The Impact of Culture on Early Childhood Development in the United States

by Damon Verial Google

    The United States is a blending of many cultures that feature many stable and different subcultures. Where a child grows up and who her parents are will influence the “cultural wisdom,” or emphasis of certain values and skills, that are passed to her. In early childhood, these cultural differences become increasingly significant.

    One of the main traits cultural psychologists observe when they analyze cultures are the morals that a certain culture emphasizes. Because morals differ throughout the world, individuals stress certain ideas, goals and skills. These morals tend to come from the family more than the schoolyard and classroom. Nancy Gonzales and Kenneth Dodge, researchers of adolescents and authors of “Family and Peer Influences on Adolescent Behavior and Risk-Taking,” state that family culture is the driving force behind the development of children’s moral viewpoints. This can explain the differences between children of different cultures on moral issues. For example, Japanese children, who come from a culture that teaches modesty, might seem to be the polar opposites of Hispanic children, who come from a culture that reveres self-esteem.

    Immigrants are likely to be the most affected by cultural differences in the United States, if only for the reason of language. Children who are exposed to two languages learn them differently, especially if exposed to one language before the other, according to the book "Language Development." This not only affects how parents should help their children in learning a language, but also leads to an overall language learning delay that can last until the child is 10 years old. The outcome will be poorer academic success in language classes until that age.

    Psychologists have researched the topic of parenting styles, which refers to the different methods parents use to deal with conflicts between parents and children, and have found that cultures differ on the parenting styles they use. According to Kimberly Kopko, associate professor at Cornell University and author of "Parenting Styles and Adolescents," Western parents tend to use the authoritative parenting style, which emphasizes open expression. Authoritative parents set clear limits while allowing open communication between parent and child. Kopko also notes that parents from other cultures, most notably Asian and African cultures, tend to use the authoritarian style, which emphasizes firmness. Authoritarian parents are strict in discipline and rule-setting.

    When cultural morals and parenting styles mix, the culture of the home pushes a child into a certain habits. These habits can shape the child into anything from an independent and rebellious rascal to an overly reliant, dependent mommy’s boy. However, the results are usually somewhere in between. The cultural influences of a family tell the child how much freedom he has in his life. An example of this is in how Western children gain independence so quickly in the eyes of Asian families, and how Asian children stay reliant on their parents so long in Western eyes. According to child development expert Beth Maschinot in her book "The Influence of Culture on Early Child Development," Western morals emphasize self-expression and the standard Western parenting style emphasizes freedom of growth. This leads to parents reinforcing autonomous behaviors in daily circumstances, such as in giving their children choices throughout the day (e.g., "What color crayon would you like to use?" and "Which fish should we choose?") This leads to behavioral differences in Western children, such as children tending to be willing to leave their homes early to find work. On the contrary, Asian morals emphasize the importance of family, and the standard Asian parenting style emphasizes reliance on parental decision-making. So, it is not uncommon for Asian children to live with their parents throughout their entire childhood and even up to their 30s.

    About the Author

    Damon Verial has been writing since 2001. Verial is an applied psychologist with specialties in evolutionary psychology, relationships and attachment theory. His thesis investigates the evolutionary adaptations of sex differences and preferences.

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