A recent study conducted by UNICEF of 29 industrialized nations relating to the well being of children, found that the Netherlands ranked highest in three out of five areas, (educational well-being, material well-being and behavior and risks), and was close to the top in the remaining two categories, (health and safety and housing). This particular study confirms what other studies have found; Dutch children are happier than those in other countries.
Not surprisingly, the United States ranked near the bottom.
The study also found that The Netherlands is the clear leader and the only country ranked in the top five countries in all dimensions of child well-being. It also showed that four other Nordic countries, (Finland, Iceland, Norway and Sweden), were just behind Netherlands. The bottom four countries were made up of three of the poorest countries in the survey, Latvia, Lithuania and Romania. The other country at the bottom is one of the richest, the United States. In fact, the United States and Romania were the only two countries, out of the 29 surveyed, to rank in the bottom third on all five measurements of child well-being.
So the obvious question is why are children in so many other countries happier than those in the United States and what can we do as parents and as a society to change these results? The report looked at several factors that may provide a better understanding of how other countries approach parenting individually and as a society.
1. They Celebrate Downtime.
Dutch children have less homework, less structured time and more playtime. Play is considered a part of learning, where children are offered the space and time to reflect and create. We all understand that rigid structure is oppressive, yet we insist on being more organized, more athletic, smarter, thinner and richer as we race to the finish line of who can acquire the most money or achieve the most fame. We push our children at an early age to be perfect; to never color outside the lines, and when they fail, they break down into tears or, more disturbingly, internalize their frustrations. Children reflect our attitudes toward them, so that competition in a sport or outside activity is another form of pressure, not something to be enjoyed purely for the sake of enjoying the game or activity itself. As a result, they invariably burn out at an early age, sometimes only continuing an activity in order to please the competitive nature of a parent.
2. They Empower Moms
Dutch Moms are empowered even before they meet their children. More than 1 in 4 Dutch Moms birth at home. Mothers are viewed as capable with value assigned to their parenting roles. Dutch Moms receive 16 weeks of paid maternity leave, while in Sweden new Moms get 60 weeks of leave. Many Dutch fathers choose to work part-time in order to more of hands-on role in parenting. Once again, the focus is on the child and family not the race to what some in this country view as materialistic success.
3. They Talk About Sex
The Netherlands have one of the lowest teenage pregnancy and abortion rates in the world. As opposed to his country where sex is a taboo discussion, conversations in the Netherlands are not coated with guilt and shame. Teens are educated about sex and birth control and, much like the rest of Europe and other countries, discussions are not put off. The rest of these countries realize that their children will eventually be curious about or experience sex and they choose to have those discussions sooner rather than later.
4. They Break Bread Together
Family time is at the top of the list of priorities for Dutch families and as a result the majority of Dutch children eat their main meals with their family. As a result, family ties are strengthened and bonds are established through discussion and interaction about their respective lives.
5. Well Being Is Not One Size Fits All
It is well-known that the Dutch are a tolerant, open society. They are less concerned about how others behave and more concerned about what is happening in their own lives. Society, in general honors an interconnection, without the judgmental or scornful aspect that is prevalent in our own society.
6. They Value A Child-Centered Society
Children are seen and heard from in the Netherlands and their is voice is valued, not in an indigent manner but in a way that connects them with the rest of society. Instead of children being seen as blank slates to be molded into a parents idea or perception of how they should be raised or in what ares they should be pushed into, children understand they matter and have their own intrinsic value. As a result, they are more involved in what interests them than the area of emphasis that may be placed or forced upon them by their parents.
The bottom line is that the well-being of our children should be a universal goal to be honored. We can and should learn from these findings, though many of us will dismiss the report simply because it doesn’t fit into our close-minded, long-held societal views of how children should be raised and what might be in their best interests. Because parents always know what’s best. Or do we?