Fear is a virus. It can spread even to the independent reaches of Scandinavia, as this letter suggests. It comes to us from Ingebjørg Berg Holm, an interior architect, novelist, and mother of two adventurous kids, aged 4 and 6.The 6-year-old walks himself home and runs small errands. His little sister is looking forward to do the same when she reaches his age.
Dear Free-Range Kids: I stumbled across your blog googling kids-safety. I am Norwegian, and I have recently become concerned about what I see as a worrying trend:”Americanisation” of parenting. Just as in USA (and Australia, apparently,) parents are restricting their kids’ freedom despite the fact that the society is safer than ever.
Still, reading your blog I realised that we are still lucky here in Scandinavia. What is seen as normal parenting here could get me arrested if I moved to Australia or USA!
And, the thing is: Our kids are fine!
You are probably aware of this already. But if you need some inspirational tales about a whole, crazy population with thriving kids, I`ll give you some examples of what is normal, widely accepted parenting in our little corner of the world:
-Kids walk to school. This is dependent on how safe the traffic is, not everyone has safe roads. But if it is safe (enough), kids as young as 6-7 years do this, or start learning to do it.
-Babies sleep outside in prams. Yes, even in winter. In the yard, on the balcony or outside the cafè where the parent watches them through the window. If we are not within earshot or have visual contact, we use baby monitors. Or just check upon them often.
–Kids are left at home alone. This varies a lot, not all kids or parents feel comfortable doing this when the kids are small. But most kids are used to this from at least 9-10 years of age. Many starts much earlier. Teachers/child psychologists etc. encourage it. My own 6-year old walks home from school alone (we live 5 min. walk from the school) and spends one glorious hour at home alone before a parent comes home from school.
-Kids handles dangerous things. In Norway, it’s widely accepted that kids should learn to handle a knife from 6 years of age. Not unsupervised in the beginning, off course. Parents teach safety rules and proper knife handling and have a band-aid ready. It is quite common to get at whittle knife for your 6th birthday.
We also go on hikes where the kids roam relatively free in nature filled with vipers (not like the Australian snakes, but still), dangerous cliffs etc.
-Kids are naked. This custom is actually under pressure, because people are starting to fear pedophiles with cameras. And because natural nakedness is having a general set-back in Scandinavia. But still, it is not uncommon to see naked kids on our beaches.
–We are not irresponsible! We use bike helmets,(but teach the kids to remove them on playgrounds,) and car seats, child-proofs our homes and educate our kids about sexual predators.
Stricter rules about playground safety, mandatory car seats and rising awareness about dangers like drowning accidents have been very important. In 20 years, the number of kids dying in accidents has plummeted. Norway and Sweden are now some of the safest countries in the world!
But, in general, we believe in keeping a child safe by educating them and empowering them. Not by constant monitoring. And our kids are more than fine!(I apologise for the many typos, strange wording and bad grammar.)
— Vennlig hilsen
Ingebjørg Berg Holm
What a sane-sounding country. When we want our kids to have some unsupervised time and onlookers say, “No way!” let’s counter with “NOR-way!”
(Sorry. It’s Sunday. Brain is fried.) – L.