|Strengthening the Family - Implications for International Development (United Nations University - UNU, 1991, 268 pages)|
|Social change and the family|
Optimism and ideology
The modern family came into being with the surge of optimistic thinking that began in the Renaissance and continued through the Industrial Revolution. Human progress, universality of the newly discovered laws of science, and the consistency and regularity of the laws governing the universe were underlying assumptions of this era. Widespread agreement remains today that the modern nuclear family, with its two parents and two or three children, is the ideal end result of progress in the evolution of family forms (Elkind 1992).
Evidence for progress
The modern family's vital statistics are far better than those of the institutional family, and of all previous family forms. Quantum changes in income, mortality rates, life expectancy, nutritional status, educational opportunities, and other indicators of the quality of life occur in response to industrialization, modern health care, education, and other aspects of socio-economic development. It is widely agreed that families are better off with these changes than without them.
The positive effects of change on the modern family mirror negative changes discussed below. Modernization has commercialized many aspects of life that depended previously on much less commercialized exchanges within the traditional extended family and community. On the positive side, expanded communications networks create uniform global value standards in areas such as health care, nutrition, education, and basic human rights (as expressed, for example, in UNICEF's The State of the World's Children, 1992, which asserts that progress is ongoing). These value standards require technologies far exceeding those available to the traditional extended family.
Positive effects of changing child-rearing practices on child development
The ways in which parents train and stimulate their children also change systematically with the modernization of the family. These changes produce children who are more cognitively advanced by modern performance standards and are better nourished, and hence better prepared to participate in the modern workforce. Werner (1979) documented very similar differences in parenting styles between modernizing and traditional parents in the United States (Bronfenbrenner 1963; Becker and Krug 1964); Mexico (Holtzman, Diaz-Guerrerro, and Swartz 1975); Lebanon (Prothro 1962); and Indonesia (Danzinger 1960a, 1960b; Thomas and Surachmad 1962); Nigeria (Lloyd 1966, 1970; LeVine, Klein, and Fries 1967); and Ghana (Grindal 1972). We found evidence of the same differences in the Nigerian and Indonesian data analysed in chapters 6 and 7; these differences were associated with better child growth and cognitive test performance (Zeitlin and Satoto 1990; Aina et al. 1992). We summarize these transformations as follows:
1. A change in parental discipline away from immediate physical punishment to tolerance of slower obedience, but expectation of greater understanding of the reasons for rules.
2. Acceptance of the child's physical dependency up to an older age.
3. More affection and intimacy, a more personal relationship with the father, and more recreation shared by parents and children.
4. Increased verbal responsiveness to the child and use of explanation rather than physical demonstration in teaching.
The first parents to alter their behaviours tend to be members of the élite and middle classes, who have the earliest contact with modernization. The same changes later occur as secular trends among less-privileged families. Our research demonstrated that the modernizing changes found in the élite families in Ibadan in the 1960s now also are seen among low-income families in Lagos State. The association of these factors with better child growth and cognitive scores tends to confirm the view that parents adopt these styles of interaction because they are adaptive, in that they do improve school achievement and the ability of children to compete in the modern world.
How various aspects of modernization and differences in social class produce changes in child-rearing, and how these changes alter cognitive and other outcomes, are ongoing topics of investigation (Langman 1987). LeVine et al. (1991) documented that increased maternal schooling in Mexico is correlated with increased verbal responsiveness to infants and increased infant care by adults rather than siblings. They explain that
Formal education everywhere ... entails the
presence of an adult whose role is entirely instructional, talking to children
... For girls in rural areas of countries where mass schooling is still a
relatively recent innovation, this model of social interaction between an adult
and children stands in contrast to their previous experience, and in time it
reshapes their skills and preferences in social communication ... Identifying
with the role of pupil, they continue to seek useful knowledge wherever they can
find it; identifying with the role of teacher, they are verbally responsive to
their children during infancy and after ... Their children grow up better
prepared for school, equipped with verbal skills and with a new set of
expectations concerning family life, fertility, parent-child relations, and
health care. Thus, women's attendance at school initiates a cumulative process
over the generations that contributes to the demographic transition. (LeVine et
al. 1991, 492)
Parents need and welcome guidance and assistance in child development. Chapter 6 provides evidence for the effectiveness of early childhood education programmes that assist them in this task. Numerous evaluations of these programmes demonstrate that children's cognitive test scores and school success improve in response to their parent's verbal responsiveness and efforts to provide other forms of developmental stimulation.