Journal of Child and Family Studies

, Volume 19, Issue 1, pp 16–22

Parental Control: A Second Cross-Cultural Research on Parenting and Psychological Adjustment of Children

Authors

  • Mustafa Achoui
    • King Fahd University
Original paper

DOI: 10.1007/s10826-009-9334-2

Cite this article as:
Dwairy, M. & Achoui, M. J Child Fam Stud (2010) 19: 16. doi:10.1007/s10826-009-9334-2

Abstract

Parental control is among the important factors influencing the psychological development of children. In addition to other questionnaires, a questionnaire of father and mother control was administered to adolescents in nine countries. The results showed that parental control differs across cultures. Parental control was higher in the eastern than western countries. Mothers, particularly in the west, are more controlling than fathers. Fathers’ rather than mothers’ control was associated with adolescents’ psychological disorders in the west, but not in the east. Inconsistent parental control was associated with psychological disorders.

Keywords

Parental controlCultureInconsistencyPsychological disorders

Introduction

Parental control has long been identified as one of the major parenting factors influencing children’s mental health (Schaefer 1965). Only in recent decades has parental control become the subject of systematic empirical research (Barber 1996; Steinberg 1990). Parental control is defined as a cluster of behaviors through which parents excessively control and regulate their children’s activities and routines, encourage children’s dependence on their parents, and instruct the children on how to think and feel (Barber 1996). High parental control is believed to reduce the perceived personal mastery and control of children (Weisz et al. 2003) and induce helplessness (Garber and Flynn 2001), thus generating anxiety and depression (Wood 2006).

Research according to Baumrind’s typological model of parenting indicates that children of authoritarian parents who exert high control, and permissive parents who exert low control, may have emotional and behavioral problems (Baumrind 1991, 2005; Bigner 1994; Forward 1989; Maccoby and Martin 1983; Sang et al. 2006; Whitfield 1987). The results regarding the association between control and children’s behavior were not consistent. Some studies indicated positive effects of control on children (e.g., Belsky et al. 2000; Eiden et al. 2001; Feldman and Klein 2003) while others have found negative associations (e.g., Kochanska and Knaack 2003; Silverman and Ragusa 1990; Stansbury and Zimmermann 1999). These inconsistent results may be explained by the distinction between positive and negative control. Positive control is directive through teaching and guiding whereas negative control is power-assertive through anger, harshness, criticism, and physical intervention (Braungart-Rieker et al. 1997). In a meta-analysis of parental control and self-regulation of preschoolers, a significant association was found between positive and negative control on one hand, and self-regulation on the other, with low levels of effect. Both types of control were associated with child compliance, but not with inhibition and emotion regulation (Karreman et al. 2006).

Culture is another factor that may influence the association between parental control and psychological adjustment of children (Chao 1994; Dwairy 2004; Dwairy et al. 2006). It is assumed that in collective cultures where the harmony of the family is crucial, parents exert more control over their children to maintain this harmony (Triandis 1995). Parental control may be perceived in many collective cultures as an expression of care and love. Indeed, studies in many such countries found no association or positive association between authoritarian parenting or control, and children’s psychological adjustment, for instance among Chinese (Chao 2001; Leung et al. 1998), African Americans (McWayne et al. 2008; Randolph 1995), Koreans (Rohner and Pettengill 1985), Turks (Kagitcibasi 1970, 2005), and in Hong Kong and Pakistan (Stewart et al. 2002). Studies among Arabs indicated no association between authoritarian parenting and psychological adjustment (Dwairy 2004; Dwairy et al. 2006).

With regard to gender differences, it is assumed that the roles of fathers and mothers roles are different across cultures. The role of eastern mothers is almost exclusively focused on home care and child rearing, whereas more western mothers focus on professional careers (Triandis 1995). Although eastern mothers are close to their children and exert a great deal of control over them, they lack personal authority; therefore, they exert their control “in the name” of the fathers’ authority (Dwairy 1998). Parental control is also influenced by the child’s gender. Despite the literature on the harshness and strictness with which girls are treated in eastern countries (Dwairy 1997; Zakareya 1999), many research findings in the Arab world indicate that the perceived parental control of boys is higher than it is of girls (Dwairy et al. 2006; Fershani 1998; Punamaki et al. 1997; Zegheena 1994). These puzzling findings were associated with greater submissiveness of girls, which make parental control perceived as more salient by boys, who tend to challenge the parents’ rules.

In this study, we hypothesized that parental control will be associated with family connectedness, culture, and parents’ and adolescents’ sex. The association between parental control and psychological disorders will differ across cultures. The association between parental control and psychological disorders will be higher in the western than the eastern countries. Inconsistency between father and mother control will be associated with adolescents’ psychological disorders.

Method

Participants and Instruments

The participants were 2,884 Arab, Indian, French, Polish and Argentinean adolescents.

The following scales were administered:

Dwairy’sParental Control and Inconsistency Scale (DPCIS). This scale assesses authoritarianism in conjunction with parental inconsistency. It comprises two parallel parts, each calling for the fathers’ or the mothers’ responses. In each part, ten parent-adolescent conflicts are addressed, such as conflicts concerning social behavior, sibling relationships, clothing, school homework, and so on. For each conflict, two measures are taken: parental control and temporal parental inconsistency. The adolescents are asked to rate for each conflict the parent’s (father or mother) response on a 5-point Likert scale (ranging from 5 = controlling/punishing to 1 = accepting/forgiving). Based on the average score, the Father Control (FC) and Mother Control (MC) are assessed. The sum of FC and MC indicates the general Parental Control (PC). For each conflict the subject is asked to rate the parent’s response consistency on a scale that ranges from 5 = inconsistent and changing from time to time, to 1 = always consistent. Here are two examples concerning conflict in connection with the father’s need for help.

Based on the average scores of the ten temporal inconsistencies, the Temporal Inconsistency of the father (FTI) and of the mother (MTI) were assessed. In addition, two other inconsistencies were assessed: (1) Situational Inconsistency (SI), assessing inconsistency in the parents’ responses across the conflicts or situations. The average of the absolute differences between the father’s control scores in each situation and the mean of the father’s control (FC) is considered as the Father Situational Inconsistency (FSI), and of the average of the absolute differences of the mother’s as the Mother Situational Inconsistency (MSI). (2) Father-Mother Inconsistency (FMI) assessing the inconsistencies between the two parents in the same situation and is calculated by averaging the absolute differences between the rated control of the father and that of the mother for each situation.

A principal factor analysis was conducted on the 20 items concerning the fathers’ responses (FAP and FTI) with varimax rotation, a priori two factors solution, and a .20 loading criterion. The two factors explained 35.7% of the variance. All items of FAP were loaded in one factor and all FTI items were loaded in the second factor (Table 1). A second principal factor analysis was conducted on the 20 items concerning the mothers’ responses (MAP and MTI) with varimax rotation, a priori two factors solution, and a .20 loading criterion. The two factors explained 42.8% of the variance. All items of MAP were loaded in one factor and all MTI items were loaded in the second factor. Alpha Cronbach’s coefficients of FAP, FTI, MAP, and MTI were .75, .83, .81 and .88, respectively, indicating a good internal consistency of the scales.
Table 1

Principal component analysis of Dwairy’s Parental Authoritarianism and Inconsistency Scale (DPAIS)

 

Father

Mother

Factor #1

Factor #2

Factor #1

Factor #2

1a: When I do not take care of my school homework my parent’s* response will be

 

.42

 

.51

1b: My parent’s response when I do not take care of my homework is

.49

 

.64

 

2a: When I treat my siblings in a way that negates my parent opinion his/her response will be

 

.52

 

.61

2b: My parent’s response when I treat my siblings in a way that negates his/her opinion is

.53

 

.65

 

3a: When I disregard my parent’s request for help, his/her response will be

 

.49

 

.53

3b: My parent’s response when I disregard his/her request for help is

.60

 

.69

 

4a: When I behave with the opposite sex in a way that negates my parent’s opinion, his/her response will be

 

.56

 

.67

4b: My parent’s response when I behave with the opposite sex in a way that negates his/her opinion is

.63

 

.71

 

5a: When I behave in an aggressive way toward others my parent’s response will be

 

.56

 

.63

5b: My parent’s response when I behave in an aggressive way toward others is

.66

 

.73

 

6a: When I behave in a way that negates the religion and ethics my parent’s response will be

 

.64

 

.64

6b: My parent’s response when I behave in a way that negates the religion and ethics is

.68

 

.74

 

7a: When I behave in a way that negates the norms in our society, my parent’s response will be

 

.65

 

.67

7b: My parent’s response when I behave in a way that negates the norms in our society is

.71

 

.74

 

8a: When I wear clothes that my parent sees it unsuitable, his/her response will be

 

.60

 

.62

8b: My parent’s response when I wear clothes that s/he sees it unsuitable is

.68

 

.69

 

9a: When I socialized with same sex friends that my parent is not satisfied with his/her response will be

 

.56

 

.61

9b: When I socialized with same sex friends that my parent is not satisfied with, his/her response is

.67

 

.70

 

10a: If I chose a spouse that is rejected by my parent his/her response will be

 

.48

 

.52

10b: My parent’s response if I chose a spouse that s/he is rejecting is

.56

 

.63

 

Eigenvalue

4.01

3.14

4.88

3.69

* Parent/s here substitutes father or mother in the original questionnaire

1a, 2a, 3a, 4a, 5a, 6a, 7a, 8a, 9a, and 10a measure authoritarian parenting, and items 1b, 2b, 3b, 4b, 5b, 6b, 7b, 8b, 9b, and 10b measure temporal inconsistency

In order to validate the DPAIS across cultures, two separate factor analyses were conducted on the western and eastern samples with varimax rotation, a priori two factors solution, and a .20 loading criterion. The 20 items concerning the fathers’ responses (FAP and FTI), the two factors explained 36.46 and 34.54% of the variance of the western and eastern, respectively. In the two samples, all items of FAP were loaded in one factor and all FTI items were loaded in the second factor. As for the 20 items concerning the mothers’ responses (MAP and MTI), the two factors explained 42.72 and 42.46% of the variance of the western and eastern samples, respectively. In the two samples, all items of MAP were loaded in one factor and all MTI items were loaded in the second factor. Alpha Cronbach’s coefficients of FAP, FTI, MAP, and MTI in the western sample were .76, .83, .81 and .87, and of the eastern sample .74, .82, .81, and .88, respectively, indicating a good internal consistency of the scales across culture.

The criterion validity of DPAIS was tested in a former study using the Arabic version of Buri’s (1991) authoritarian scale. The Buri scale was translated and validated by Dwairy and his colleagues (Dwairy 2004; Dwairy et al. 2006) and found reliable with alpha Chronbach’s coefficient .72. The correlation coefficient between DPAIS and the Buri scale was significant (r = 0.31, p < 0.000) (Dwairy 2007). This correlation coefficient might not be misinterpreted when we take into account the substantial differences between the two scales: The items in the Buri scale address the authority generally exerted by both parents together, while the DPAIS items address the authority of each parent in a specific situation.

Results

In this paper, we present the analysis dealing with only Father control and Mother control. The analysis of parental inconsistency will be presented in a subsequent paper.

Parental Control and Connectedness Across Countries

A significant positive correlation coefficient was found between parental control and adolescent-family connectedness (r = .212, p < 0.000). A post hoc analysis indicated consistent positive coefficients in all countries, with the highest coefficient among the Bedouins in Israel (r = .389).

To test the effect of country on parental control, a variance analysis was conducted. Significant differences in parental control (PC) between countries were found [F (8, 2882) = 28.65, p < 0.000, η² = 0.083]. With Poland as an exception, parents in eastern countries exert more control over their children than in western countries (Fig. 1). Post hoc analysis indicated that parents in both France and Argentina apply lower control than all other countries (Table 2). Parental control of Jordanian parents was lower than that in all the eastern countries and Poland, and higher than it is in France and Argentina.
https://static-content.springer.com/image/art%3A10.1007%2Fs10826-009-9334-2/MediaObjects/10826_2009_9334_Fig1_HTML.gif
Fig. 1

Father (line) and mother (dots) control across countries

Table 2

Significance of differences (p) between countries in parental control

 

1

2

3

4

5

6

7

8

9

1 France

         

2 Poland

.000

        

3 Argentina

NS

.000

       

4 Kuwait

.000

.003

.000

      

5 Algeria

.000

NS

.000

.024

     

6 Saudi Arabia

.000

NS

.000

.004

NS

    

7 Arabs/Israe

.000

.023

.000

NS

NS

.039

   

8 Jordan

.000

.000

.000

.000

.000

.000

.000

  

9 India

.000

NS

.000

.000

NS

NS

.003

.022

 

Father and Mother Control and the Social-Economic Situation

The correlation coefficients between father control and father’s years of education and between mother control and mother’s years of education were not significant. The correlation coefficients between father control and the family’s economic status was significant (r = 0.06, p < 0.003). No such significant coefficient was found between mother control and the family’s economic status.

Father and Mother Control and Adolescents’ Gender

The correlation coefficient between father and mother control was significant (r = 0.60, p < 0.0001) with higher mother control than father control [F (1, 2882) = 51.18, p < 0.000, η² = 0.021]. These differences were salient in western countries (France, Poland, and Argentina) and in Saudi Arabia, Bedouins in Israel, and India. The child’s gender does not seem influence the father or mother control. When the gender effect on father and mother control was tested in the western versus the eastern countries, a significant interaction was found [F (1, 2883) = 21.84, p < 0.000, η² = 0.01]. In the western countries adolescent boys reported higher control by their mothers (M = 3.11, STD = 0.70) than by their fathers (M = 2.80, STD = 0.66). No significant differences in mother and father control were found among western adolescent girls (Table 3). In the Eastern countries adolescent girls reported higher control by their mothers (M = 3.29, STD = 0.75) than by their fathers (M = 3.18, STD = 0.70). The father and mother control of eastern adolescent boys was similar.
Table 3

Father and mother control on boys and girls in Western and Eastern cultures

Culture

Parent sex

Statistic

Adolescents’ sex

Sex significance

Girls

Boys

Western

Mothers

M

3.02

3.11

NS

STD

.78

.70

 

Fathers

M

2.88

2.80

NS

STD

.72

.66

 
 

Father mother significance

NS

.0001

 

Eastern

Mothers

M

3.29

3.22

NS

STD

.75

.83

 

Fathers

M

3.18

3.24

NS

STD

.75

.73

 
 

Father mother significance

.01

NS

 

Control and Psychological Disorders

A linear multiple regression was conducted to reveal a possible association between father and mother control and adolescents’ psychological disorders. The standardized coefficient (β) between father control and psychological disorders was significant (β = 0.10, p < 0.0001). It seems that this association was contributed by the western countries, where the coefficient was higher (β = 0.19, p < 0.0001) than in eastern countries, where the coefficient was barely significant (β = 0.06, p < 0.054). Within this regression, the coefficients between mother’s control and mental health were insignificant in both the western and the eastern countries (Table 4). Interestingly, when the association of mother and father control with psychological disorders was calculated in two separate regressions, we found significant associations for both fathers and mothers (β = 0.14, p < 0.0001; and β = 0.06, p < 0.001, respectively), indicating that the association of the mothers’ control is explained by the fathers’ control.
Table 4

Standardized coefficients (β) between father and mother control and psychological disorders

Country

Control

Father

Mother

France

.21*

NS

Poland

NS

NS

Argentina

.24**

NS

Kuwait

NS

NS

Algeria

NS

NS

Saudi Arabia

NS

NS

Bedouins

NS

NS

Jordan

.21**

NS

India

NS

NS

West

.19***

NS

East

NS

NS

All countries

.10***

NS

* significant p < 0.01; ** significant p < 0.001; *** significant p < 0.0001

Discussion

In this study we focused on the role culture plays on parental control and on the association between parental control and parents’ gender, children’s gender, and psychological disorders. Our results show that parental control is associated with culture and with family connectedness. Parents in eastern countries impose higher control on their children than western parents do. Poland was an exception in this respect. Polish parents apply control similar to parents in eastern countries. A positive correlation coefficient was found between child-parent connectedness and parental control.

In comparing the child-parents connectedness and parental control across countries it appears that in countries where children and parents tend to be connected, parents tend to be controlling, suggesting an association between the dimensions of collectiveness and authoritarianism. Child-parent connectedness in Poland was low and similar to France and Argentina, but parental control, particularly Polish maternal control, was high and similar to the ‘collective’ countries in our sample, especially India. These results may provide some justification for the stereotypic “Polish mother” term that emphasizes the over-protectiveness and personal over-involvement of Polish mothers as compared to other western mothers. In the case of the Jordanians and Indians, we have found them less connected than families in other eastern countries. This matches our current findings, namely that they were also less controlling than the parents in the other eastern countries. However, it is important to mention that the Indian sample was composed of students in English speaking schools, who may not represent typical Indian adolescents. The Bedouin parents in Israel obtained the highest scores in connectedness and in parental control and obtained the highest correlation coefficient between these two variables. This high connectedness and control fit in very well with the authoritarian and collective culture of the Bedouins (Alkernawi 2000; Alkernawi and Graham 1997).

As to parents’ gender differences across all countries, mothers were perceived as more controlling than fathers. These differences were more salient in the west than in the east. Parental control was associated with the gender of the parents and adolescents. When fathers’ and mothers’ control over boys and girls was analyzed separately in western and eastern countries, we found western mothers to be more controlling of their sons than the fathers and eastern mothers more controlling of their daughters than the fathers. This interaction between parents’ and adolescents’ gender requires additional validation in future studies and still needs to be explained.

Parental control reveals minor association with the socio-economic level of the family. Only a higher economic status of the family was associated with higher fathers’ control—not with mothers’ control. No association was found between the parents’ control and their education. It appears that parental control is determined more by cultural and gender-related factors than by socioeconomic factors.

When the association of fathers’ and mothers’ control with psychological disorders was tested together, we found that the association between fathers’ control and psychological disorders was significant in the west, but not in the east. Among the eastern countries, only in Jordan was the fathers’ control significantly associated with psychological disorders. This odd result may be explained by the fact that Jordan was the least eastern country with respect to family connectedness and parental control, resembling western countries in some ways. The association found exclusively in the west between fathers’ control and psychological disorders is consistent with earlier studies that reported minimal association of this kind in eastern countries (Chao 2001; Dwairy 2004; Dwairy et al. 2006; Leung et al. 1998; Stewart et al. 2002). These cultural differences may be explained by the inconsistency hypothesis (Dwairy 2007), claiming that parental control does not cause significant harm to children in authoritarian/collective societies because control in such societies is considered entirely normal and consistent with the authoritarian general atmosphere in which the children live, whereas in the west, authoritarian parenting and control is not consistent with the general liberal cultural climate, and thus it may be perceived as an abuse and harmful to children’s mental health. Incongruence between parental control and liberal western culture may foster ambivalent feelings towards the parents and the self, and the perception that the parents’ attitude is unjust.

The cultural differences in the association between parental control and psychological disorders could be alternatively explained via the distinction made between positive and negative control (Braungart-Rieker et al. 1997). It is reasonable to assume that parental control in the east is perceived as positive control (Chao 2001; Kagitcibasi 1970, 2005) and in the west as negative, hence the differences in the association with adolescents’ mental health.

Interestingly, the association found between psychological disorders and mothers’ control when analyzed separately from the fathers’, diminished when analyzed together with the fathers’. Based on the high correlation between fathers’ and mothers’ control, we assume that mother control acquires its association with psychological disorders from the fathers’ control, the father being the dominant figure in the family.

It is difficult to explain why the fathers’ control may cause more harm to the psychological adjustment of adolescents than the mothers’ control, higher in western countries than the fathers’ control. One possible way to explain it is by assuming that the more problematic the adolescent, the more the father becomes involved and the more control he exerts. This involvement comes in addition to the mothers’ control as an attempt to contain their children’s problems. Put in another way, the mothers’ control is always there and ever greater than the fathers’, but when the fathers’ control is intensified, it is typically associated with the manifestation of greater psychological problems among adolescents. This possible explanation of course requires additional research to validate it.

The results of this research are important for understanding the dynamic between parents and children across cultures. This study may contribute to theories regarding psychological development, psychopathology, and culture. The results are useful in fitting culturally sensitive interventions among children and parents in different cultures. Based on our results, parental control in eastern countries need not necessarily be perceived in a negative light and to be avoided, as long as harmony within the family is maintained.

Acknowledgments

We thank Anna Filus (Poland), Neharika Vohra (India), Martina Casullo (Argentina), Parissa Rezvan nia (France), Huda Nijm (Jordan), and Lana Shhadi (Bedouins in Israel) for their help in translating and administrating the questionnaires and encoding the data of their countries.

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