What we say about our children says a lot about us. I came across this great article in Slate, No Big Deal, but This Researcher’s Theory Explains Everything About How Americans Parent which discusses new research in parental ethnotheories by Harkness and Super at the University of Connecticut among six Western societies. How we describe our children reflects our parenting styles and cultural values.
Every society has what it intuitively believes to be to raise a child, what Harkness calls parental ethnotheories. (It is your mother-in-law, enlarged to the size of a country.) These are the choices we make without realizing that we’re making choices.
In other words, your most personal observations of your child are actually cultural constructions. In a study conducted by Harkness and her international colleagues, American parents talked about their children as intelligent and even as “cognitively advanced.” (Also: rebellious.) Italian parents, though, very rarely praised their children for being intelligent. Instead, they were even-tempered and “.” So although both the Americans and the Italians noted that their children asked lots of questions, they meant very different things by it: For the Americans, it was a sign of intelligence; for the Italians, it was a sign of socio-emotional competence. The observation was the same; the interpretation was radically different.
The data illustrate that within common descriptors, there are differences in emphasis among the countries, however, I found the Culturally specific descriptors most illuminating. Notice that 'easy' or 'happy' are not among the top descriptors of American parents. I think it's surprising that no one described their kids as 'funny'. Seriously folks - we need more funny kids.
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