November 14, 2022

International Perspectives on Parenting and Childhood Development

By Sarah Williams, Child Policy Research Certificate student ’25

Parenting plays a central role in children’s development, shaping children’s understanding of the world and their role within it. Parenting does not only impact children, as its effects follow individuals through adolescence and adulthood. Each culture takes a unique approach to parenting, leading researchers to ask questions about the developmental outcomes of different practices.

On October 20, 2022, the Center for Child and Family Policy hosted a conference on International Perspectives on Parenting and Childhood Development, where researchers from the Parenting Across Cultures (PAC) longitudinal study presented their findings. Led by an international research team, PAC began in 2008 and has studied families from nine different countries, including China, Colombia, Italy, Jordan, Kenya, the Philippines, Sweden, Thailand, and the United States. The study began with a large and diverse sample, comprising nearly 1,500 8-year-old children and their mothers and fathers. Across 14 years, researchers have interviewed the parents regarding the child’s adjustment, attitudes, self-regulation, and relationships, allowing the researchers to understand how biological, social, and cultural factors influence development. Using their findings, the researchers aim to influence interventions for adolescents and promote healthy relationships between parents and their children.

Researchers presented on topics ranging from child mental health to positive discipline to the enforcement of rules across cultures

Demonstrating the breadth of their work, the researchers presented on topics ranging from child mental health to positive discipline to the enforcement of rules across cultures. In one presentation, Sombat Tapanya from Chiang Mai University in Thailand described Parenting for Lifelong Health in Thailand, a training program which identifies at-risk families and helps them practice positive parenting. This program is widely effective in reducing negative family outcomes, as it yields lower rates of abuse, maltreatment, and overall stress. Another presentation covered COVID-19’s effect on families, as the PAC researchers developed surveys to assess families’ experiences at the onset of the pandemic. Ann Skinner from Duke University discussed the findings, explaining how lower parental support led to greater disruption and how varying government responses influenced families’ experiences.

Despite variation in cultures’ parenting approaches, PAC has unveiled many patterns that are consistent across cultures. Drew Rothenberg from Duke University illustrated the intergenerational transmission of parenting, arguing that internalizing and externalizing behaviors in the third generation are often the result of maladaptive parenting in the first and second generations. Regardless of culture, the effects of parenting are transmitted from one generation to the next.

Additionally, parental emotional socialization affects children similarly across cultures. According to Laura Di Guanta from Università di Roma, when parents use unsupportive strategies in response to their children’s emotions, such as punishment or neglect, their children are more likely to experience poor mental health and emotional dysregulation. By contrast, when parents use supportive strategies, their children tend to experience better adjustment. Lastly, across numerous cultures in PAC, it has been more difficult to involve fathers in research and intervention efforts, reflecting similar attitudes toward the roles of mothers and fathers in parenting.

A major takeaway from this event is the importance of cross-cultural research. Many previous studies on parenting have used Western samples and made generalizations about all children and parents. PAC diverges from this framework, using a sample that comprises participants from a diverse range of countries and cultures. This type of research is crucial, as it allows for more representative findings and interventions. Additionally, it promotes international networks across institutions and fosters policy advancement. With that, PAC paves the way for representative research and highlights the importance of evidence-based policy.

Sarah Williams is a sophomore, planning on majoring in Psychology with the Child Policy Research Certificate. She is especially interested in children’s cognition and plans to pursue a PhD in Developmental Psychology.