RALEIGH, North Carolina — No two cultures are the same, but new research highlights just how different growing up in the United States is from growing up in Russia. Researchers from North Carolina State University examined parenting decisions made by Americans and Russians and analyzed children’s literature in both countries. Their study reveals that Russian parents are much more likely to read stories to their children that present negative emotions such as anger, fear or sadness. American parents, on the other hand, tend to stick to lighter stories that focus on the sunnier side of life.
“In the United States, the focus is on the value of positive emotions, such as happiness or pride,” says Amy Halberstadt, study co-author and North Carolina State psychology professor. , in a university statement.
“In Russia, there are more nuances,” adds the author of the corresponding study Yulia Chentsova-Dutton, associate professor of psychology at Georgetown University. “Russian culture seems to value all emotions – including negative emotions – and it is important to learn from these emotions. Because the stories we read and hear as children often tell us about the emotions we enjoy, we wanted to see how these stories might differ between these two cultures.
Fewer happy endings for Russians?
To start, the team recruited 322 parents with at least one child under the age of 10. Some parents (72) were born in the United States and still live there. Others (72) were born in Russia but lived in America and the rest (178) were born in Russia and lived there.
Each parent noted how often the books they read to their children touched 10 separate emotions, with the study authors considering six of those emotions to be positive and four to be negative.
“There were no differences between the groups in the frequency of positive emotions – everyone likes a book with some positivity,” says Anita Adams, a graduate student at the University of Kentucky who worked on the project as an undergraduate student at NC State. “However, Russian parents chose to read books with more negative emotions than American parents. Russian-American parents fell somewhere between these two groups.
Russian children’s stories prioritize sadness?
When it comes to sadness specifically, Russian parents place much more emphasis on teaching their children about this emotion than Americans.
“This value seemed to be part of why they were willing to engage more with their children about negative emotions in general,” notes Professor Halberstadt.
Next, the team analyzed 40 best-selling American fiction books for preschoolers as well as 40 Russian books for children. This analysis led to the conclusion that Russian children’s literature addresses a much more diverse range of emotions than American books aimed at the same age groups. On a more detailed level, Russian books evoked and depicted emotions such as anger, fear, sadness and even happiness much more regularly.
“Taken together, these studies highlight how Russian parents interact differently with their children about emotions than American parents,” Professor Halberstadt concludes. “Put simply, the study suggests that Russian parents are more likely to support opportunities to engage with their young children about difficult emotions, such as anger and sadness. Future studies may want to explore what this might mean in terms of providing children with more tools to deal with difficult emotions.
The study is published in the journal Emotion.