Parenting Styles in the Arab World

What do empirical studies tell us about Arab parenting styles?

What do Arab parents care about more than family, reputation, and authority? This is no surprise since Arab cultures are characterized by collectivism and authoritarianism. Not only are family ties prioritized in the region, but also religion and culture. Parents invest their time and energy to ensure that their kids maintain the family’s traditional beliefs and principles by using discipline and compliance strategies.

Social Cohesion and Authority

The family component is very important in Arab societies not only because it’s embedded in cultural values but also because parents tend to be overly involved in their children’s life decisions. The impact of the family extends far beyond decisions, it even influences a child’s personality and wellbeing. Being part of a collectivistic society, the self-concept of a typical Arab child tends to be dependent on the family’s reputation and status as well as their support and approval.

The developmental psychologist Diana Baumrind classified three main parental styles that differ in warmth, or the amount of nurture a parent delivers to the child, and control, or the degree to which a parent controls the child’s conduct and actions. One type is authoritarian parenting, which is characterized by high control of the parents of the child’s autonomy as well as enforcing discipline by demanding their children to follow their orders. Such parents tend to be low on nurturing skills. They hardly try to comfort their children and do not tend to give affection or praise.

Arab parenting is predominantly authoritarian. Parents expect their children to obey their rules and strictly punish them for noncompliance, especially in a public setting. Instead of allowing their children to explore their individuality, many Arab parents emphasize family and social cohesion. They tend to see their children as an extension of themselves, not as independent individuals. Arab parents have their own way of expressing love and concern: forever nestling their kids, even into adulthood. But of course, this is coupled with authority and strict rules.

When asked about the authoritarian parenting style, the majority of the Arab youth reported compliance with and satisfaction from authoritarian parenting styles. Nonetheless, different outcomes may be found in countries undergoing a more rapid social transformation. Parenting styles and their outcomes in the Arab region have been extensively studied by Marwan Dwairy and his colleagues.

Photo by Kelli McClintock on Unsplash

Outcomes of Parenting Styles on Arabs

In his early studies, Dwairy found that in the Arab population, authoritative parenting yielded better overall outcomes compared with authoritarian parenting. Palestinian children of authoritative parents displayed positive self-concept, higher assertiveness, less hostility towards parents, and scored lower in individuality, depression, and behavioral disorders.

Although Dwairy associated authoritative with better mental health outcomes and authoritarian parenting with no psychological effects, other researchers found otherwise. Another study on the Arab population found that authoritarian parenting had an adverse psychological effect on adjustment to college life. Furthermore, gender differences revealed different mental health outcomes across parenting styles. Permissive parenting was associated with increased psychological difficulties in men and women had lower scores in anxiety and phobia associated with authoritative parenting style.

A series of studies involving youths from eight different Arab countries provided further and comprehensive evidence on parenting styles, individuation, and psychological outcomes. These studies conclude that although Arab societies normally embrace a shared family identity, rapid development and changes resulting from Western values exposure may have formed larger discrepancies among Arab countries, where some tend to be more liberal and open-minded. On the contrary, Arabs exposed to foreign values through occupation may withstand changes. In other cases, the formation of an ambivalent parenting style, a mix of authoritarian and permissive styles, may result from the exposure to Western cultures.

Photo by Jude Beck on Unsplash

Three New Parenting Styles

The primary study in the series assessed parenting styles among various countries, genders, and natures of region. In most cases, Baumrind’s three established parenting styles were not strictly applicable. In fact, parenting was found to be oriented towards more than one particular style.

As a result, three new styles were established:

  1. Controlling: a mix of authoritative and authoritarian
  2. Inconsistent: a mix of permissive and authoritarian
  3. Flexible: a mix of permissive and authoritative

Although these styles were found in all Arab countries, differences were evident among countries. Given the country’s conservative culture, the controlling style was most prevalent in Saudi Arabia. Likewise, Palestinians in Gaza adopt the controlling style as they reside in an unsafe environment and tend to resist Western influence.

Yemen and Palestinian citizens scored the highest in the inconsistent style, possibly due to the Western influence on Yemen and the Palestinians’ exposure to Israeli-Western values.

On the other hand, flexible parenting emerged in Algeria, Jordan and Lebanon, with their values being more liberal. Further studies indicated parental inconsistency were positively associated with poor mental health of adolescents.

Research on parental styles in the Arab world has been mostly conducted by Marwan Dwairy and his colleagues. Extensive research was done on parenting styles, individuation, and psychological outcomes. In addition, later studies revealed three different parental styles: inconsistent, flexible, and controlling parental styles. Despite the impressive work done on the Arab world, future research can focus on exploring different child outcomes of parental styles beyond mental health outcomes.

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