cultural influences on child development | maryville online (2023)

Cultural backgrounds give children a sense of who they are. The unique cultural influences that children respond to from birth, including customs and beliefs related to food, artistic expression, language, and religion, affect how they develop emotionally, socially, physically, and linguistically.

cultural influences on child development | maryville online (1)

When a child's self-identity is at odds with their social environment due to cultural differences, this can make learning difficult. Fortunately, culturally competent educators help children of all cultural backgrounds learn by showing understanding and acceptance of different cultures and how they make each child unique and valuable.

Because culture is such a powerful indicator of a child's future well-being, those who work with children, including social workers, counselors, and specialists, need to understand cultural influences on child development and how they affect how is done, how people grow. and learn. A degree like the one from the University of MaryvilleOnline-Bachelor of Arts in Human Development and Family StudiesYou can prepare future professionals for success in these roles by giving them the background and experience they need to support children and families with their ministries.

The importance of child development.

Early childhood is a key period of intellectual and emotional development, and what children perceive and experience can shape their future: our childhood environments and how we respond to them can predict the course of our health and well-being as adults. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reports: “Although the brain continues to develop and change in adulthood, the first eight years can lay the foundation for learning, health, and success in life in the early years. future. … The way the brain grows is greatly influenced by the child's experiences with other people and the world.”

To understand the impact of the environment on a developing child, let's look at the three main ways that children process the information around them as they grow.

  • Classical conditioning.Make associations between a stimulus and a response. For example, children from religious families may associate bedtime with prayer.
  • Operant conditioning.Make associations between a reward and an action. For example, children can order dessert after eating their vegetables.
  • observational learning.Record and copy what you see of others in real life or in the media. For example, a child may say, "It's time to tidy up," because a teacher says so at school.

Thus children learn by observing and associating with their environment. Exposure to positive influences can be beneficial to a child's development, while exposure to toxic or stressful influences can negatively affect development.

Other things being equal, a child's cultural influences are neutral at birth. All too often, however, the society in which a child grows up does not accept or understand some elements of the cultural background, which can harm the child's self-image and development.

In other words, the social cues a young child receives from others about his or her cultural background can help or hinder development, since developing children easily internalize what they see and hear. When a young child's cultural background differs from the dominant culture—for example, the child's family may speak a different language at home, eat different foods, or observe different holidays—this can affect self-image. This is especially the case when peers or even teachers treat the child in a way that reveals prejudice or casts the child in the role of an outsider.

According to the National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC), childhood is exposed to pervasive social biases, such as favoring white, Christian, straight, healthy, thin, wealthy, fluent English, native people over immigrants. . —can cause developing children to judge unfavorably by the same limiting standards. When children do this, their development suffers.

Recognize cultural influences on child development

Culture influences development from the moment we are born and affects us as we grow. For example, culture can affect how children develop values, language, belief systems, and an understanding of themselves as individuals and as members of society.

Children can experience these cultural influences in different ways, such as through their parents, their environment, and the media. The way in which society displays an understanding of different cultures can affect a child's development in many ways, e.g. B. how confident he is or how comfortable he is with interacting with others as an adult.

Parental influences on child development

The culture of parents can influence the development of their children. For example, a 2019 study found that cultural values ​​often influence how parents raise their children, including how they discipline and set limits. It makes sense for parents to educate their children based on cultural influences because they prepare them to develop the behaviors necessary to function and thrive in that culture. However, when the social environment and the culture of the home collide, developmental problems can arise.

(Video) Child Development Worldwide: A Cultural Approach

Collectivist versus individualist cultures and parental discipline

Cultural influences on parents can affect how they discipline a child's behavior. This, in turn, can affect a child's development, especially when these disciplinary methods deviate from the dominant cultural tradition.

Before we get into discipline and culture methods, what exactly do the terms "collectivist" and "individualist" mean? Essentially, a collectivist culture values ​​and rewards prioritizing the needs of the community over the needs of the individual, as well as being generous, kind, and cooperative. Collectivism is the norm in Asian, Central American, South American, and African cultures.

At the other end of the spectrum, an individualistic culture values ​​and rewards assertiveness and independent action, and emphasizes the importance of the individual to the group. Individualism dominates in North American and Western European cultures.

The 2019 study cited above found that parents from individualistic cultures discipline differently than parents from collectivist cultures. The first set of parents might discipline their children by taking away something that is personally important to them. On the other hand, parents in collectivist cultures can tell their children to think about how their behavior affects others.

The study found that children raised in individualistic cultures often describe themselves in terms of their unique traits, such as "I'm good at math." Meanwhile, children raised in collectivist cultures were more likely to describe themselves in terms of their relationships with others, such as "I am my mother's daughter."

Child development can be affected when parents or teachers discipline children according to the dominant culture (the US has an individualistic culture) rather than the culture of their family of origin. For example, children whose parents raised them to value cooperation over competition may become confused or upset when a teacher urges them to be competitive.

Parental influence on children's social behavior varies across cultures

Children learn to behave by interacting with their parents. For this reason, the cultural background of the parents often influences the behavior of the child.

Communication style is an example of this. Children tend to communicate in a style similar to their parents' communication style, and different cultures talk and explain things in different ways.

Children who communicate according to an individualistic cultural model often tell long, self-centered stories with themes of autonomy and personal preferences. In contrast, children who communicate based on a collectivist cultural model often tell short, other-focused stories with themes of authority and interrelatedness.

These cultural influences on children's language development can help or hinder them on the playground and later in the workplace. When children's culture at school is respected, including the way children verbally interact with others, they are more likely to experience the acceptance and respect they need to grow and develop. They are more likely to become adults with a healthy self-image, feeling understood and capable of safe and fruitful interactions. However, if not, they may become adults reluctant to speak up and be heard for fear of being ridiculed or misunderstood.

Environmental influences on child development

Environmental influences on child development can include community and cultural influences, as well as environmental health hazards. For example, contamination from a nearby power plant, contaminated water, or lead in the home can have a lasting impact on children's health. As the CDC reports, since children's bodies are still developing, environmental pollutants can harm children more than adults.

In fact, children absorb more air, water and food per kilogram of body weight, making them more vulnerable to health problems from environmental hazards. Health problems may not manifest themselves until later in life, causing difficulties at school, work, and socializing. For example, a child exposed to polluted air may develop asthma in adolescence.

Children in low-income communities are at greater risk of exposure to environmental hazards. As reported by the National Environmental Health Association (NEHA), low-income communities may have poor infrastructure, making them more vulnerable to the effects of natural disasters, such as contaminated water and damaged drainage systems. They may also be closer to factories and highways, both of which contribute to high levels of air, soil, and water pollution.

Media Influences on Child Development

Media influences on child development include movies, TV shows, video games, and other online content. Research shared by the American Psychological Association (APA) shows that children's exposure to violent media can lead to aggressive behavior; Exposure to advertisements for non-nutritious foods may increase rates of childhood obesity. and too much screen time may be linked to slower brain development in preschoolers.

(Video) Cultural Influences in Children's Play

A study by the Cognitive Impacts of Digital Media Working Group found that children start learning from TV shows at around age 2.5. Educational programs like Sesame Street can positively influence their knowledge and social skills and prepare them for school. However, from the age of 6, children begin to watch more entertainment programs, which in turn can negatively affect their behavior. While video games can help children develop visual processing skills, they can also induce aggressive behavior. The effects on cognitive abilities and behaviors are often specific to the games being played.

As a result of these findings, the study suggests that clinicians and early childhood service providers should work with parents to limit television exposure before children are 2 years old. As children begin to learn to read, clinicians and service providers should advise parents to regulate children's media consumption, with an emphasis on providing educational media content, and encouraging reading habits. .

The link to cultural background is clear: different cultures have different attitudes towards television and other entertainment media, and different ways of allowing access to such media. For example, a child from a collectivist culture may be encouraged to help younger or older family members instead of watching educational television after school. Indirectly, culture influences the ability of these children to benefit from such experiences.

Also, to continue the example, schoolmates may ridicule children whose culture discourages educational television and other media for missing out on popular hobbies that other children are engaged in.

Another way that the media in popular culture can influence child development is through the portrayal and perpetuation of cultural stereotypes. For example, a film may portray women or minorities in a negative light, or not feature them at all. A sitcom can only feature white characters, never characters of different races or ethnicities.

The lack of role models in the entertainment media or the presence of negative stereotypes can clearly affect children's self-esteem. This can lead to the media becoming a negative cultural influence on a child's development.

A crucial understanding of child development

Educators, parents, caregivers, and social workers need to understand how cultural influences on children affect their development. Armed with this knowledge, adults can better guide students of different cultures and backgrounds through their growth process and ensure that they are exposed to healthy influences. It can also give them the tools they need to deal with negative influences, such as cultural biases and prejudices against different cultures in schools and in society at large.

For example, according to the Office of Disease Prevention and Health Promotion (ODHPP), early childhood programs can promote children's development, physically, mentally, and socially. Consider the Head Start program, which provides educational and emotional development services to children from low-income families. Children who participated in programs like Head Start grew up healthier and participated in less harmful activities like drinking and smoking than those who did not.

Educators and social workers need to be aware of their own implicit biases regarding cultural differences. As the NAEYC reported, teachers can be biased in treating children based on the child's race, abilities, socioeconomic status, and behavior. Biases can prevent teachers from effectively helping these students and thus prevent them from developing at the rate that is best for them. By understanding cultural influences on children's development, including their own cultural biases, professionals in these roles are better able to influence children's lives and provide them with the care they need.

Careers Involving Cultural Influences on Child Development

An understanding of cultural influences on child development is important for professionals in a number of roles.

child life specialist

A child life specialist is clinically trained to help families manage the developmental impact of a serious injury or illness. For example, a child life specialist might work with families to help children cope with illness or stress in a hospital setting. This work includes identifying stressors, encouraging self-expression, and ensuring that children can make their voices heard in often overwhelming situations.

Understanding how the health system deals with cultural diversity helps child life specialists support families of diverse cultural backgrounds. In addition, a child life specialist understands that the trauma of illness or injury plays a significant role in child development and therefore seeks to mitigate the effects by considering each child's cultural background.

mental health counselor

Mental health counselors treat people with problems such as behavioral disorders, substance abuse, anxiety, depression, and stress. You can work in a variety of settings, including individual and family services, community care centers, and government agencies. Mental health counselors may receive specific training to work with children and families, helping them solve mental health problems, access necessary resources, and guide treatment plans.

By understanding cultural influences on child development, mental health professionals can more effectively help children and families get to the root of their problems and solve them.

community health worker

Community health workers help individuals and groups access health information, resources, and services. For example, if a community is exposed to an environmental hazard, community health workers can connect people with lung cancer or asthma screening. Another example is when an impoverished community struggles to access food, community health workers could connect the community with local services, such as food banks. These professionals also serve vulnerable communities, providing local government officials, health care providers, and health educators with data on people's health status and needs.

(Video) Child Development: A Cultural Approach - 3rd Edition

Community health workers learn about the factors that affect child development to help families access the health resources they need. They also understand the impact of culture on how families and communities seek help and respond to stress in crises.

Day center manager

Daycare administrators create and manage before- and after-school programs, including educational programs and social activities. Directors also hire and train staff to run these programs and work with children. With an understanding of cultural influences on child development, daycare leaders can be prepared to support children outside of the home, solve problems as they arise, and give working families the extra help they need to care for their children. their children.

Social worker

Social workers provide support to individuals and families on a case-by-case basis, helping them cope with stressful situations such as unemployment, illness, and substance abuse. In addition to providing these services, clinical social workers are licensed to diagnose patients with mental health problems and intervene in emergencies such as child abuse. Social workers understand how cultural influences can affect behavior and development.

Social workers may also be trained in specialty areas, including the following:

  • child and family social work
    • Example: Guide children through the adoption process or foster care system or locate community child care services
  • school social work
    • Example: Helping students with behavior problems find a therapist
  • Psychiatric Social Work
    • Example: connecting children with anxiety or depression with a psychiatrist or support group
  • social work in health care
    • Example: Supporting children through diagnosis and hospital visits

All social workers are trained to be aware of the factors that influence people's behavior, including their children's development and how their culture may affect them. For example, if a child is playing at school, a social worker considers how cultural influences at home may affect the child's acceptance by peers at school or how the child responds to challenging school demands, such as competition or collaboration.

Have an impact on child development.

Maryville's online Bachelor of Arts in Human Development and Family Studies program provides students with the knowledge and skills they need to work with families and children at different stages of their lives. Through the program's comprehensive curriculum, students explore the human experience and how individuals evolve within their societies and interpersonal relationships. They also gain hands-on experience through fieldwork, research projects, and service-learning opportunities in a variety of settings where they can begin to make an impact in their roles.

If you are interested in learning more about cultural influences on child development, including parental, environmental, and media influences on child development, explore Maryville'sOnline-Bachelor of Arts in Human Development and Family Studiescan help you achieve your professional goals.

Literature recommendations

Early Childhood Education vs. child development

Nature vs. Child Development: Examining the Key Differences

How to become a specialist in children's lives.


American Psychological, Child, and Media Association

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Fundamentals of Child Development

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Children's Environmental Health

(Video) What is the most important influence on child development | Tom Weisner | TEDxUCLA

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Early Brain Development, and Health

National Association for the Education of Young Children, The Social-Cultural Context of Early Childhood Development and Learning

National Environmental Health Association, Children's Environmental Health Equity

Office of Disease Prevention and Health Promotion, Early Childhood Development and Education

pediatrics, digital screen media and cognitive development

Talk "How culture affects child development"

The Urban Child Institute, What do we know about early childhood social and emotional development?

Muere Washington Post, “How different cultures shape children's personalities in different ways”

Verywell Mind, "Experience and Development"

Verywell Mind, "Individualistic Cultures and Behaviors"

Verywell Mind, "Understanding Collectivist Cultures"

WE Bureau of Labor Statistics, health educator and community health worker

US Bureau of Labor Statistics, directors of preschools and day care centers

US Bureau of Labor Statistics, Sozialarbeiter

US Bureau of Labor Statistics, Substance Abuse, Behavioral Disorders, and Mental Health Counselor

(Video) How Media & Technology Affects Children | Child Development

US Bureau of Labor Statistics, "Child Life Specialist"

Wiley Online Library, "Environmental Influences on Health and Development: Diet, Substance Exposure, and Adverse Childhood Experiences"


1. Parenting & Cultural Influences on Development
2. How Culture Influences Parenting
3. Cultural Understanding
(Better Kid Care)
4. How Culture Influences Children's Narrative Production
5. 3.3 Child in Different Socio-Cultural Contexts - Perspectives in child development
(Gitanjali Nanda Classes)
6. How cultural factors shape children’s economic outcomes
(Brookings Institution)


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