News Sinead Moriarty

Saturday 23 August 2014

Sinead Moriarty: We won't do children any favours by being too soft – or too tough

Published 20/11/2013 | 02:00

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Sweden has often been hailed as the perfect place to raise children. With its generous parental leave, affordable childcare and child-friendly society, it appears idyllic. Or so we thought. A new book has refuted this and is claiming that if you spare the rod, you spoil the child.

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Sweden was the first country to outlaw smacking children back in 1979. In Ireland we are still debating whether to introduce a ban or not.

No one could ever accuse us of making snap decisions. The Swedes have blazed the trail in child protection and have continuously flown the flag for children's rights.

They believe that children should be the main focus of all families. They think children should make their own decisions and always be listened to.

Child-centric Sweden is now almost 35 years down the non-smacking road but it seems that all is not well.

The child-friendly approach taken by the country is considered by some to be backfiring and churning out a nation of spoilt, ill-mannered brats.

So says, David Eberhard, a prominent Swedish psychiatrist and father of six. In his recently published book, 'How Children Took Power', he argues that over the years the Swedes have stopped disciplining their children completely.

"Of course you should listen to your children but in Sweden it's gone too far. They tend to decide everything in families, when to go to bed, when to eat . . . even what to watch on television."

It does seem rather extreme to allow young children full control of the TV remote, their food and their bedtimes. Eberhard is also shocked to have discovered that many Swedish parents also decide where to go on holidays based on their children's preferences.

Hold on, isn't that just called 'making your life easier'? No parent really wants to go to a noisy, overcrowded, child-friendly hotel with the same buffet dinner every night. But if your children are happy and occupied, you get a break. Dragging young children around Paris to look at art and architecture is about as much 'fun' as undergoing root-canal treatment.

Surely Eberhard, a man with a fine brood of his own, understands that a happy child equals a happy parent.

Besides, aren't you a lot more likely to want to smack your child if they are running around the Louvre, knocking over priceless objets d'art, than watching them happily running around a field after a football with 20 other children?

However, he has a point. Soft parenting does seem to be producing a generation of children who put themselves first. The 'Growing up in Ireland' study revealed that one in five Irish children have significant emotional or behavioural problems.

IT found that children whose parents don't impose many rules fare just as badly as children whose parents are authoritarian. Eberhard believes that centring your life around children is not doing them any good in the long run. He points to Sweden's growing truancy rates and a rise in anxiety disorders as tangible results of its liberal approach to parenting.

"Their expectations are too high and life is too hard for them. We see it with anxiety disorders and self-harming which has risen dramatically."

Ireland seems to be heading Sweden's way. We mollycoddle our children much more than our parents did. We drive them around, like taxi drivers, from school to activities to play dates.

Positive affirmation and praise is effusively dished out for any achievement, however small. We may not have legally outlawed smacking yet, but you rarely see it happening anymore. Will we end up, like Sweden, with a nation of ill-mannered children unless we return to 'authoritarian' parenting?

Eberhard believes so. He claims that the only solution is to turn back the clock and return to stricter parenting where the parents make the decisions in the household and the child obeys rules and regulations.

"We've gone from not being physical towards children to not being allowed to say anything to them – it's not the same thing," he warns.

Over-protecting our children does not prepare them for life.

Eberhard believes it's time to stop thinking of our children as delicate creatures.

"Quick fixes don't exist, but I keep coming back to the same thing – children aren't as fragile as we think."

Wooden spoon manufacturers, get ready, your product may be back in vogue very soon.

Irish Independent

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