Globalization has allowed us to discover and learn more about all sorts of previously unknown ideas and concepts, and parenting is certainly no exception. Cultures across the planet have wildly different approaches to raising or education children, some of which may shock Americans — although the feeling is often mutual.
NPR has gathered an interesting collection of general parenting trends from around the world, some of which may catch on here, while others would be unthinkable. It is interesting to consider how and why certain societies adopt the parenting norms that they do. How each generation is raised has a tremendous impact on overall values and attitudes, and those parenting methods are in turn influenced by all sorts of other external factors (climate, geographic, prevailing economic conditions, etc).
Ponder this while taking a look at the following.
1. In Norway, kids nap outside even in subzero temperatures
In Norway, childhood is very institutionalized. When a kid turns one year old, he or she starts going to Barnehage (Norwegian for “children’s garden”), which is basically state-subsidized day care.
Parents pay a few hundred dollars a month and their kids are taken care of from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Toddlers spend a ton of time outside at Barnehage, even in extremely cold temperatures. It’s not uncommon to see kids bundled up outside during a Scandinavian winter, taking a nap in their strollers.
Even with the obvious benefits provided by the government in Norway, some parents complain about the lack of creativity in people’s approaches to parenting.
One American mother adjusting to raising kids in Norway wrote:
“There’s a sense that there’s just one right way to do things. And everyone does it that way. In America there are different parenting styles — co-sleeping, attachment parenting, etc. Here there is just one way, more or less: all kids go to bed at 7, all attend the same style of preschool, all wear boots, all eat the same lunch … that’s the Norwegian way.”
2. Vietnamese moms train their babies to pee on command
Here’s a good one. In Vietnam, parents train their babies to pee on command. Kind of like Pavlov with his salivating dogs. Except this is moms with peeing babies. The Chinese do it too, apparently. Parents start by noticing when their baby starts peeing and making a little whistle sound. Soon enough, the baby starts to associate the whistle with peeing and voila!
Think this sounds a little odd? Or a little like someone is conflating a kid with a pet schnauzer? Well, researchers say Vietnamese babies are usually out of diapers by 9 months. What do you think now?
3. Traditionally, Kisii people in Kenya avoid looking their babies in the eye
Kisii, or Gussii, moms in Kenya carry their babies everywhere, but they don’t indulge a baby’s cooing. Rather, when their babies start babbling, moms avert their eyes.
It’s likely to sound harsh to a Western sensibility, but within the context of Kisii culture, it makes more sense. Eye contact is an act bestowed with a lot of power. It’s like saying, “You’re in charge,” which isn’t the message parents want to send their kids. Researchers say Kisii kids are less attention-seeking as a result.
4. Danish parents leave their kids on the curb while they go shopping
In Denmark, writes Mei-Ling Hopgood in How Eskimos Keep Their Babies Warm, “children are frequently left outside to get frisk luft, or fresh air — something parents think is essential for health and hearty development — while caregivers dine and shop.”
As you might imagine, this idea sends shivers down the spines of many parents in the United States. In New York, a couple (one of whom was Danish) was arrested for leaving their child outside a BBQ restaurant while they went inside to eat.
“I was just in Denmark and that’s exactly what they do,” Mariom Adler, a New Yorker out walking with her 2-year-old son, told the New York Times. “We would see babies all over unattended. We were stunned, frankly. But Denmark also struck us as exceptionally civilized.”
5. In the Polynesian Islands, children take care of children
We’re not talking any old big brother baby-sitting little sister here. We’re talking organized kid collective.
Hopgood writes in her book that adults take the lead in caring for babies in Polynesia, but as soon as a child can walk, he or she is turned over to the care of other children.
“Preschool-aged children learned to calm babies,” she wrote, “and toddlers became self-reliant because they were taught that that was the only way they could hang out with the big kids.”
Jane and James Ritchie, a husband-and-wife anthropology team, observed a similar phenomenon over decades in New Zealand and the Polynesian Islands. But they don’t think it would fly in the United States.
“Indeed in Western societies, the degree of child caretaking that seems to apply in most of Polynesia would probably be regarded as child neglect and viewed with some horror,” they wrote in Growing Up in Polynesia.
6. Japanese parents let their kids go out by themselves
Parents in Japan allow their kids a lot of independence after a certain age. It isn’t uncommon for 7-year-olds and even 4-year-olds to ride the subway by themselves.
Christine Gross-Loh, author of Parenting Without Borders, lives in Japan for part of each year, and when she’s there she lets her kids run errands without her, taking the subway and wandering around town as they may. But she wouldn’t dare do the same back in the United States.
“If I let them out on their own like that in the U.S., I wouldn’t just get strange looks,” she told TED. “Somebody would call Child Protective Services.”
7. Spanish kids stay up late!
Spanish families are focused on the social and interpersonal aspects of child development, according to Sara Harkness, a professor in the Department of Human Development and Family Studies at the University of Connecticut.
The idea of a child going to bed at 6:30 p.m. is totally alien to Spanish parents, Harkness told TED.
“They were horrified at the concept,” she said. “Their kids were going to bed at 10 p.m.” so they could participate in family life in the evenings. The same is true in Argentina, according to Hopgood.
8. Aka pygmy fathers win the award
For the Aka people in central Africa, the male and female roles are virtually interchangeable. While the women hunt, the men mind the children. And vice versa.
Therein lies the rub, according to professor Barry Hewlett, an American anthropologist. “There’s a level of flexibility that’s virtually unknown in our society,” Hewlett told The Guardian. “Aka fathers will slip into roles usually occupied by mothers without a second thought and without, more importantly, any loss of status — there’s no stigma involved in the different jobs.”
This flexibility, apparently, extends to men suckling their children. Ever wonder why men have nipples? That’s why.
9. French kids eat everything
Set mealtimes; no snacking whatsoever; the expectation that if you try something enough times, you’ll like it. These are among the “food rules” in France that are taken as given. The result is French kids who eat what adults eat, from foie gras to stinky cheese. Tell that to my nephew.
Of course, it goes without saying that most of these are just generalizations: not every Argentinian parent lets their kids stay up very late, nor do all French parents have such a liberal attitude towards what their children eat. Individual and subcultural nuances doubtless exist.
But perhaps like many other globalizing trends, we may start to see the development of trans-cultural approaches and standards. Just as cuisines, art styles, and consumer trends have emerged across the planet, so too will certain parenting ideas.
Then again, as I noted earlier, child rearing is a fundamental characteristic of a given society, and thus not something that can be transcribed nor altered so easily. Granted, the pace of globalization continues to accelerate, challenging all sorts of established cultural norms and concepts. Only time will tell, but in the meantime it is interesting to learn about — and learn from — how our fellow humans practice this vital social institution.