In How The Children Took Power, the author and psychiatrist David Eberhard claims that since Sweden became the first country in the world to ban smacking in 1979, a measure now adopted by more than 30 countries including the UK, parents have also become less willing to discipline their children verbally. Eberhard argues that this has led kids to become the key decision-makers in families, and that parents and kids suffer as a result.Oh, hallelujah!
On paper at least, Sweden seems a perfect society for children and parents.We are always told so by the ‘Guardian’, aren’t we?
But despite these apparent advantages, Eberhard argues that there has been a downside to the measures, which is evident in the increasing number of anxiety disorders and self-harming cases among young Swedish people. The UN has also pointed to an increase in child obesity. “We’ve gone from not being physical towards children to not being allowed to say anything to them – it’s not the same thing,” says Eberhard.No, it’s not. But it’s an expected progression, and I defy anyone to tell me that it wasn’t at the back of the minds of the people who thought this up…
“We have this notion that we must over-protect children, because there are so many terrible things that can happen to them. The effect is that is very hard to tell someone who is so fragile what to do. They’ve become like porcelain dolls. “We don’t have the courage to correct them. That automatically transfers decision-making to the child,” says the father of six.As we have seen in other areas, not only has that lead to the concept that children are untouchable, but they are ‘truthful’ as well, when we know they are often anything but!
Eberhard’s book has sparked debate among Swedish parents about how much children should be allowed to influence the modern family. A free parenting course called “All Children in the Centre” offered by local Swedish authorities was set up in 2010 to support parents with young children, and one of its key messages was that punishments and boundaries are not necessarily the right approach to take with kids.And, with the lack of boundaries, comes the sort of ‘Lord of the Flies’ scenarios we often see amongst the underclass, where anything goes...
“If you want a child to co-operate the best way is to have a close relationship,” the psychologist Kajsa Lönn-Rhodin, one of the architects of the course, told The Local. She rejects the idea that children have taken over and says a bigger problem is posed by “harsh parenting” .Her kids must be delightful company, eh?
Rebecka Edgren Alden, editor-in-chief of Mama, a Swedish parenting magazine, said she could relate to the idea that children do now rule the roost, and that is not always a positive step.
“Too much choice is probably not good for a child – I say that not as an expert, but as a mother of three,” she says.
“We adults have responsibility for them, and it’s up to us to decide.” But overall, she says she believes the advantages of the Swedish system outweigh the disadvantages.She's drunk too much of the Kool-Aid to turn back now!
Ebhard says it’s time to stop thinking of our children, Swedish or otherwise, as delicate, brittle creatures.
“Quick fixes don’t exist, but I keep coming back to the same thing – children aren’t as fragile as we think.”Well, no. But some parents, as MacHeath is quick to point out, are determined to try to see them that way!