Psychologists are theorizing about the importance of supporting individualization and autonomy in the socialization of children to adapt them to the demands of modern democratic societies. At the same time there might be differences among European countries in how desirable a developmental outcome autonomy is, in the cultural meanings of autonomy, in its relation to child development and social relationships as well as in the ways parents promote and support autonomy development in their children.
The proposed project will compare socialization patterns in families from two relatively stable well-fare societies (like Sweden and Germany), to those in Estonia – in a country with rapid ongoing social transformations focusing on the question of how parents accomplish their role in children’s autonomy promotion and support. Autonomy has been regarded as being self-initiating in actions, feeling ownership of them, and expressing one’s opinion, preferences and feelings. The study will address autonomy socialization of children reflected in mother- child discourse about past events, children’s peer conversations during free play, and in mothers’ socialization values. The main research questions of the present project are largely based on our previous research on cultural differences in family and peer socialization supported by grants from the Baltic Sea Foundation. These studies show that the shift towards a more democratic socialization style where self-direction and selfexpression are stressed in contrast to obedience has not yet occurred in Estonian families to the same extent as in Finland and Sweden. The biggest cultural differences were found between Sweden and Estonia.The finding that parents value self-direction for their children highly suggests that a more liberal and democratic child rearing orientation has gained some popularity in Estonia. Yet, these modern views are not reflected in real-life family interactions. The proposed grant will expand the boundaries of our previous studies by including two other cultural groups – German monocultural families in Germany and Russian-speaking families in Estonia, and adding a new focus (autonomy socialization) and new methods (mother-child discourse about past events) to the existing ones (parental socialization practices and values, real-life peer talk in kindergarten in Estonia and Sweden).