Child-rearing practices and definitions of child maltreatment: How they vary according to cultural attitudes and values

Anne M Ferrari, Fordham University


Child abuse and neglect is a major social problem which has been observed in all segments of our American society, occurring across different social classes, ethnic groups, and genders. Nonetheless, the public's perception is that more poor children and more children of color are more often the victims of child abuse and neglect and that parents of color have a higher threshold for identifying parental actions as abusive of neglectful. There has been little study of the specific characteristics define ethnic group membership beyond the demographic classification and whether these characteristics lead to child maltreatment. The present research goes beyond the demographic classifications of ethnicity to discover the “ingredients” of ethnic group membership. It was proposed that these “ingredients” of ethnicity would be more predictive of child maltreatment and tolerance for maltreatment than would ethnicity per se. The characteristics of ethnicity studied here included machismo, familism and valuing children. It was hypothesized that these constructs would moderate or interact with a parent's history of childhood maltreatment, thereby either buffering or promoting present parental punitive behaviors. One hundred and fifty parents of Hispanic, African American and European American descent participated in the study. Multiple regressions revealed that the cultural constructs studied did predict a significant amount of the variance comprising parental behaviors and attitudes, however, ethnicity remained a significant predictor indicating that the constructs studied here did not completely define ethnicity. No moderating effects were found for the parent's history of childhood maltreatment, however sex differences emerged. Although a history of childhood maltreatment was predictive of a mother's current use of physical and verbal punishment with her child, a history of child maltreatment in fathers predicted less use of physical punishment, greater use of reasoning, and greater use of nurturing behaviors. There were no differences between ethnic groups with regard tolerance for abusive parental behaviors, with the exception of the category of promoting delinquency which African American parents rated as more serious than did Hispanic or European American parents.

Subject Area

Developmental psychology|Minority & ethnic groups|Sociology|Criminology|Cultural anthropology|Social psychology|Families & family life|Personal relationships|Sociology|African Americans

Recommended Citation

Ferrari, Anne M, "Child-rearing practices and definitions of child maltreatment: How they vary according to cultural attitudes and values" (1999). ETD Collection for Fordham University. AAI9926902.