How We Adapt to A New Culture Can Influence Our Parenting Skills – Child Abuse Awareness Month

How We Adapt to A New Culture Can Influence Our Parenting Skills

Child Abuse Awareness Month

For many Latinos, especially first-generation, acculturating to the US can be a stressful task, even more so when the coping tools you have traditionally relied upon are no longer effective or available. Acculturation is the processes of adapting to a new culture, whether that be moving to a new community or having outside cultures move into your community. It requires the individual to adapt to the differences in values, worldviews, and behavior that come with the new culture. Through this process, traditional values may depreciate, despite their protective nature.

April is Child Abuse Prevention Month and in celebration, it is important that we celebrate our traditional Latino values, while at the same time, adopt the values and practices of the mainstream US culture that we find most helpful to our families. The more protective factors, or personal and familial strengths, that we have, the easier it is to combat stress. Unmanaged stress, of course, may be a risk factor for child emotional or physical abuse. Below are several traditional Latino values that may be disrupted during the acculturation process and cause conflict or stress within the family, which ultimately can lead to child maltreatment.

Spanish– Spanish is the most common language among the Latino population and is crucial for maintaining connections to the Latino culture. During acculturation, Latino children may lose the ability to speak Spanish and thus, may have difficulty communicating to other family and community members. Consequently, the child may not be afforded the same supervision and guidance from their Spanish-speaking elders. The child may also feel alienated from their community, which may reduce self-esteem and pride in their heritage.


FamilismoFamilismo refers to the value of loyalty among each member of the family and often includes friends or other members of the community (Rivera, 2004). As Latino youth adopt the values of independence from the U.S. mainstream culture, however, families may not tolerate their uniqueness. Conflict may arise and traditional parent and child problem solving skills may be disrupted; ultimately, the child may be rejected by their family. (Eddy & Martinez, 2005).


Further, as Latino families migrate to the United States, they may become both physically and emotionally cut-off from their extended families or communities, which may lead to isolation. Even when extended family members are physically present, they may be caught up in the same cycles of oppression themselves and thus, be unable to provide the financial and emotional support they once provided, leading to feelings of resentment within the family and further contributing to isolation (Garcia-Preto, 2005).


Respeto. Respeto refers to the importance of respecting authority, family, and tradition (Rivera, 2004). As Latino families migrate to the United States, their children may begin to adopt an individualistic value system, which celebrates independence and autonomy. Consequently, Latino children may freely express disagreement with their parents, which may be viewed as disrespect and cause conflict. Further, children may obtain more power in the family as they quickly adapt to the new country and learn the language more quickly (Mitrani et al., 2002). As children become the family experts in the new culture, the value of respeto may be undermined.


Machismo and marianismo. Machismo and marianismo refer to the gender roles that are typically demonstrated within Latino cultures. Machismo signifies that the man is the head of the household for an entire extended family, and is responsible for caring, nurturing, and protecting his family (Hines & Malley-Morrison, 2004), in addition to, providing for his family financially. Marianismo stems from the Catholic belief in the “Virgen Maria” and signifies the woman’s relation to the mother of God. She is spiritually superior to her husband and is the caretaker of her family. To her children, she is expected to practice open communication, provide support and acceptance, express warmth, and be receptive to their needs. She is also expected to be submissive to her father, brothers, and husband, and to refrain from overtly sexual behavior (Montilla & Smith, 2006).


During the acculturation process, gender roles within the family may change, which can contribute to familial stress. Mothers may begin to take responsibility in providing for the family financially as they observe other women participating in the work force. Due to language barriers for example, it may be easier for a mother to gain employment, as she may be more likely to seek domestic work that does not require English-speaking skills. As the modern Latina woman is able to utilize their strengths in connecting to the U.S. culture (i.e., gaining employment), they are likely to adapt to the U.S culture much faster than Latino men.


When grieving the loss of tradition and/or the immigration experience, the process of accepting it as real and permanent may take time and lead to various strong emotions, like sadness and anger. During this process, it is important that we care for ourselves by identifying and implementing new coping skills. The better we are at coping with the stress of acculturation, the stronger we are for our children. If you believe that you or someone in your family is feeling overwhelmed by stress, it may be beneficial to seek out the assistance of a psychologist.



Eddy, J. M., & Martinez, C. R. (2005). Effects of culturally adapted parent management training on Latino youth behavioral outcomes. Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology, 73, (4), 841-851.

Garcia-Preto, N. (2005). Latino families: An overview. In N. Garcia-Preto, J. Giordano, & M. McGoldrick (Eds.). Ethnicity & Family Therapy. New York: The Guilford Press.

Hines, D. A., & Malley-Morrison, K. (2004). Family violence in a cultural perspective. Thousand Oaks, CA: SAGE.

Mitrani, V. B., Muir-Malcolm, J. A., Santisteban, D. A., & Szapocznik, J. (2002). Integrating the study of ethnic culture and family psychology intervention science. In J. H. Bray, R. F. Levant, H. A. Liddle, D. A., J. H. Bray (Eds.), Family Psychology: Science based interventions. Washington, DC: American Psychological Association.

Montilla, R. E., & Smith, R. L. (2006). Counseling and family therapy with Latino populations: Strategies that work. New York: Taylor & Francis Group.

Rivera, E. (2004). Psychoeducational and counseling groups with Latinos. In J. Delucia- Waack, D.Gerrity, C. Kalodner, & M. Riva (Eds.) In Handbook of group counseling and psychotherapy (pp.213-223). Thousand Oaks, California: Sage Publications.


Nicholas Rios, Psy.D., Licensed Psychologist

Behavior Management Systems, Inc.

7550 Highway 107, Sherwood, AR, 72120

Office: (501) 771-4442