African father letting his daughter 'fly'

Traditional parenting styles in Africa stress the importance of tradition and an emphasis on parental care, attention, and love. In many African countries, such as Nigeria, predominant parenting styles fall some way between ‘tough love’ and new, more modern leniency. Thus, a child is respected to have responsibilities at school and at home, respect for elders, and to play a role in keeping culture alive. On the other hand, new learning systems like Montessori emphasize the importance of play, fun, and learning through experience and questioning. As noted in popular Nigerian blog, Lagos Mums, “Children are no longer expected to speak only when spoken to… rather, they are encouraged to be confident and speak their mind.”

How can ‘New Age’ African Parenting Styles be Defined?

Modern psychology has defined four types of parenting styles: authoritative (demanding but responsive to kids); authoritarian (demanding of children but not responsive to their needs); permissive (not demanding but responsive to children); and neglectful (neither demanding nor responsive). The Nigerian style mentioned above can best be described as authoritative. That is, demands are placed on kids, yet love and support is also given. Therefore children know what is expected of them, but also know they can voice their concerns to parents and have their needs met.

Setting Standards, Exercising Kindness

Two recent studies have approved the benefits of an authoritative parenting style as opposed to an authoritarian style. One study, undertaken at Concordia University, found that children raised with the authoritarian style were up to 41% more likely to be obesity than those raised with an authoritative style. Authoritarian parents were more unlikely to be sensitive to their child’s hunger, satiety etc. Therefore, by being excessively controlling with food, parents destroy a child’s natural ability to regulate how much they eat. Another study by researchers at the University of Minnesota found that children of authoritative parents tend to eat better in their earlier years and their adolescence. From the time parents have their first baby, it is important to be sensitive to a child’s feelings of hunger and fullness, so that the child feels more in control of their food intake from an early age.

Africa a Potpourri of Parenting Styles

In Africa, many families still demand that kids respect adults and not answer back. Parents also tend to use less praise, believing that doing so can turn a child into a conceited adult. Some parents are indulgent to the point of not giving a child enough discipline; what is clear is that there is no single model that defines African parenting.

Finding the Right Balance

Parents who raise their children with a “it’s my way or the highway” mentality are more likely to raise disrespectful children, according to a study carried out at the University of New Hampshire. This is food for thought for parents who believe children should be ‘seen and not heard’. African parents should strive to gain rather than enforce respect. As noted by scientists, “When children consider their parents to be legitimate authority figures, they trust the parent and feel they have an obligation to do what their parents tell them to… and the child is more likely to follow the rules when the parent is not physically present.” 

It is fascinating to think that Africa may be at the perfect time to raise children who are critical thinkers and who question aspects of the world that may benefit from change, but who continue to value core values like respect, hard work and dedication, and love for their culture and traditions. Parents wishing to make the most of an authoritative parenting style can use aspects like goal setting while emphasizing process rather than results. In other words, parents should let children know that working hard towards a goal should be the number one priority,even if sometimes they do not achieve the specific result they were after.

Africa.com