Cultural Anthropology’s View on Child Rearing

By Madison Pearson

Cultural Anthropology studies a culture to understand its behaviors and values. As anthropology sees it, culture is the all-encompassing force that influences a child’s development, personality, psyche, and actions. It defines who they are, who they are going to be, their future, and their culture’s future. Essentially, children are raised by their culture. This process, called enculturation, starts with how children are treated by their community at a very young age, and occurs in three main forms.

The first type of child-rearing is independence training and is the culturally accepted norm amongst large, industrialized societies. Cultural Anthropology: The Human Challenge writes that these cultures, “foster independence, self-reliance, and personal achievement” [137]. The American culture desires these attributes, and raises its children accordingly. As John Adams, a founding father and America’s second president, expressed, “Children should be educated and instructed in the principles of freedom.” Independence training is built solely around the importance of the individual and encourages people to be ambitious, innovative, persistent, and brave.

Dependence training is nearly the complete opposite. Societies that employ this strategy are focused on the importance of extended family and community. Dependence training is most common in smaller groups, such as food-foragers, pastoralists, and isolated farming communities. The Cultural Anthropologytextbook states, “dependence training socializes people to think of themselves in terms of the larger whole. Its effect is to create community members whose idea of selfhood transcends individualism” [135]. For example, children in these societies learn to complete small tasks at a very early age. This strategy is essential to the community’s survival, as it teaches its children to contribute to the well-being of the entire group. Cultures that utilize dependence training emphasize the importance of generosity.

Meanwhile, interdependence training is another, if less common, form of child-rearing. Cultural Anthropology states that children raised in these communities are, “made to feel ‘constantly cherished by as many people as possible,’ learning early on that individual security comes through the intertwining of lives, collectively sharing joys and burdens (Gottlieb, 2003, 2004, 2005)” [136]. At the core, these cultures value social connections through meaningful relationships with many different people. The Beng peoples of Côte d’Ivoire in West Africa raise their children this way. They believe that each infant is filled with the spirit, or wru, of an ancestor. Because of this, the entire community has a sense of honor for the infant, and will nurture it collectively [136].

Parents who seek to raise their child in accordance with their own culture, may automatically ascribe to one of these strategies; or they may implement an eclectic mix that mirrors their personal values of how they want their child to be nurtured and loved.

 

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