Sweden’s brats

I get some flack from time to time here on the Internet because I am not opposed to corporal punishment of children by their parents when done in a loving and appropriate manner.

(Aside: Yes, I know… Some of you who will come across this post believe that “loving, appropriate corporal punishment” is one big oxymoron, and my own reflections and observations on my own upbringing are a lie my heart whispers to me. Got it. Also, some of you who will come across this like to say “hitting children” instead of “spanking” because you think equivocation is a great way to win arguments without actually making your case. Got it. Thanks for playing.)

It’s a topic that I visit from time to time. Some related posts that come to mind (rather, that pop out of a textual search on my blog) would be…

It came to mind, this morning, when I read this Wall Street Journal piece: “Is Sweden Raising a Generation of Brats?” (article may be behind a pay wall or require registration, I am not sure).

In 1979 Sweden became the first country to make spanking children completely illegal on a national scale. Consequently, the current state of its “social experiment” is of interest to many–and, as I will try to make sure I mention, erroneous conclusions will surely be drawn by both sides of the issue (or by all three/four/five/etc. sides of the issue–in case I missed anyone). So what is going on with Sweden’s children?

Well, apparently if you ask Dr. David Eberhard, they are being turned into undisciplined tyrants who are increasingly running their families and the country. That seems to be the thrust of his book How Children Took Power, published last year.

Dr. Eberhard is a Swedish psychologist and father of six, and his book is apparently splitting the sentiment of Swedes down the middle. And, to be clear, he isn’t necessarily saying that spanking should be allowed again in Sweden; rather, he is arguing that the child-centric policy of the country is ruining children, families, and their society. As the WSJ reports:

“Dr. Eberhard says Sweden’s child-centric model has ‘gone too far’ and his book suggests the over-sensitivity to children and a reluctance to discipline has bred a nation of ouppfostrade, which loosely translates to ‘badly raised children.’ ‘All this kowtowing to the kids actually causes kids and society more harm than good,’ Dr. Eberhard said in an interview. He suggests the trend could contribute to higher anxiety levels or depression at a later stage in life for these children.”

He admits that his book is not based on particular scientific studies but, rather, on his own observations:

“Core to Dr. Eberhard’s argument is his observation of an increase in anxiety disorders and self-harming problems as Swedish children get older and find themselves ‘poorly equipped to deal with adult life,’ he says. Dr. Eberhard is head of the psychiatric ward at Danderyds Sjukhus, a hospital north of Stockholm.”

Again, to be clear, he says, “I’m not advocating going back to slapping (sic) kids,” lest anyone say I am trying to imply he does. Rather, he ties what he sees into a much larger modern, cultural package that has enthroned children at their own expense.

However, do I believe that the move Sweden made to ban loving, appropriate spanking under any circumstances is a symptom of the attitude that has caused the mess that Swedes are beginning to see? Yes, I do.

Could the good doctor be wrong? Certainly. One teacher outside of Stockholm is quoted by the WSJ as saying, “The kids of today, who are the children of parents who did not experience much discipline themselves, become very obstinate and self-centered,” but, you know, maybe she’s wrong, too. Some who point to what seems to be a deteriorating childhood culture in Sweden will want to fix on the ban on spanking as “the” cause, while others who believe permissiveness is a virtue and that restraints on childhood wants and passions in violations of their rights as, what Sweden calls, “competent individuals” (in contradiction to Proverbs’ statement that “foolishness is bound up in the heart of a child”) will look for what silver linings they can point to, instead, and proclaim victory.

For me, it isn’t just one thing (extreme anti-spanking fanaticism), but one thing (extreme anti-spanking fanaticism) can serve as a telling symptom indicating the possible presence of much larger and more destructive issues (anti-children worldviews masquerading as pro-children worldviews).

The ramifications of some choices can take a lot of time to show themselves. Child-rearing philosophies? Sometimes multiple generations. And, whether they will be happy with the results in the end or not, multiple generations of Swedish citizens are apparently serving as the world’s lab rats concerning a minimal-discipline philosophy. Barely two generations in, the real results–the full results–are yet to be seen.

However, it should get our attention that in a nation which we have often identified as one of the ten tribes of Israel, possibly Naphthali, some are seeing a trend that is reminiscent of the prophecy of Isaiah 3:12, “As for My people, children are their oppressors, and women rule over them. O My people! Those who lead you cause you to err, and destroy the way of your paths.” Regardless, another prophecy of Israel comes to mind, where God says of those who abandon His laws and way of life, “Cursed shall be the fruit of your womb” (Deut 28:18, ESV). When a nation completely abandons God as a guiding light and trusts in its own wisdom apart from Him (Prov. 3:7), its children are going to suffer.

Follow up on “Chinese Moms”

I just noticed these Wall Street Journal follow ups on the “Chinese mothers” article to which I referred yesterday.  One is a review of Ms. Chua’s book Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother.  The other is a counter point from someone raised with a more laid back approach: “In Defense of Laissez Faire Parenting.”

I thought that those who read yesterday’s post might be interested in these.

Is the “Chinese mother” a superior model?

Amy Chua at the 2007 Texas Book Festival, Aust...
Author Amy Chua ((CC) Larry D. Moore.)

Forget the Chinese stealth fighter, and make way for the Chinese mother!

I am going to post this link without much comment (I will leave that to all of you), but I have to say that it grabbed my attention!  Refreshing in ways, startling in others, eyebrow raising in most…  If the article was meant to provoke interest in the author’s book, Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother, it worked for me.  (And after grabbing the URL for that link, I’m a little interested in the author’s World on Fire, as well, the author of both being Yale professor and “Chinese mother” Amy Chua.)

I couldn’t help but think of a proverb when I read this passage in the article:

“What Chinese parents understand is that nothing is fun until you’re good at it. To get good at anything you have to work, and children on their own never want to work, which is why it is crucial to override their preferences. This often requires fortitude on the part of the parents because the child will resist; things are always hardest at the beginning, which is where Western parents tend to give up.  But if done properly, the Chinese strategy produces a virtuous circle. Tenacious practice, practice, practice is crucial for excellence; rote repetition is underrated in America. Once a child starts to excel at something—whether it’s math, piano, pitching or ballet—he or she gets praise, admiration and satisfaction. This builds confidence and makes the once not-fun activity fun. This in turn makes it easier for the parent to get the child to work even more.”

Which proverb?  “Foolishness is bound up in the heart of a child; The rod of correction will drive it far from him” (Proverbs 22:15).  How many parents cave to that foolishness?  And how many today would find the idea that a parent must “override” their child’s “preferences” absolutely horrifying?  (Regardless of where you draw the line, you would have to agree that some parents today have refused to manage their children’s “preferences” resulting in absolutely horrific consequences.)

The passage on being called “garbage” and repeating the act with her own daughter (and what sort of childhood crime would result in such a designation) makes for interesting reading, as well.

Oh–the whole article is interesting reading…  Whether it will make you happy, sad, or horrified, you should check it out: “Why Chinese Mothers Are Superior” (One of the tabs on the page contains a video of two moms descended from “Chinese mothers” who are taking a different path, for those who would like to see another point of view.)

Spanking bans, good idea or not?

The title above refers to the choice of some nations to completely outlaw spanking as a tool for discipline for parents.  The choice is generally made by leaders and legislators who equate any spanking at all — any sort of corporal punishment — with child abuse.

I clearly do not feel the same way.  Now, I certainly do feel that if spanking is the only tool a parent has for disciplining a child, he or she is an ineffective parent, indeed.  And I feel that choosing to spank takes wisdom.  (How many aspects of child-rearing do not?)  But to completely equate the spanking of a child by a parent to child abuse without any qualification whatsoever is ignorant at best and dogmatically stupid at worst.

I’ve written about this topic before.  Most directly, you can read my thoughts in these two posts:

But I mention it now because of a Wall Street Journal article I read on the topic that is really balanced, discussing the scientifically demonstrated benefits to children of appropriate spanking and the mistaken thoughts of those who believe spanking is all there is to disciplining children.  You might consider reading it yourself: “Spare the spanking, spoil the report card?” (Subtitle: “What a new study and the Bible say about punishing children.”)

Reading the article should be encouraging to those who believe that spanking is a valid tool for parents who are devoted to rearing successful, happy children, while also serving as a warning to those who wield it unthinkingly and unreflectively.

Actually, it reminded me of another article I had read in, of all places, the Akron Law Review: “The Science and Statistics Behind Spanking Suggest that Laws Allowing Corporal Punishment are in the Best Interests of the Child” by Jason M. Fuller.  (The website contains the abstract of the paper, but the entire paper is downloadable from there.)

As these articles make it clear, those countries that ban spanking outright really have no idea what they are doing and may end up harming more children than they help.

I’ve discussed before other things my wife and I have done instead of spanking (e.g., “Children in Church Services” and “Twilight and Children in Church sure bring ’em in!”), but I readily and happily admit that spanking has also been among our tools in child-rearing.  It’s certainly a topic that deserves more discussion than this blog post will give it, but I really thought that the WSJ article and the Akron Law Review article were both worth passing along.

We have great resources on the Tomorrow’s World website, as well, including our booklet “Successful Parenting God’s Way” and many articles, such as this one by the late evangelist John H. Ogwyn, “What Is Happening to Our Kids?” (which I found by doing a search on the word “discipline”).  Check them out!

(Click to read or order free booklet, "Successful Parenting God's Way"