Sevgi Bayram Ozdemir, M.A. (August 2009)
(Mentor: Charissa S.L. Cheah)
Parental influences are widely accepted as one of the most important factors in the development of children. The parent-child relationship represents a context within which necessary competencies for social interaction can develop. Socialization theories emphasize that parenting beliefs are among the key determinants of parenting. However, although numerous studies have examined parental behaviors in the development of children’s adaptive and maladaptive behaviors, there has been limited research on the role of parents’ beliefs and values.
Another limitation of previous research on parenting is the exclusion of the role of culture. Beliefs and values about the development of child maladjustment may vary across cultures and have implications for understanding cultural influences on the development and expression of child psychopathology. Thus, from a cultural framework, the present research aimed to : (1) examine how Turkish mothers reported reacting emotionally when instances of aggression and social withdrawal are observed, to what causes they attribute these behaviors, what strategies they think should be used in response to them, and the socialization goals they had with regard to the strategies they suggested, and (2) investigate whether Turkish mothers’ beliefs differed across different forms of aggression (i.e., coercive actions that are not provoked by a certain cause versus defensive actions displayed in response to perceived threat) and social withdrawal (i.e., reticence versus solitary behaviors).
Participants included 84 Turkish mothers with preschool-aged children residing in Ankara, Turkey. Mothers were presented four hypothetical vignettes on aggressive and socially withdrawn behaviors and asked to report on their emotional reactions, causal attributions, socialization strategies, and goals. The results revealed that mothers reacted with negative emotions to both aggression and social withdrawal, but the degree and the form of negative emotions differed across the types of behaviors. Specifically, Turkish mothers responded to aggression with more anger, more embarrassment, and less puzzlement compared to social withdrawal. However, unlike mothers in other cultural groups, they reported more disappointment and anxiety in response to social withdrawal than aggression. Turkish mothers also reported more emphatic feelings of pain in response to socially withdrawn behaviors, which may be due to Turkish families’ focus on “enmeshed parent-child relationships” rather than individuation.
Similar to parents in other cultural groups, Turkish mothers reported that aggressive behaviors were more temporary, but more contextually dependent and intentional than social withdrawal. Moreover, they suggested more directive strategies and goals, prioritizing their own wishes for aggression. However, mothers endorsed more indirect strategies and emphatic goals for social withdrawal. Turkish mothers also showed variations in their beliefs across different forms of aggressive behaviors, but not social withdrawal. Specifically, they reported stronger negative emotional responses to proactive aggression than to reaction aggression perhaps perceiving reactive aggression as a defensive reaction. Thus, mothers may be more likely to justify this behavior in preschool-aged children. In fact, Turkish mothers attributed reactive aggression to contextual factors and perceived that these behaviors occur as a result of being provoked by another child. Moreover, they were more likely to report endorsing “other-oriented strategies” such as warning other children not behaving aggressively and contacting with other children’s mothers.
The findings of the current study provided evidence that maternal beliefs in response to aggression and social withdrawal may have universal characteristics as well as specific aspects that are particular to the socio-cultural context. Understanding the universal patterns of maternal beliefs may help us to gain insight into the common reactions, thoughts, strategies and goals that mothers hold in response to specific child behaviors,that may then lead to specific parenting behaviors. On the other hand, culture-specific aspects of maternal beliefs elucidate the importance of the context in parenting and child development. These culture-specific findings are compelling as many parenting and child development processes have been traditionally considered to be universal. Thus, culture-focused examinations of child socialization processes are invaluable to better understand optimal practices to promote adaptive child development across different contexts.