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Children raise their parents

14 May 2009 NWO (Netherlands Organization for Scientific Research)

Whatever Prime Minister Balkenende may say, values are learnt at home; but not only from parents. Dutch researcher Annette Roest studied the role of the family in passing on personal values. Parents influence their children. But children also influence their parents. And parents influence each other.

For her research Roest made use of written interviews with fathers, mothers and children of intact two-parent families that were conducted over a period of ten years. The first interview took place in 1990, when 660 families took part, and the last was conducted in 2000, with 295 families remaining. The researcher argues for a clear distinction between value transmission and value similarity. Many researchers make no distinction between the two, but on the basis of her research, Roest concludes that such a distinction should be made. Although a personal value can be passed on from father to son, this does not mean that father and son will share exactly the same values later on. A measurement at a single point in time can measure similarities but not transmission or change, whereas a measurement taken at several points in time can.

Not one-way traffic

The fact that personal values are passed on from parent to child is not so surprising. What is striking, however, is that certain values are passed on to a child mainly by the father and others mainly by the mother. For example, fathers are important for passing on values relating to ideas about work. On the other hand, mothers are important in passing on self-determination; being able to do what you want of your own free will. But mothers also influence fathers with respect to values concerning the enjoyment of life and having fun. Furthermore, adolescents and young adults do not just passively take on the values of their parents; they also socialise their parents. Roest established that adolescents influence their fathers with respect to values relating to the enjoyment of life. They also influence their parents' work ethos. Surprisingly, it is mainly boys that exert this influence. Roest found no evidence of girls influencing their parents. Value socialisation should be regarded as a complex and dynamic process, says Annette Roest. Family members influence each other and, moreover, the value socialisation in the family does not occur in a vacuum. The 'zeitgeist' plays a major role. This complexity means that it is possible to intervene in norms and values through different channels, not only through parents.

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