A Pinch Of Thoughts

Italian Parenting Styles – Core Values

Italian parents tend to adopt an authoritative parenting style. Yet they also value warmth and responsiveness in parenting relationships.

Italian parents share global concerns over their children’s digital lives; however, they tend to snoop on less.

Respect for Elders

Parents around the world are struggling with how to balance their children’s independence with the desire for closeness between generations. Yet in Italy, family ties remain strong: nearly all Italian parents say they feel very close to their children (98%) – two percentage points more than globally average figures.

Italian mothers and fathers hold very distinct parenting beliefs, as our study with 259 families with late adolescent and young adult children revealed. Our researchers compared parental attributions and attitudes for their child’s autonomy, relational support needs and style of decision making between Rome and Naples mothers and fathers.

Rome mothers were more likely than their Naples counterparts to believe their children should not have too much freedom – perhaps reflecting a greater sense of responsibility over them in this culture. Yet most mothers from both groups acknowledged the necessity of letting children make mistakes as part of maturing into adults.

Italian parents were significantly more likely than global Moms and Dads to expect their kids to behave during mealtimes – particularly when dining out – compared to global parents (24% in this regard). Over half of Italian respondents to our survey expected their kids to display good table manners during these occasions while only 24% expected this from global parents who took our survey.

At the same time, Italian parents were significantly less likely to expect their children to contribute around the home than global parents were; only 54% reported that their child was extremely helpful when asked. This number is significantly less than 67% globally.

Parents in Italy were also less likely to believe their children understood the value of money than global parents; overall 38% tried to satisfy every material wish of their child in this survey; only 24% stated their children understood the significance of saving for future needs.

Discipline Through Reasoning

Italian parents prefer reasoned discussion to fear-driven punishment when dealing with their children, using timeouts or loss of privileges as discipline tools if necessary; only half agree to have ever used physical punishment, much lower than global norms.

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Cliches about Italian mothers loving their sons may abound, yet this stereotypical image actually reflects a more general parent-child relationship in which mothers generally take more responsibility for the lives and wellbeing of their children than fathers do. Mothers tend to take an active role in child rearing as well as encouraging higher education or professional careers for their sons or daughters compared with dads whereas on the other hand fathers may discourage daughters from becoming entrepreneurs or professional athletes.

Due to their traditional parental structure, Italians tend to have lower tolerance for tantrums and defiance than many other nations. This is particularly evident among female teens; almost one third reported their parents have yelled at them when misbehaving compared with only 25% for Canadian teenagers and approximately one-fifth for French and Italian adolescents respectively.

Italian parents tend to insist that their children help with domestic or daily tasks less than global parents; only 57% agree with this statement compared to an international average of 67%.

This study conducted an international survey with over 700 adolescents from Canada, France and Italy about their perceptions of parental parenting styles and behaviour. Adolescents were asked to evaluate their parents on various aspects of emotional bonding, communication and conflict frequency as well as on how firmly and consistently they enforced rules, disciplined their activities or accepted friend-related activities. Results of the study demonstrated that adolescents from Canada and France rated their parents more permissively than Swedish counterparts, while Italian adolescents rated theirs as being the most authoritarian. Site differences were attributable more to sociocultural context than parental background; with Naples adolescents reporting significantly more authoritarian and less progressive attitudes than Rome parents as each site experienced distinct economic and social circumstances.

A Love of Childhood

Parents around the world may feel overwhelmed with information on parenting “shoulds”, but Italian parents seem much more attuned with their natural instincts when it comes to parenthood. While keeping up with parenting “best practices” takes time and energy, Italian parents seem more inclined to trust in themselves and what works for them as opposed to following what may be considered “best practices”.

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While 8 out of 10 Italian parents report encouraging their children to become more independent, most still exert direct control over them. Italian mothers in particular tend to exert direct control, though fathers have increasingly assumed some parental duties that were previously solely undertaken by mothers (Bacchini, Galiani, Guerriera & Sbandi 2003). Furthermore, while we might feel embarrassed when our kids display any sign of distress while out in public, Italians seem perfectly content to see children running around screaming in streets or supermarkets without anyone seeming embarrassed at all by it all (Bacchini et al 2003).

American parents don’t seem to share this sentiment. Every week brings another study suggesting what we should and shouldn’t be doing as parents; for some this constant stream of advice can become excessive and may erode any sense of trust we might otherwise have in ourselves as individuals.

Italy holds to the belief that children must respect elders, which explains why so many Italians are polite and respectful toward all members of their society. Thus, an older relative might be called in to help discipline an unruly child.

Studies conducted in Rome and Naples involving teenage parents’ attitudes on parenting discovered that mother’s and father’s attributions for successful and unsuccessful caregiving situations, progressive and authoritarian attitudes differed even after accounting for age, education levels and potential social desirability bias in parents.

Further, a significant site main effect was observed for attributing adult-controlled failure and modernity of attitude attributions. These results suggest that adolescents from Naples were more likely to attribute their parenting success external factors than adolescent from Rome due to the more demanding living conditions present there.

A Hands-Off Approach

Italian parents appreciate their children immensely; however, as a nation they also value freedom. Therefore, Italians allow children to be kids at meal times; you might find one falling asleep on their parent’s lap or climbing onto another person as the adults enjoy wine and conversation over dinner. Of course this doesn’t mean Italians don’t discipline their children – in fact they may enforce stringent rules – but as long as their behavior does not interfere with others’ enjoyment of life they are allowed to act however they wish without disrupting anyone’s enjoyment of life or harming others.

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Researchers from the Center for the Study of American Cultures conducted a survey on parenting attitudes among parents living in Rome and Naples about their beliefs regarding child development and parental practices. A sample included 177 families, each one matching by number of children, mother’s age, father’s age and level of education – yet there were no statistically significant differences between samples in Rome and Naples on any measure variable.

Results of the survey indicate that while Italian mothers believe children should be treated equally, they tend to use less expressive, punitive and distressing responses when responding to children expressing emotion than Canadian and French mothers do. This finding warrants further investigation.

Italian parents tend to expect good behavior from their children during mealtimes and adhere to a set bedtime routine more than other European parents, though they’re less likely than the global average to wish they’d done more to make their kids less dependent on them.

This research revealed that differences in parenting attributions and attitudes between mothers and fathers from various parts of the country were generally small. Adolescent respondents did not differ significantly in their evaluation of permissiveness between their parents; Bonferroni post hoc analyses suggested mothers were perceived as more permissive than fathers but that this difference wasn’t statistically significant. There were significant site main effects for uncontrollable success attributions, progressive attitudes, authoritarian attitudes, modernity of attitude as well as authoritarianism but these effects did not remain significant after accounting for mother’s age education level and possible social desirability bias.