The concept of children as “Kings” and “Queens” is a special one. We do not come often across it, even if it makes sense. Children are our future. The way we take care of them is how we take care of our future. Therefore, how we raise them is important. Norway and Scandinavia are generally very aware of this issue and they are known to be some of the countries where children are raised in a special way.
We who grew up in former communist countries need to keep in mind that our cultures were deliberately held back in many areas of study, like psychology and parenting, among many others. After the Second World War, Western Europe and Scandinavia were rebuilding their societies in freedom while our countries were going through communism as a new social experiment and the Cold War.
After arriving in Norway to study (2004) I quickly noticed the difference in mentality and way of thinking between students from former communist and African countries and those coming from Western Europe and the Nordic countries. I did not understand much at the time, and many of the Western and Nordic students seemed way too sensitive to me. I couldn’t quite grasp what was it.
Later, I made friends with Norwegians and I tried to ask different questions to help me understand why everything was so different from what I knew. By that time I managed to understand that it had to do with the way they were raised. My interlocutors couldn’t necessarily give me an answer since they weren’t educated in the field, but what they knew was that they were following Norwegian Law and that the child protection system was very powerful.Children are informed at school, when they are about 10 years old, that they have rights, and that they are protected by law if anything happens at home. When I say anything, I mean: sexual abuse, physical violence, addiction, too many people crossing the house and partying, too much alcohol, etc. We all know that children speak at school about what happens at home. Therefore, the teachers and the educational stuff is obliged by low to inform the authorities if they hear anything suspect in that regard. At that point, the Child Protection interferes in the family, and some times, it removes the children from their parents, if they find out that they have been exposed to some of what I mentioned before. This is not something to joke about.
In my communist childhood, I have experienced violence, both in school and in people’s homes. The system used many kinds of violence to keep people under control. Being silent for fear of the system meant “being good” and staying safe.
Nordic countries have their own ways to keep people silent, but direct, blunt, violence is not one of them. Here, the “fear” is of “what other people say” and the “fear” of being left out of social groups has some impact. In a country of a few million people that is important, unlike in other countries where tens of millions of people live and work. Another Nordic way of maintaining silence is to give everybody the opportunity to have a roof over their head and a full stomach. As long as everybody has their primary needs met, the need to protest is not that urgent.
In my effort to understand why the culture of the place was so different in this particular respect, I came across the most prominent “child” psychologist in the world and some books she wrote. All the pieces of the puzzle fell into place once I read her books and her personal story.
Her name is Alice Miller, and she is the first psychologist to write about what it is like to be a child, about the various feelings one may have as a child. I remember that we grew up with the notion that “children should be seen, but not heard”, with violence and bullying as teaching methods in school and at home. Children were not “humans”; they were just “something” with no feelings, something that had been given birth just because the system required it. It was illegal to have an abortion in Romania and all mothers who had given birth to at least four children were declared “heroine mothers” for contributing to the country’s labor force. It was a different kind of “baby boom” the rest of Europe experienced after the War. Not natural, but ordered by the communist state.
Scandinavia was not much different. It is enough to speak with people older than 60, some even younger, and if they are open about their own lives one can hear many violent stories, of child abuse, domestic abuse, of oppression of indigenous people. These things are part of history. We cannot either deny or go around them.
What is different here is that when people in the medical system came across Alice Miller’s books in the ’80s, they took seriously what they learned from her and implemented this new-found knowledge into the system. They created a child protection system that puts children first and that confuses many immigrants for whom children’s rights are a foreign notion.
But I guess we all learn. If any of you is curious to find and read Alice Miller’s books (they have been translated into many languages), you will find the research she did on people who shaped history like Hitler and Ceausescu.
For those who understand Norwegian, I leave here a link to a TV show made by the Norwegian National Television about Alice Miller, and where it is very visible that she wrote about her own feelings and she used her self as a study subject.