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Parenting Styles

Cultural Differences In Guilt And Shame

Research has also investigated cultural differences in parents' socialization of shame and guilt. Harald Wallbott and Klaus Scherer (1995) have asserted that in cultures that are collectivist and high in power distribution and uncertainty-avoidance, parents use typical or true shame, whereas in individualistic cultures that are low in power distribution and uncertainty-avoidance, shame more closely resembles guilt. In collectivist cultures, the experience of shame is more acute, less immoral, and has fewer negative consequences for self-esteem and social relationships than in individualistic cultures. Across the thirty-seven countries studied, Wallbott and Scherer found overall support for Tangney's distinction between shame and guilt. These researchers interpreted their findings as demonstrating that shared societal values are strongly related to the emotional experiences of individuals within the society.

Ethnographic research on Chinese culture suggests that it is a shame-socialized culture. Children are socialized to be conscious of what others think of them and are expected to act so as to get the most out of the approval of others while trying to avoid their disapproval. This begins when Chinese parents shift from being highly indulgent during infancy and toddlerhood to using parenting practices such as scolding, shaming, and physical punishment at the age of understanding, which is seen to occur around four to six years of age. Shame is used to teach children right from wrong, and Chinese parents appear to understand that shame should be used only when necessary, because too much shame may harm the child's self-esteem (Fung 1999). Observational research by Peggy Miller and her colleagues (Miller; Fung; and Mintz 1996) using small samples of Chinese mothers and children has shown that Chinese mothers' narrative retelling of young children's transgressions focuses on inducing both guilt and shame. This has been found to differ from comparable observational studies of European-American middle-class mothers, whose disciplinary practices are more focused on maintaining and enhancing children's self-esteem (Wiley et al. 1998). These findings suggest that cultural differences in parenting may be more complex than the simple dichotomy between guilt and shame suggests and that more research examining parent-child interactions in different cultures is needed.


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Marriage and Family EncyclopediaPregnancy & ParenthoodParenting Styles - Parenting Styles, Cultural And Ethnic Variations In Parenting Styles, Differentiating Parenting Styles And Parenting Practices