BACKGROUND: In France, one in 10 residents has immigrated mainly from North Africa, West Africa or the Caribbean including the French West Indies. However little is known about how parents from these regions behave when they migrate to countries that have different cultural norms. It is therefore important to determine how ethno-cultural background affects parental behavior and subsequent child mental health in the context of immigration. The objectives are: 1) to compare negative parenting behaviors of French residents from diverse ethno-cultural backgrounds 2) to examine the relationship between parental region of origin and child mental health, and 3) to investigate the extent to which ethno-cultural context moderates the effect of parenting styles on child mental health. METHODS: A cross-sectional study was conducted in 2005 in 100 schools in South-East France. The Dominic Interactive and the parent-reported Strengths and Difficulties Questionnaire were used to assess child psychopathology. The Parent Behavior and Attitude Questionnaire was used to assess parenting styles. The final sample included data on 1,106 mother and child dyads. RESULTS: Caring and punitive attitudes were significantly different across mothers as a function of region of origin. This association was stronger for punitive attitudes with the highest prevalence in the Caribbean/African group, while mothers from Maghreb were more similar to French natives. Differences in caring behaviors were similar though less pronounced. Among children of Maghrebian descent, punitive parenting was associated with an increased risk of internalizing disorders while this association was weaker among children of African and Afro-Caribbean descent. CONCLUSIONS: Parental region of origin is an important component of both parenting styles and their effect on child mental health. Interventions on parenting should consider both the region of origin and the differential impact of origin on the effect of parenting styles, thus allowing for a finer-grained focus on high-risk groups.