American Vs. Other Parenting Styles

While I lived in Estonia, I observed that (along with the prevalence of condoms in stores),  there were always children walking around in public, often unaccompanied. Kids as little as 5 or 6 could be seen walking or riding their bicycles down the sidewalk (at least, during the parts of the year when the sidewalks weren’t covered in snow). This puzzled me – but as more Americans are realizing, our style of parenting is perhaps a tad too overprotective.

This essay on international parenting styles points out that many behaviors that American parents take for granted are not universal. Young kids in other cultures climb trees, use knives to carve wooden figures, and are even allowed to feel pangs of hunger from time to time. These things are unthinkable to most American parents, and yet they’re common-sense to parents in other cultures.

These practices have concrete as well as abstract results. For example, the author writes:

In Korea, eating is taught to children as a life skill and as in most cultures, children are taught it is important to wait out their hunger until it is time for the whole family to sit down together and eat. Koreans do not believe it’s healthy to graze or eat alone, and they don’t tend to excuse bad behavior (like I do) by blaming it on low blood sugar. Instead, children are taught that food is best enjoyed as a shared experience.

It’s hard to determine whether this is causation or correlation, but South Koreans also happen to enjoy the lowest rates of obesity in the developed world. There are doubtless many causes of the American issues with diet-related illnesses such as diabetes and heart disease, but perhaps our encouragement of mindless munching and snacking as soon as the hunger hits is a factor. And these are behaviors that our kids tend to learn very, very young.

If nothing else, it’s worth considering where our behaviors and practices come from; one family’s passed-down parenting wisdom could well be anathema in another culture. I don’t have kids, but I’m assuming that most parents have enough on their plates without having to second-guess every single parenting choice they make – but it can be helpful to at least be aware that there are other ways of doing things, and that early childhood patterns may well lead to adult behavioral patterns.

About Jeana


Jeana Jorgensen, PhD recently completed her doctoral degree in folklore and gender studies at Indiana University. She studies fairy tales and other narratives, dance, body art, feminist theory, digital humanities, and gender identity.