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The paper examined the effect of parenting on children’s social competence. The evaluation also gave a cursory definition of the term. The paper argued that situational context must be taken into consideration in any attempt to define social competence. The paper further disagreed with the popular dictum by Baumrind (1971) that authoritative parenting was better than authoritarian parenting. The manuscript also highlighted different instruments used in the measurement of both social competence and parenting. Recommendations of the review centre on the need to discover the underlying mechanism behind the acquisition of social competence by African children given their authoritarian upbringing.

Keyword: Social competence, Authoritarian parenting, Children.


Literatures from different spheres of intellectual discuss has noted that children without well-developed social competencies are at the risk of developing both depression and anti-social behaviors in when compared with their socially skilled counterparts (Kim & Cicchetti, 2004; Prelow, Loukas, & Jordan-Green, 2007). Social competence and emotional health was equally reported as been predictive of early success in school, indicative of adaptations to classroom routines and stronger cognitive growth (Denham, 2006). In line with the above, the term social competence has been variously defined by scholars. The expression was defined by Shaffer, Burt, Obradovic, Herbers and Masten (2009) as a child’s performance in relevant developmental tasks, while Bierman and Welsh (2000) defined the concept as the social and emotional skills and behaviors that children need for positive developmental outcomes.

Despite the varying definition of the term social competence, scholars till date have not reached a consensus on the actual meaning of the term. Moreover, most scholars neglected the situational context necessary for the achievement of social competence. Although some of these scholars highlighted some salient issues in the maintenance and sustenance of social competence, however none captured a generally acceptable definition of the construct. Luthar (2006); Serbin and Karp (2004) revealed that the quality of parenting children enjoy either serves as a protective or risk factor in their development of psychopathology, competence and resilience. In the same vein, Bradshaw, O’Brennan and McNeely (2008) made known that socio-emotional competencies play a significant role in the advancement of positive youth development and in the inhibition of risk during childhood and adolescence.

Following inconsistencies discovered in the literatures on the definition of social competence, the paper therefore attempted a cursory definition of the term. Social competence is the functioning of a child in different developmental tasks specified in a given society or culture. This paper thus argues that social competence is relational in nature and as such varies from one society to another. Per se, a workable definition of the term must recognize the situational nature of the construct as encapsulated in the present paper. Particularly strong evidence abounds in the literatures that affirm parenting quality as a predictor of both behavior problems and successes in various domains of social competence particularly in early childhood (Masten, Burt, & Coatsworth, 2006).

Literature Review

Development of social competence

In the explanation of the phenomenon known as social competence, different theoretical postulations have been employed by scholars in highlighting the effect of parenting on children’s social competence. Social learning theory provides a credible explanation in the discussion. The theory accentuates learning by observation and reinforcement which children take into their future interactions with others in their peer groups, classrooms, and eventually their family relationships (Bandura, 1977). More so, attachment theory accounted for other processes by which parenting may lead to social competence by arguing that secure relationships with caregivers in early childhood predicted later competence in multiple domains (Berscheid & Regan, 2005; Sroufe, Egeland, Carlson, & Collins, 2005). Social competence is associated with attachment security and early secure attachment among infants and has been shown to predict social competence during childhood (Shaffer, Burt, Obradovic, Herbers & Masten, 2009). As a way of maintaining social competence, Amayo (2009) stated that most Nigerian parents tell their children stories about Nigerian traditional beliefs and customary practices; thereby sharing the rituals of their religious adherences, which demonstrate inherent resilience, industry and respect for people.

Practically all cultures prepare children to be socially competent (Tomasello, 2007; Vygotsky, 1978). Therefore some scholars have argued that the growth of social competence during childhood is a bye product of major strides in other domains (Cole, Martin, & Dennis, 2004). These domains include symbolic thought, focused attention, empathy, and emotion regulation abilities that supports children’s social engagement within a cultural context (Marshal & Fox, 2006). Within these domains, compliance and respectfulness were emphasized in high-context cultures, while assertiveness and leadership were more emphasized in low-context cultures (Han, 2010). Children in high-context cultures were encouraged to use more subtle cues, but those in low-context cultures were encouraged to use more verbal expressions. More so, high-context cultures usually appreciated withdrawn behaviors rather than aggressive behaviors, implying that socially anxious and withdrawn behaviors are often associated with peer popularity in high-context cultures, whereas it is usually associated with peer rejection in low-context cultures. These types of findings essentially validate the previously described socio-cultural approach and culturally sensitive nature of social competence. Given the above scenario, Kaiser and Rasminsky (2003); Rogoff (2003) pointed out that pivotal implications suggest significant misunderstandings or problems when cultural consideration are not examined in the understanding and promotion of social competence.

On a different note, available evidence suggest that the link between early care-giving and social competence is universal (LeVine & Norman, 2001) implying that children utilize their early experiences in their development of social competence. In line with this view, studies conducted by Crosnoe (2007); Escarce et al., (2006) advocated the use of Eco-cultural theory in explaining differences in social competence. The theory therefore suggests that warm and supportive parenting helps in nurturing robust social skills that act as protective factors in many communities. In variance with Eco-cultural theory, cultural pathways model (Greenfield, Keller, Fuligni, & Maynard, 2003) revealed that the interaction parents have with their children may promote their social competence in some cultures while impeding them in other cultural settings. Therefore, there is a need to address the antecedents of social outcomes in relation to specific cultural contexts. Behavioral indicators of children’s social competence include pro-social behavior, isolation, and aggressive behavior (Diener & Kim, 2004).


Parenting practices are defined as mechanisms used by parents to ensure that their children attain socialization goals (Darling & Steinberg, 1993). Generally parenting has been extensively studied in human development (Baldwin, Mclntyre, & Hardaway, 2007). It is an important determinant of several aspects of children’s outcome (Gadeyne, Ghesquiere, & Onghena, 2004) such as optimism (Baldwin, Mclntyre, & Hardaway, 2007), motivation (Gonzalez & Wolters, 2006), externalizing problem behavior and attention problems (Gadeyne, Ghesquiere, & Onghena, 2004). Parenting types or styles include authoritarian parenting, permissive parenting, neglectful parenting, and authoritative parenting. There are important disparities between these styles of parenting.

In the view of Baumrind (1971), authoritative was superior to the other styles of parenting. In the classification of these styles of parenting, Baumrind revealed that authoritarian parenting was characterized by high expectations of compliance and conformity to parental rules and directions. In the argument raised by the scholar, the situation children find themselves was described as unfair and threatening. Permissive parenting the scholar contended was characterized by low expectations of behavior. In this case, a permissive parent is afraid to correct his or her child. On the other hand, neglectful parenting essentially was described as a parent not being aware of his/her children until something tragic or unpleasant happens to them, while authoritative parents the scholar contended holds high expectations of the child's behavior while allowing the child to talk about those expectations.

Baumrind (1971) further argued that parental rules and directions imposed on the child are fair and expressed clearly under authoritative parenting. In summary Baumrind (1971) stated that authoritative parents raise children who are successful, articulate, happy with themselves, and generous with others. In essence, the scholar argued that authoritative parenting leads to social competence. In variance with the views held by Baumrind (1971), within the last decades there has been t a growing recognition and emphasis on the socio-cultural aspects of social competence. Researchers have shown that certain aspects of social competence are deeply influenced by culture, and that cultural knowledge is crucial particularly in the understanding of social competence (Rogoff, 2003). In the contention of Rose-Krasnor (1997), social competence is classified into three sublevels: theoretical, index, and skills level. The scholar suggested that in reviewing social competence through the sphere of culture, cultural variability may be greatest at the skills level and decrease while moving up through the prism.

At the theoretical level, the concept of social competence as effectiveness in interaction is universally accepted and at the index level, social competence is typified as transactional and context dependent. Behaviors that are effectively valued in one context may not be valued the same in another context. Likewise, socially competent behavior that one needs to survive in one context may be different from another context. However, at the skills level, the behaviors needed to achieve certain social goals may fluctuate substantially across cultures. Social competence is substantially culturally sensitive. The quality of parenting has therefore been numerously pin pointed as both a risk and protective factor in the development of psychopathology, competence and resilience in children (Luther, 2006; Serbin & Karp, 2004). In consonance with Serbin and Karp (2004), theory and data suggest that parenting experiences engenders the development of behavioral patterns in children that are carried forward and eventually into the parenting of their own children (Serbin & Karp, 2004). In the submission of Rubinstein (2003); Fischer, Fischer, Frey, Such, Smyth, Tester and Kastenmüller (2010) authoritarianism encompasses attitudinal intolerance, inflexibility toward new experiences, and elevated aggressive penchant toward those that violate social norms.

Although, findings from several studies are consistent with Baumrind’s (1971) claim that favors authoritative style (Xu, Farver, Zhang, Zeng, Yu & Cai, 2005). However, findings from other studies (Leung, Lau, & Lam, 1998) suggest that authoritarian style is associated with beneficial outcomes for Asian American families, particularly in regards to higher academic achievement. Authoritarian parenting comprise corporal and psychological punishment, taking exaggerated control of children, asserting power, or reducing warmth and nurturance as a function of specific situational cues (Coplan, Hastings, Lagace-Seguin & Moulton, 2002).

Emerging studies suggest that traditional parents mainly reinforce the value of unquestioning obedience to parents with children required to prioritize family obligations over personal interests. This particular allusion is also true of African cultural values. However, for western children, these parental behaviors may conflict with their need for developmental autonomy (Erikson, 1959; Park, Kim, Chiang & Ju, 2010). According to Galindo and Fuller (2010) the family’ social-class may condition child’s acquisition of social competencies with implication on the classroom settings including a child’s cognitive development.

Available evidence indicates that culture plays a crucial role in parenting styles. Child Welfare League of America (2000) in support of the current position advised that it is important for schools and agencies that work with parents to be aware of the dynamics behind parenting. In countering the views held by Baumrind, Hughes (2003) in a study confirmed that: (a) "Parents are the primary socializing agent for their children;" (b) There are positive parenting outcomes when parents have racial and cultural discussions with their children; and (c) African American parents are willing to share issues of cultural socialization with their children as other ethnically different parents. According to Hair, Jager and Garrett (2001) the dimensions of acquisition of social skills by Nigerian children involve interpersonal skills, school engagement activities, and individual skills (Hair, Jager & Garrett, 2001).

Measures of Social competence and parenting

In the measurement of social competence and parenting, some instruments has become recurring decimals. Some of these instruments include the following:

Measures of social competence

Social Skills Rating System (Gresham & Elliott, 1990) designed to measure teachers rating of each child on a frequency scale from 1 to 4 (1 _ never and 4 _ very often) for level of approaches to learning (task persistence, attentiveness, eagerness to learn, learning independence, flexibility, and organization); self-control (ability to respect the materials of others, control temper, accept peer ideas, and respond appropriately to peer pressure); interpersonal skills (forming and maintaining friendships, getting along with people who are different, comforting or helping other children, expressing feelings, ideas, and opinions in positive ways, and showing sensitivity to feelings); internalizing problem behaviors (presence of anxiety, loneliness, low self-esteem, and sadness); and externalizing problem behaviors (the propensity to argue, fight, get angry, act impulsively, or disturb activities). Higher scores on approaches to learning, interpersonal skills, and self-control scales represent stronger positive behavior; higher scores on externalizing and internalizing problem behaviors represent less positive behavior.

Social Avoidance and Distress scale (Watson & Friend, 1969) designed to assesses distress or discomfort in social situations and deliberate avoidance of social interactions by means of five reverse scored items measured on a 5-point scale of 1 (almost always false) to 5 (almost always true). Social Connectedness Scale (Lee, Draper, & Lee, 2001) designed to assesses a sense of interpersonal closeness with the social world by means of a nine item scored on a 6-point scale ranging from 1 (strongly disagree) to 6 (strongly agree). Social competence scores represented the mean of the two combined mean standardized scores, with higher scores representing greater social competence, characterized by less social anxiety and more social connectedness.

Social Skills Rating Scale (Gresham & Elliot, 1990) designed to assesses the three components of competence referred to as cooperation, assertion, and self-control.

Furthermore, child competence was assessed with specific scales measuring positive sense of self, self-control, and social problem-solving skills. Positive sense of self was operationalized as (a) self-esteem; and (b) social self-efficacy, i.e., confidence in one’s ability to interact with other children in social settings. The Rosenberg Self-esteem Scale (Rosenberg, 1965) was used to assess self-esteem. Social self-efficacy was measured with a 6-item scale adapted from Bandura, Barbaranelli, Vittorio, Caprara, and Pastorelli’s (2001). Child self-control tapped emotion regulation/anger management and impulse control. Social problem-solving skills were measured with a 7-item scale adapted from Causey and Dubow (1992). The measurement of social competence at each time point was guided by developmental task theory (Havighurst, 1972; Masten & Coatsworth, 1998) designed to capture social competence as a broad adaptive construct. Thus, the identified items incorporated multiple dimensions of social competence, including peer acceptance, popularity, and the quality of close friendships.

Measures of parenting

Parental Authority Questionnaire (Buri, 1991) designed for diverse forms of parenting. The scale consists of 30 items asking the respondents to rate their mother’s and father’s parenting behavior on a scale of 1 (strongly disagree) to 5 (strongly agree), with 10 items for each subscale (permissive, authoritarian, authoritative). Higher scores for each subscale represented higher approval of the measured parenting style.

Measure of Parental Styles (Parker et al., 1997) designed to measure recalled parenting style using a 15-item self-report questionnaire. Respondents were asked to rate “how true” they judge each of the items as a description of how their mother and father acted (“Overprotective of me,” “Sought to make me feel guilty”) until they were 16 years of age.

Permissive, Authoritarian, and Authoritative Parental Authority Prototypes (Baumrind, 1971) designed for individual assessment of their parents authority. It consists of 60 items comprising of 30 questions each for the assessment of both parents during childhood.


In conclusion, although the processes underlying competent behavior are similar across cultures (Han, 2010), the specific behaviors associated with social competence showed cultural differences. In high-context cultures, such as Japan, China, Russia, and Brazil, social identity and group interest were more valued, while individual identity and personal interest were more valued in low-context cultures, such as the United States, Canada, Australia, and Italy. In line with the above, in a contemporary review of literature, Zins, Bloodworth, Weissberg, and Walberg (2004) concluded that "there is a growing body of scientifically based research supporting the strong impact that enhanced social and emotional behaviors can have on success in school and ultimately in life".


Despite Baumrind (1971) assertion that authoritative parenting was better than authoritarian parenting, however, evidence from the African hemisphere suggests that children whose parenting were authoritarian still emerged as socially competent. Hence the question that readily comes to mind is why that is the case. In line with the above, further studies is necessary to discover the underlying mechanism behind the acquisition of social competence by African children.

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