Middle Eastern and North African (MENA) American youth reports of their parenting experiences: associations with mental and physical health

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Scant research examines the associations between parenting behaviors and the psychological health of Middle Eastern and North African (MENA) American youth. Developmental research consistently demonstrates that an authoritarian parenting style

Scant research examines the associations between parenting behaviors and the psychological health of Middle Eastern and North African (MENA) American youth. Developmental research consistently demonstrates that an authoritarian parenting style (often characterized by rejecting and controlling behaviors, and a common style among MENA parents) is maladaptive for offspring health; however, no study has empirically tested the associations of these behaviors from mothers and fathers with the health of MENA American youth. Using survey data from 314 MENA American young adults (Mage = 20 years, range 18 – 25 years, 56% female), the current study tested the associations between commonly studied parenting behaviors - acceptance, rejection, harsh parenting, and control - with the mental (stress, depression, and anxiety) and physical health (general health perceptions, pain, and somatization) of MENA American youth. Confirmatory factor analysis tested new items informed by preliminary focus groups with original items from the Child Report Parenting Behavior Inventory (CRPBI) to create culturally-informed parenting factors. Results indicated that youth-reported higher maternal acceptance was associated with fewer mental health symptoms, higher maternal harsh parenting with higher mental health symptoms, and higher maternal rejection with worse physical health; father rejection was associated with higher mental health symptoms and worse physical health. Further, the associations between parenting and physical health were moderated by youth Arabic orientation, such that those with higher Arabic orientation showed the best physical health at higher levels of acceptance, and the worst physical health at higher levels of rejection, harsh parenting, and control. Associations between parenting and health did not differ by youth gender. The current findings suggest cross-cultural similarities in the beneficial functions of parental acceptance, and detrimental functions of parental rejection and harsh parenting, with MENA American youth. The associations between parenting and health were exacerbated, for better or for worse, for more Arabic-oriented youth, suggesting these youth may be more greatly impacted by perceptions of their parents’ behaviors. Findings have implications for family interventions working with MENA populations.