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The meaning and correlates of psychological control in Chinese and American families

  • Author(s): Fung, Joey
  • Advisor(s): Lau, Anna
  • et al.
Abstract

Parental use of psychological control has gained attention as a risk factor for child behavioral and emotional problems in the Western context. However, the literature on cultural differences in the implications of psychological control on child development has largely been inconsistent. This dissertation encompasses three studies and examines cultural variations in parental beliefs, socialization goals, parental control strategies, and pathways to child adjustment.

In Study 1, we examine cultural differences in maternal beliefs about normative child development, priorities in socialization goals, and their relations to childrearing strategies among a sample of 160 Hong Kong mothers and 160 European American mothers. Findings show that parental control strategies are motivated by different developmental goals and beliefs for child development depending on the cultural context.

In Study 2, we conducted ethnographic interviews with 19 Hong Kong Chinese parents and described a set of parent behaviors that invoke relational induction, in which parents highlight the responsibility of each family member and the impact of child's behaviors on the rest of the family. These practices may be considered forms of "psychological control" since they leverage awareness of parental negative affect; but they may also be construed as an indigenous form of parenting. Findings suggest that the use of control strategies is motivated by the goal to cultivate interpersonal sensitivity and obligations to the family within the child.

In Study 3, we investigated associations between relational induction and more hostile forms of psychological control in a sample of 165 Hong Kong and 96 European American parents. We argued that relational induction (guilt induction, reciprocity, love withdrawal and

social comparison) may represent a separate subset of psychological control strategies. Indeed, we found support that psychological control and relational induction was more strongly associated with each other among European American compared to Hong Kong parents. Parental rejection fully mediated the relationship between the two forms of parental control and child behavior problems across groups; psychological control for Hong Kong families and relational induction for European American families. The findings suggest that there are distinguishable forms of psychological control that may have distinctive implications for child adjustment depending on the cultural context. Taken together, the findings in this dissertation support a more nuanced view that the associations between some forms of parenting and child well-being may be culturally relative.

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