Parenting in a Diverse World

Modern Day Parenting

Decades of research tell us the kind of parenting that works best for teens in American households has a mixture of high warmth and rules. It’s known as authoritative or balanced parenting. We like to call it Lighthouse Parenting. This finding has been confirmed over and over again across many different studies in the US. But what parenting style is best in other households with different cultural traditions across the world? And do these same approaches work for families with different structures? Like single parent households or when grandparents aid in raising teens?

To shed light on trends in parenting adolescents in an increasingly diverse world, the Journal of Research on Adolescence, a top source for rigorous research on adolescent development, recently published a series of articles. Here’s a summary of six key findings and what they mean for parents today.

Messages about cultural pride and knowledge are consistently related to positive outcomes for teens.

6 Parenting Trends to Know

1) The key ingredients of Balanced Parenting – warmth and rules – have relevance around the world.

A team of researchers asked parents from eight countries – the U.S., China, Italy, Kenya, Philippines, Thailand, Sweden, Colombia, and Jordan – about their use of warmth and firmness (or “control”) with their children. They found these two features of balanced parenting to be relevant across the globe.  

2) Your teen may be changing you more than you realize.

The same team of researchers who looked at families around the world found that by early adolescence – ages 11 or 12 – the child’s behavior had more of an impact on the parent’s behavior than the reverse. Their findings remind us that parenting is a two-way street.

3) Families come in all shapes and sizes.

Sometimes family structure is defined by biology, but it can also be defined by where teens live or who is most responsible for their care, regardless of biological relationship. While most adolescents live with two parents, almost a third live with only one parent who is usually, but not always, their mom. “Parents” also include grandmothers and fathers, other relatives, and foster families. The number of teens who live with their grandparents – either alone or with their parents – has been rising steadily for about 30 years.

4) Family practices are more important for teens than family structure.

Some research shows a connection between family structure (i.e., who makes up a family) and teens’ health and well-being. However, other issues may be more important than family structure, like the family’s stress level or their access to resources that promote health and well-being. After reviewing hundreds of studies, researchers concluded that regardless of how many parents and caregivers a teenager lives with, the relationships within the family are what matter most. And high-quality relationships stem from warmth and monitoring by parents and caregivers (a.k.a. balanced parenting!).

5) Parental support is critical for lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) teens.

LGBT youth are “coming out,” or disclosing this part of their identity to others, at a much earlier age than in the past – the average age is now around 14-years-old, compared to 20-years-old a few decades ago. Relationships with parents can affect when a teen chooses to come out, and how they fare after they’ve done so.  Parental support makes a huge difference. The research team who reviewed numerous studies wrote, “Parental acceptance and support can be critical to children’s health and wellbeing.”

6) The messages parents share with their children about race and ethnic heritage help youth strengthen their identity and become more resilient.

Messages about cultural pride and knowledge are consistently related to positive outcomes for teens. Those outcomes may include better performance in school, fewer behavioral or mental health problems, and a stronger, more positive sense of ethnic-racial identity. These cultural pride messages may have most impact when parents use a balanced parenting style — you know, love and support and setting appropriate boundaries. Beyond teaching teens about race or ethnicity, researchers also suggest that parents should help teens navigate unfamiliar cultural situations, recognize injustices, and interact across differences.

This article was co-authored by Andrew Pool, PhD, CPTC’s Senior Research Manager.

It’s All About Loving Relationships

So, what are the key takeaways? These studies reinforce the importance of using a balanced parenting style during adolescence. This approach helps a wide variety of teens feel cared for and supported. This parenting style may be even more critical for our more vulnerable adolescents as they try to develop their unique identity. Families come in many forms and the term “parent” can apply to many different caregivers. But ultimately, the connections and relationships within the home matter more than who lives in the home. And parent-teen relationships truly are a two-way street.   

About Joanna Williams

Joanna Lee Williams, PhD, is a faculty affiliate at CPTC and an Associate Professor in the Graduate School of Applied and Professional Psychology at Rutgers University. Dr. Williams studies race and ethnicity as social contexts for youth development.

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