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Why Don't Europeans Like Kids?

So I opened my Facebook account early this morning and came across this gem. A friend of mine had linked to an essay at the BBC by a woman named...

So I opened my Facebook account early this morning and came across this gem.

A friend of mine had linked to an essay at the BBC by a woman named Joanna Robertson. It was about  a new ordinance in Berlin making it legal for children to make noise between the hours of 9:00 a.m. and 7:00 pm. That’s right. The Germans had to pass a law in order for children to be…well, children.

When you read the author’s very funny account of what it’s like to raise a child in Germany, you may be a bit taken aback. As she reports, “‘Excessive child noise’ warranted a police call-out to our building for the crying of a newborn baby and, one Saturday afternoon, a group of cheerful 12-year-olds playing a game of Monopoly.”

And it’s not just in Berlin where things are rough for kids. Robertson also describes the rigorous and hyper-centralized French educational system her daughter was forced to endure, as well as the prohibition on getting your kids’ clothes dirty in Italy.

My friend on Facebook added this comment to her link: “Interesting comparison – wish they’d included London!”

Funny she should ask. One of the very first essays I published after moving to London a few years back was tellingly entitled “Where Have All the Playgrounds Gone?” It ran in the International Herald Tribune and it was an account – based on my then-newbie American eyes – of just how eye-poppingly different British expectations of childhood were from those I’d experienced in America.

As I wrote at the time: “Drama classes don’t advertise creativity; they talk about self-confidence, public-speaking and diction. Swimming lessons are not about making kids more comfortable in the water. They’re about learning the backstroke, dammit!

(Of course, Americans are also annoying in their own right. Robertson notes the advice she got from one American parenting coach about how her family should all just “sleep together on cushions on the floor and switch to unpasteurized milk.”)

So today – to let the world know that it’s not just Germany and France – but all of Europe that seems to want children to grow up really quickly, I’m going to link to that early pre-blog essay I wrote on parenting culture in the U.K. and my own reactions therein.


Image: Pondering At The Playground by christopherdale via Flickr under a Creative Commons License.


Speaking of kids, I am off to the hospital for the last of my son’s in-hospital allergy tests. The score so far: Peanuts: win. Milk: loss. Let’s hope that sesame is more than a draw…

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  1. Daryl Boylan March 15, 2010 at 7:49 pm #

    Kids are now permitted to make noise??? Well, that explains the appeal of the Nazis.

  2. Amber March 15, 2010 at 8:11 pm #

    My question is this–with the “progressive” agenda Europeans often encourage, why is recent child development research being ignored? Namely, less is more? Now, I am not trying to be critical. I don’t have any parenting approach that I side with, unless go-with-the-flow parenting has a name that I am unaware of, I am just confused with the mixed messages I get from the UK. I guess I am showing off my ignorance, forgive me.

  3. delialloyd March 15, 2010 at 8:27 pm #

    hmmmm. interesting thought. hadn’t thought abt this from that perspective. i guess they are just more “old school” when it comes to parenting but not social policy? you’re right-it is confusing!

  4. Shelley March 16, 2010 at 9:42 am #

    Interesting that you think Europeans want their kids to grow up fast. I have had the impression here in the NE that small children get carted in prams longer than usual and that they have pacifiers stuck in their faces long after an American child would have resisted. The stories I’ve heard about some middle class mothers protecting their children are alarming and one wonders when their children might ever encounter what I recognise as the real world. All that said, I have to hold up my hand and confess that I’m not a fan of children: I have none and I’m an only child and an only grandchild. So my opinion in this area is probably not valid anyhow.

  5. BigLittleWolf March 16, 2010 at 7:04 pm #

    I had to smile at this article. Having traveled a good bit to the Benelux countries, and having lived in France several times, I found it amusing that you would more likely see a couple in a restaurant with their dog, than with their children.

    That said, I took my children with me to restaurants from the time they were babies; they learned young what behavior was acceptable.

    Being part of a European family for 10+ years, I found surprising differences in attentiveness to small children in particular – which might explain the relative lack of scars on my kids (from falls, burns, and assorted accidents), versus most of their cousins.

    My in-laws applauded the ability for my kids to articulate their thoughts and interact with adults early on, yet found my (basic) safety rules to be “overprotective.”

    Cultural differences are eternally fascinating.

    • delialloyd March 16, 2010 at 8:06 pm #

      oh yeah, totally forgot about the dog thing. so true. thx for dropping by!

  6. oilandgarlic March 16, 2010 at 9:37 pm #

    From my very casual observations in Italy, where I visit and have friends & family, it seems that Italian parents try to integrate young kids into adult life (especially in restaurant settings) while Americans try to do it the other way around — change their lives to fit the kids. Maybe I’m entirely wrong as I don’t have children!

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