The concept of children as “Kings” and “Queens” is a special one. We do not often come across it, even if it makes sense. Children are our future. The way we take care of them shows how we take care of our future. Therefore, the way we raise our children is important. Norway and Scandinavia are generally very aware of this and are known to be countries where children are raised in particular ways.
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 such as psychology and parenting, for instance.
Following the Second World War, Western Europe and Scandinavia rebuilt their societies in freedom while our countries experienced communism almost like a form of social experiment. We also experienced the Cold War too.
In 2004, as I arrived in Norway for study, I quickly noticed the difference in mentality and way of thinking between students from the former Communist Bloc, North America, Latin America, Africa, and those coming from Western Europe and the Nordic countries. At the time, it felt to me that many of the Western and Nordic students seemed waaay too sensitive. I couldn’t quite grasp what it was.
Later, once I made Norwegian friends, I asked them questions that helped me understand why everything was so different from what I’d known before. With time, I realized that it was linked to the way they were brought up. My friends explained the Norwegian Law and the child protection system which are well developed. When they are ten years old, children find out at school about their rights. They also know that the law protects them if something wrong happens at home. Children are told about sexual abuse, physical violence, addiction, alcohol consumption and many other issues.
Moreover, teachers and educational staff are obliged by law to inform the authorities if they believe that something of concern might happen in a child’s family. At that point, the Child Protection gets involved with the family and sometimes this might lead to the children being removed from their parents. Child protection is an aspect which is taken very seriously in Norway.
In my communist childhood, I have witnessed violence, both at school and in people’s homes. The socio-political system often used violence to keep people under control, and being silent meant “being good” and staying safe, for fear of the system. Although Nordic countries have their ways of keeping people silent, direct and blunt violence is not something people are silent about.
Here the “fear” is about other people’s opinion about you, or being left out of social groups. In a country with a few million people, social isolation is an important issue, unlike in other countries with tens of millions of people who live and work in the same space. Another Nordic way to maintain silence is by giving everybody 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.
As I was getting to understand why the culture here was so different in this particular aspect, (child upbringing, and sensitivity), I came across one of most prominent child psychologists in the world and some of the books she wrote. As I read some the books and her personal story, all the pieces of the puzzle fell into place for me. Her name is Alice Miller, and she is the first psychologist to write about how it is like to be a child and about the various feelings a child experiences.
I remember growing up with the notion that “children should be seen, but not heard,” with violence and bullying at school and at home. It felt as if children were not human beings, but just “something” with no feelings, “something” born only because the system required it. During the Cold War, abortions were illegal in Romania, while mothers who had given birth to at least four children were acknowledged as “heroine mothers”. It was the way women contributed to growing the country’s labor force. This was a different kind of “baby boom” from the rest of Europe; ordered by the communist state in 1966.
Scandinavia was not much different either. If you talk to people older than 60, some even younger, and if they open up about their lives, you can hear many stories of child abuse, domestic abuse, oppression, and colonization of indigenous people. These things are part of history and we cannot deny nor avoid them.
However, the difference here is that, during the ‘80s, people in the medical system came across Alice Miller’s books and took them seriously. The newfound knowledge and understanding were implemented and embedded into the social system. It resulted in a child protection system that puts children first. This can confuse many immigrants for whom children’s rights are a foreign notion.
For those curious to find and read Alice Miller’s books, you will find research she did on people who shaped history. Hitler and Ceausescu are among them, and Alice Miller explains how their childhood trauma had influenced their behavior as adults. If you understand Norwegian, you can search for a TV show produced by the Norwegian National Television (NRK) about Alice Miller. Her experience as a survivor during the WWII determined her to study psychology.