On October 14th, 2021, Jenifer Fernanda Menendez Martinez (11 years old) dances for her parents Samuel Menendez Rivera (45 years old ) and Iris Martinez Marroquin (43 pars old)in the park in front of her house in Quetzaltenango, Guatemala.

Parenting across cultures varies and is influenced by general beliefs, practices, and values about parenting, children, and life, as well as by social and environmental changes and shifts. Cultural approaches are typically grouped around the western-rooted philosophy of collectivism versus individualism. This is an attempt to classify, compare, and connect clusters of values that exist within and across cultural groups.

There is increasing recognition that collectivism and individualism are not on opposite ends of the spectrum; rather, they coexist, evolve, and change, and importantly, they present in different ways across cultures and in different individuals within a culture. This means that parenting practices and behaviors influenced by culture may also vary over time for different reasons. 

Although sometimes unknowingly, parents and caregivers have parenting goals that are often closely linked to the culture that underpins their values. This link guides what parents believe is important for them to do and share with children in order for them to develop optimally and achieve their potential as adults. In this way, parenting goals and socialization goals meet under the umbrella of culture, whereby the individual shares a common perspective and lifestyle with the rest of the community.

The Increase of Culturally Diverse Communities

Communities across the world are becoming increasingly diverse culturally, resulting from high rates of immigration, globalization, and forced displacement due to humanitarian crises, conflicts, and climate change. An estimated 43 million children live in forced displacement with 90 percent of refugees and forcibly displaced people living in low- and middle-income host countries. Armed conflict and forced displacement, as well as associated daily stressors experienced by families, can lead to heightened caregiver psychological distress. Increased caregiver distress can detrimentally impact on children’s mental health and other outcomes, both directly and via increased harsh parenting and decreased parental warmth.

Research shows that as parents come into a new culture and context, new considerations are introduced. For example, parents may need to reflect on how they parent, how they recognize the host culture, including its language(s), values, and practices; and how they can strike a cultural balance that can help their children integrate, build social connections, and flourish. And yet oftentimes parents are facing a myriad of challenges, such as emotional challenges due to distressing or potentially traumatic experiences before, during, and after migration, as well as a lack of resources and support. Immigrant and refugee parents are often seen as people who need help and input because they are assumed to be both “different” and “wrong,” rather than as parents with inherent strengths and assets. Moving from a deficit assumption to an empowering approach recognizes that people learn in different ways and that  parenting approaches can differ depending on culture and context.  Parents from different cultures and contexts should be included in the design of parenting support and supported in accessing services.

Parenting Interventions Across Cultures

Surprisingly, research suggests that parenting interventions can be effective across a diversity of cultures. A possible explanation is that parents from more traditional cultures may be more receptive and responsive to learning offered by perceived experts. Additionally, researchers suggest that in areas where service and support are scarce, parents may be more open to receiving help in any form and more willing to adapt to change. 

 

Nonetheless, the cultural relevance of an intervention is shown as an important goal across cultural adaptation models in order to achieve the desired change in the target audience. Cultural adaptation can take place at the surface level, whereby specific features in the materials or activities are changed to better suit the target audience. It can also involve deep structure adaptations, which consider the effects of cultural, social, and historical influences on the target audience. Within these two approaches is a continuum of cultural adaptation options to ensure parenting interventions are culturally relevant and sensitive.  While the basic principles of parenting are universal across cultures, the way in which these principles are expressed may vary. This requires parenting interventions to be culturally sensitive. 

Conclusion 

To help ensure that parenting support meets the varied and evolving needs of parents and caregivers wherever they are, interventions should be underpinned by the rights of parents and children that recognize and respect their specific context, needs, and culture, as well as appropriate support for parents’ and caregivers’ mental health and wellbeing needs. Culture and context are complex, and their unique influences on parents must be considered to deliver high-quality parenting support. This can ensure that parents’ strengths and assets within an ever-evolving parenting journey can be used as the foundation to build their capacities. In turn, it will strengthen parenting behaviors and wellbeing, and boost children’s development, learning, mental health, and well-being.