“I think some things have fallen off our radar like the idea that it’s okay to have children feel interdependent with you. Like you are there for them but they are also there for you. That doesn’t have to mean that you are stifling them – it’s a very rich way to live in harmony with other people and that is an idea that I saw carried out in the societies where children are thriving the most on objective measures of well-being.”
Child Well-Being—Economics and Parental Differences
According to UNICEF, some of the objective measures used to determine overall child well- being include material well-being, health and safety, education, behaviors and risks, and housing and environment. Surprisingly, the most recent report showed that the United States and the U.K. rank at the bottom in most categories. The Netherlands ranked in the top ten in all categories, with Northern European countries ranking in the top four. The fact that the Czech Republic ranked higher than many wealthier nations such as France and Austria suggests that parental differences may be even more important than economic considerations in achieving a high degree of child well-being.
This is the first generation of children to spend much of their early childhoods in child care outside the home. A great deal of neuroscientific research has concluded that developing secure relationships in the early years of life is critical for optimum child development. The development of child care support systems in many countries have not kept pace with the changing economic realities of parents who must utilize them. Stressing the importance of developing child care systems that make this transition easier for parents and children, the report suggests that the future well-being of children may depend on it.
How Parental Differences can contribute to Child Well-Being
Meanwhile, whatever their parental differences, parents around the world continue to meet the challenges presented by changing economic realities and rapidly advancing technology with remarkable creativity. All parents want to help their children develop positive characteristics such as creativity, resilience, academic excellence and independence. In her 2013 book, Parenting Without Borders: Surprising Lessons Parents Around the World Can Teach Us, Christine Gross-Loh, who has also written a series of articles for The Atlantic magazine, takes readers on an educational around-the-world parenting tour.
Every culture has its own parenting strengths and weaknesses, and the goal of this book is to examine as many of those strengths as possible. Since the advent of the internet, this is also the first generation of children able to benefit from the combined knowledge and experience of the global village. Some of the topics that illustrate parental differences include co-sleeping, protectiveness, and the value of play and self-esteem. From her observations of other cultures, the author advocates implementing the best parenting practices from each culture.
How Parental Differences are Reflected in Social Systems
In the U.S., the high value placed on individuality is reflected both in parenting and in social institutions. In an interview, the author pointed out that the tendency of American parents to feel responsible for “shaping ” their child might be balanced by the Japanese culture’s belief in allowing children to become themselves. She also points out that learning about parental differences of other cultures differences can help parents realize that there is not just one right way to parent, which can help them relax and enjoy their children more.
She provides many examples of the ways that cultural parental differences are reflected in social systems. For example, in France, school lunchtime consists of several courses and lasts for two hours, which reflects the cultural value placed on relaxation and community during mealtimes. Schools in Finland provide individualized education plans for each student depending upon their academic strengths and interests and abilities.
In an article in the Wall Street Journal, she compares some of the educational differences between the U.S. and Japan. One of the most striking differences was that in Japan, every student studies home economics from fifth grade through high school. Home economics includes such diverse and practical courses as embroidery, woodworking, meal planning, cooking and grocery shopping. In the U.S., home economics courses, which were once offered to girls while boys engaged in classes considered more “masculine” such as woodworking, have virtually disappeared.
In a review, one criticism of the book was that while it offered many examples of potentially beneficial cultural exchanges, many of them would require structural changes to implement. One such change is demonstrated by the highly regarded University of Chicago Laboratory School, which now makes home economics compulsory for their seventh and eighth-grade curriculum. Their website states that the courses foster
“competency to make educated and intelligent choices, and to apply principles and generalizations to new situations.”
Individually, parents do have the power to implement some of the beneficial practices of other cultures. For example, they can consider sleeping arrangements that foster a sense security, eating habits that reflect self-care, and activities that promote kindness and community as well as independence.