• By Kevin Mount
  • Posted on Wednesday 16th July, 2008

It works in Venice Beach, so will it work on a beach in Venice?

Much of the research on parenting comes from the US and the results generally indicate that children do best with firm, warm and involved caregivers. But Western parenting styles and customs are different from Eastern ones, and some approaches common among developing nations are much rarer among industrialized societies. [See, for example: What hope (or danger) of a global “gold standard” for parenting?.]Such variations across hemispheres are fairly well known; rather less attention has been paid to possible differences among Western industrialized countries – prompting the anxious questions, Is good parenting good parenting the world over? Will the same parenting strategies help children as much in the Amsterdam as in Holland, Michigan?A group of Italian, Dutch, and American researchers are among the latest to consider whether the US “recipe” for good parenting applies in different European cultures: in this case the traditionally conservative, religious, family-oriented society of Italy and the more independent, secular, and less family-minded culture of the Netherlands.Sivia Ciairano of the University of Torino in Italy and her colleagues surveyed 764 students between the ages of 15 and 19. They found that, like their US counterparts, the Italian and Dutch teens in the study who felt warmth and support from their parents tended to be better adjusted than those who did not. But differences became apparent when it came to parents being firm or controlling. Older Dutch boys who felt their parents were controlling yet supportive actually appeared less well-adjusted, on average, than other students in the study. Ciairano and company suggest that controlling parents may threaten Dutch boys’ emerging sense of independence, more so than for girls and Italian teens, who aren’t expected to be as independent. They suggest that this affront to their autonomy might lead some Dutch boys to react negatively. Another departure from the US findings emerged. The adjustment of study participants in Italy was not associated with the combination of warmth and control from their parents. The researchers suggest that controlling parents may be viewed differently by Italian and American teens although they don’t suggest in what respects.Certainly more rigorous studies (for example, to track adolescents over time and to take into account genetic influences on adjustment) are needed to confirm and better understand differences among teens in the West. Until then, those advocating “evidence-based” programs for families in Europe, might question the provenance of the evidence. • Summary of “Parenting And Adolescent Well-Being In Two European Countries” by Sivia Ciairano, Wendy Kliewer, Silvia Bonino, and Anne Harke Bosma in Adolescence, Spring 2008, Vol. 43, Issue 169, pp 99-117.

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