Is Europe turning its back on liberal parenting? Probably not

No, you can’t do it mañana…Spanish children are being told to do household chores

After all those years under Franco, it’s perhaps not surprising that modern-day Spain is generally considered a fairly liberal-Left, tolerant sort of place. Weed and cocaine are more or less decriminalised, socialist mayors are not an endangered species, and as anyone who’s been to the Costa can testify, they turn a blind eye to some pretty degenerate  antics by visiting Brits.

Still, conservatism seems to be in the resurgence, if this new Spanish law designed to improve children’s behaviour is anything to go by. Under the country’s proposed child protection bill, children under 18 will be legally obliged to do chores around the house if their parents want them to.

True, it’s not quite clear what penalties the state will prescribe if little Jose or Maria refuses to do the washing up – no telly after tea time, for example, or an evening reading one of the duller novels of Miguel de Cervantes.

But the idea overall, apparently, is to remind them to “participate in family life” and respect “their parents and siblings.” We’ve had similar concerns in this country, with teachers claiming that parents’ refusal to make kids muck in around the house is turning them into a “nation of little Buddhas“.

How much of a challenge this new Spanish law poses to progressive parenting is open to debate. Another clause stipulates that children should do chores “regardless of their gender”, which suggests this is actually designed to stop Maria doing all the housework while Jose is having machismo time with his Dad. But it isn’t the first country in Europe that seems to be re-embracing some of the ideas of old-fashioned parenting.

Take Sweden, for example, where smacking was outlawed in 1979. It’s long been the model for the liberal, child-centred approach, and often cited as an one that Britain should follow. Yet six months ago, a book by a Swedish psychiatrist, David Eberhard, claimed that the growing reluctance to tell children what to do was turning Sweden into a land of ill-mannered brats.

“We live in a culture where so-called experts say that children are ‘competent’ and the conclusion is that children should decide what to eat, what to wear, and when to go to bed,” he says. “If you have a dinner party, they never sit quietly. They interrupt. They’re always in the centre. The problem is that when they become young adults, they take with them the expectation that everything is centred around them.”

No wonder, then, that everyone shouts at each other so much in those Scandi-crime dramas.

Needless to say, Mr Eberhard’s conclusions caused have considerable controversy in Sweden. In his defence, he points to growing truancy rates, a rise in anxiety disorders, and the country’s declining performance in educational league tables. “There’s no scientific evidence whatsoever that an authoritarian upbringing is harmful to kids,” he adds. “The family is not a democracy.”

Sweden, however, is a democracy, one that is even more liberal than Spain. And one of the characteristics of such democracies is that once permissive parenting laws are introduced, it is very hard to change them back again, without accusations of violating the rights of the parents – and kids – who want things to stay as they are. Despite the fact that most of those same people backed the smacking ban for everyone, not just themselves.

So things are unlikely to change soon. Instead, look out for a Scandi murder-mystery involving a strict parent.



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