is closer and more mutually dependent

than in individualistic societies. In a regional study that

examined the inter-connectedness between adolescents and

their parents, Arab adolescents were found to be more

connected to their parents than American adolescents

(Dwairy et al. 2006).

The influence of parenting on the psychological

adjustment of children differs across cultures. Contrary to

reports indicating that authoritarian parenting has a nega-

tive influence, some researchers found that the authoritar-

ian parenting style has a positive impact among African

Americans in terms of assertiveness and independence

among girls (Baumrind 1972), and in terms of high-level

competency in a high-risk environment (Baldwin et al.

1990). Some researchers found that authoritarian parenting

has a positive influence among Asians and is associated

with better academic performance and achievements than

the authoritative style (Chao 2001; Leung et al. 1998;

Steinberg et al. 1994).

Baumrind (1996) emphasized that the consequences of

authoritarian parenting depend on cultural context and on

how it is perceived by the child. Many other studies indi-

cate that the influence of parental control depends on how it

is perceived by the child: Korean adolescents in Korea

perceive parental behavioral control as an indication of

acceptance, whereas Korean American adolescents per-

ceive higher parental behavioral control as a manifestation

of lower parental acceptance (Rohner and Pettengill 1985).

Among the Chinese, parental control is not viewed nega-

tively as restrictive and dominating, but as an organiza-

tional strategy, contributing to the harmonious functioning

of the family (Chao 2001) and is associated with caring and

love (Rohner and Pettengill 1985; Tobin et al. 1989).

Randolph (1995) thought that for African Americans

authoritarian parenting is associated with caring, love,

respect, protection from the dangers of the streets, and with

making life easier for the child. Kagitcibasi (1970, 2005)

considered parental control and warmth to be compatible in

many collectivistic cultures. It seems that authoritarian

parenting is consistent with the values of respect for par-

ents and adherence to them, prevailing in the collective

societies.

Dwairy’s Inconsistency Hypotheses

Unlike the negative effect of authoritarian parenting on

western adolescents, in a regional study carried out in eight

Arab countries, authoritarian parenting was not found to be

associated with adolescents’ psychological disorders

(Dwairy et al. 2006; Dwairy and Menshar 2006). Why does

authoritarian parenting have a negative impact on western

adolescents but not on Arab and other non-western ado-

lescents? In answer to this question, Dwairy et al. (2006)

suggested the inconsistency hypothesis, claiming that it is

the inconsistency between authoritarian parenting and the

liberal socio-cultural environment in the west, rather than

authoritarianism per se, that lies behind the negative impact

on adolescents’ psychological adjustment. When

authoritarian parenting is consistent or in harmony with the

socio-cultural environment, such as the authoritarian/col-

lective Arab or Asian cultures, authoritarian parenting per

se has no such negative impact. In support of the incon-

sistency hypothesis, Dwairy et al. (2006) found that the

inconsistent pattern of parenting that combines authoritar-

ian and permissive parenting was associated with psycho-

logical disorders of Arab adolescents.

Inconsistency in the child’s social environment is fre-

quently mentioned as one of the factors that may confuse

the child and impair learning and socialization processes

(Wenar 1994). Hersov (1960) pointed out that inconsis-

tency between maternal and paternal parenting styles may

increase separation anxiety and school phobia. Dadds

(1995) reported an association between inconsistent par-

enting and conduct disorders, and Patterson (1982) noted

that inconsistent parenting is associated with conduct

disorders.

To examine the effect of the inconsistency factor in

parenting, Dwairy (2007) developed a scale for inconsistent

parenting and conducted preliminary research to validate

the scale and investigate the association between inconsis-

tent parenting and adolescents’ psychological disorders.

The results among Arab adolescents support the inconsis-

tency hypothesis. That is, inconsistency measures were

associated with psychological disorders, while none of the

authoritarian parenting measures were associated with

psychological disorders. The association between incon-

sistency and psychological disorders was more salient

among those adolescents who were more connected to their

parents than among those who were less so. This finding

J Child Fam Stud (2010) 19:1–7 3

123

suggests that inconsistent parenting is more damaging in

collective (more connected) societies than in individualistic

ones. Interestingly, Dwairy (2007) found no interaction

between the effects of inconsistency and authoritarian par-

enting, suggesting that inconsistency has its own indepen-

dent association with psychological disorders, with and

without authoritarian parenting. Dwairy suggested that in

addition to parental rejection and control, parental incon-

sistency should be dealt with as an important parental fac-

tor, influencing the psychological adjustment of children.

Based on the cross-cultural differences in the association

between child-parents relationship and psychological

adjustment of children, Dwairy and colleagues conducted

the research reported in this Special Section in western

(individualistic) and non-western (collectivistic) countries

to study the association between family-child connected-

ness, parental control, parental rejection, and parental

inconsistency on the one hand, and psychological disorders

of adolescents on the other. To the best of our knowledge,

this is the first cross-cultural study on parenting that

addresses multiple parenting factors simultaneously and

brings together parental inconsistency with other parental

factors studied so far.

Research on parenting and children’s psychological

adjustment has so far been typically one-factorial: testing

one parenting factor at a time. This reductionism under-

estimates the interaction effect and the overlap that exists

between different parenting factors (Soenens 2007) and

mistakenly deals with each factor as an independent one.

As a result of this approach, the association found between

certain parental factors and children’s mental health was

not consistent and some times even contradictory. Our

multiple factor research is based on a systemic research

approach suggested by Dwairy (2006), according to which

we assume that the association between one parenting

factor and children’s mental health varies when it is tested

in conjunction with, or without, other parenting factors. For

instance, the association between parental rejection and

children’s mental health will depend on the presence or

absence of one or more additional genetic, parental,

familial, school, social, and cultural factors. Therefore, it is

important to study the association between each parenting

factor and psychological disorders in conjunction with

many other parenting factors and other relevant factors

such as familial, social, economical, and cultural factors.

Sample

We administered the questionnaires in nine countries: three

western countries (France, Poland, and Argentina), and six

eastern countries or societies (Kuwait, Algeria, Saudi

Arabia, Bedouins in Israel, Jordan, and India) to 1,358

male and 1,526 female adolescents (see Table 1). Their

ages ranged from 15 to 17 years and they were studying in

the 10, 11, and 12th grades (469, 1,477, and 938, respec-

tively). The questionnaires were administered at the

schools and it took 50–60 min in each class. In accordance

with each country’s law, the consent of the school inspector

and/or the parents was obtained. Participation was volun-

tary; however, there were no refusals. Except for the

samples from India and Bedouins in Israel, all the samples

included urban and rural subjects. More urban respondents

were included in the eastern sample (83.0%) than in the

western one (69.3%). The Indian sample comprised middle

and upper class students, studying in an English speaking

school in India. The Bedouins in Israel are Arabs who had

lived in the desert within a tribal social system until the last

few decades. After they moved to small villages, they kept

their traditional tribal culture, which is very authoritarian

and collective. Within the tribal hierarchical system the

men and the elderly have absolute authority over all the

tribe members. Disobedience to this authority may result in

significant punishment (Alkernawi 2000; Alkernawi and

Graham 1997; Cwikel and Barak 2002).

In addition to the questionnaires related to parenting and

psychological adjustment, the students were asked to

complete a demographic questionnaire concerning their

families. They were asked to report on the number of

siblings, their parents’ education, and to rate their family’s

economic level from 1 = very low and 5 = very high ‘‘as

compared to the other students in the school.’’

The mean number of siblings in the western and eastern

families was 1.94 and 5.00, respectively. The mean number

of fathers’ school years was 12.62 in the west and 12.93 in

the east, suggesting that the vast majority of the parents had

finished high school. The percentage of fathers with higher

education was 62.6% in the west and 62.7% in the east.

The percentage of mothers with higher education was

67.7.6% in the west and 54.9% in the east. The mean of the

family economic level was 3.13 in the west and 3.23 in the

Table 1 The sample according to country and sex

Country Male Female Total

1 France 92 117 209

2 Poland 132 177 309

3 Argentina 140 184 324

4 Kuwait 257 244 501

5 Algeria 170 165 335

6 Saudi Arabia 126 341 467

7 Bedouins/Israel 65 102 167

8 Jordan 245 96 341

9 India 131 100 231

Total 1,358 1,526 2,884

4 J Child Fam Stud (2010) 19:1–7

123

east. These levels do not indicate the objective differences

in economical level of the western and eastern families,

because the subjects were asked to compare the economic

level of their family on a subjective rating scale to the other

students in their own school.

Instruments

All the questionnaires were translated from the original

language (English or Arabic) to the language of each

country and then back-translated. The translation was

carried out by professionals who knew both languages and

understood the rationale of each instrument. Except for

India, the questionnaires were administered to the subjects

in their mother tongue. In India, the questionnaires were

administered in English in English-speaking schools to

students coming from the middle and upper class.

Multigenerational Interconnectedness Scale (MIS;

Gavazzi and Sabatelli 1987, 1988, 1990). This scale con-

sists of three subscales intended to assess emotional,

financial, and functional connectedness between the ado-

lescent and his/her family.

Dwairy’s Parental Authoritarianism and Inconsistency

Scale (DPAIS; Dwairy 2007). The scale assesses parental

authoritarianism in conjunction with parental inconsis-

tency. The scale measures parental control and three types

of parental inconsistency: temporal, situational, and father–

mother inconsistency. The temporal inconsistency indi-

cates the changes in parental reactions to the same situation

from time to time. The situational inconsistency indicates

the changes in the parental reaction from one situation to

another. The father-mother inconsistency indicates the

differences between paternal and maternal reactions.

Parental Acceptance Rejection Questionnaire PARQ

(Rohner and Khaleque 2003, 2005). The shortened form of

PARQ includes 29 items, each referring to father and

mother acceptance or rejection. The mean of the measures

on each group of items is considered to indicate paternal or

maternal rejection. The sum of the means of paternal and

maternal acceptance indicates parental acceptance and the

sum of the means of paternal and maternal rejection indi-

cates parental rejection.

The Psychological State Scale (PSS). This scale is based

on a larger scale of Psychological State (Hamuda and

Imam 1996). In the present study we measured three psy-

chological states: generalized anxiety, depression disorder,

and conduct disorder. Subjects were asked to rate their

level of endorsement of each item on a five-point scale.

The sum of all the 15 items is considered as a measure of

the general level of psychological disorders (PS), with a

low score indicating better mental health.

General Hypotheses

Our general hypotheses are as follows: (a) parenting (in

terms of control, acceptance–rejection, and inconsistency),

adolescents-parents connectedness, and adolescents’ psy-

chological adjustment differ across cultures and parents’

and family’s socio-economic level, and parents’ and ado-

lescents’ gender, and (b) there are cross-cultural differ-

ences in the association between parenting factors and

adolescents’ psychological adjustment.

The papers in the Special Section test more specific

hypotheses concerning adolescent-family connectedness,

parental control, parental inconsistency, parental rejection,

and the association between these parenting factors and the

psychological adjustment of youth. Four papers focus on

one parenting factor. Owing to the interactions and overlap

between the various parenting factors, the final paper

analyzes all of the factors together and examines their

associations to adolescent’s mental health.

In these papers we used ‘‘country’’ primarily as an

independent variable, as the statistical analysis progressed

we showed a clear clustering of this independent variable

into two cultural clusters: east and west. In order to con-

sider the moderator effect of culture (east vs. west) on

some nominal dependent variables tested we used moder-

ator ANOVA and reported the significance of the interac-

tion between the predictor (e.g., gender) and the moderator

(culture). In addition, in order to verify the internal validity

of family and parenting variables, in light of the assumed

differences between cultures, we conducted separate factor

analyses and internal consistencies (Chronbach’s alpha) in

the west and east.

The systemic integrative approach of our study, inte-

grating the parental inconsistency together with other par-

enting factors studied so far, and cultural diversity of our

sample and the large number of participants in our research

are considered among the strengths that make our findings

valid and credible, and generalizable across cultures. The

main shortcoming of our research is that it is based on

adolescents’ self-report questionnaires, with no way of

validating the results through parents’ self-reports. More

cross-cultural research is needed to validate the results

through other tools such as interviews, observations, and

other questionnaires, targeting both the parents and the

adolescents.

Acknowledgments I want to thank my colleague Mustafa Achoui who administered the scales and encoded the data in Saudi Arabia,

Algeria, and Kuwait, and Anna Filus (Poland), Neharika Vohra

(India), Martina Casullo (Argentina), Parissa Rezvan Nia (France),

Huda Nijm (Jordan), and Lana Shhadi (Arabs in Israel) for their help

in translating and administering the questionnaires and encoding the

data of their countries.

J Child Fam Stud (2010) 19:1–7 5

123

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