Last week we looked at the school system in The Netherlands, so, along those lines, let’s look at the lifestyle of children here. There have been numerous studies in recent years proclaiming that Dutch children are some of the happiest in the world and there are some factors that might contribute to that.
1. Children here are given large amounts of autonomy. Rather than being driven everywhere, they bike on their own. Many young children (think early elementary years) are still escorted to school by their parents, but once they are in the later years of primary school and secondary school, they go alone even when it takes 30 minutes or more to get to school. Likewise, children bike themselves to their after school and weekend sports clubs or music lessons with their gear which they were probably responsible for gathering as well. Also, many children ride public transportation by themselves.
Children may run errands alone. Many kids go to appointments on their own. For example, when I take my daughter to the orthodontist, many of the kids come alone, go into the appointment alone and get the information needed and schedule their own appointments before leaving. Kids also take care of shopping on their own when they need to or are asked by parents. It is very common to see groups of secondary age kids in the grocery store in the morning buying items for their lunch. I have also seen children sent to buy a few items for the family when the store is close to their home.
And finally, Dutch children are encouraged to just go out and play without having to stay at their home to do so or to be overly supervised. They don’t have to check in regularly and they aren’t checked on. During the distance learning period in the spring, some of the children in our neighborhood spent hours every day building a fort in the wooded area by the houses and no parents ever went to check on them.
2. Children here don’t always have much “stuff.” Rather than have large rooms in which they collect copious amounts of toys and other junk, Dutch kids have smaller rooms, less storage and hence less stuff. And while some people may feel that having stuff leads to happiness, it is, in fact, rather freeing to have less to keep up with. In addition, when you don’t have “things”, you are more likely to go out to play, spend time with friends or engage in physical activity.
3. Another theory is that Dutch parents are happy which makes the household and the children happier. The Dutch place a high level of importance on a balance between work and family time. They do not work excessive hours, and it is culturally accepted that there are times when family obligations will trump work commitments. In addition, Dutch fathers play an active role in child rearing and care which may also lead to balance and happiness in the household. I see many fathers in The Netherlands taking their children to school which is something I rarely saw in the US. In addition, when I see Dutch families doing things together, it seems like the parents are more engaged in the activity and spend more time talking with the family or friends they are with rather than being on a device. I personally feel that in the US, I saw more parents on devices even when they were participating in family time out of the home.
4. There are also reports that Dutch children find their peer groups to be supportive and helpful and do not deal with issues regarding bullying and social identity as much as children in other countries. Also, it seems that social media and its pressures don’t stress Dutch kids much at all (see the link to the study below).
5. Dutch children are seen as having a “voice.” Within the family unit, children are listened to and encouraged to have opinions. Likewise, at school, children are given the freedom to express themselves and do not experience as much authoritativeness from administration. In return, the students generally trust their teachers. And, parents may not put as much pressure on children in The Netherlands because they allow them the freedom to be themselves which may lead to more feelings of happiness.
6. Finally, overall, the Dutch consider themselves to have a good life. They are a wealthy country with a good economy, they have decent healthcare and education, and there is little worry of incidents of mass violence particularly in schools. These factors mean less stress and more happiness.
Of course, no culture is perfect and the Dutch do receive criticism for an unhealthy diet among kids. There are also, of course, issues of poverty and racism to deal with. And, for better or worse, Dutch children do seem to be exposed to sex (in terms of both education, discussion and the actual act) at a much earlier age than in many other cultures.
All in all, though, I think there are some great things about being a kid in The Netherlands and some interesting aspects of child rearing to consider and potentially adopt in order to encourage children to be happy and well-adjusted. I hope you have enjoyed this week’s peek at life in another culture. Until next time, I wish you all, adults and children alike, much happiness!
**Here are a few other things to note about life for Dutch kids-drinking age is 18 and so is driving age. Of course, many kids get a license to drive a moped (which are generally driven in bike lanes) much sooner than that. Tons of kids here play an extracurricular sport whether it is tennis, soccer or field hockey. There is an idea/saying in The Netherlands that is ingrained in kids early on which is “doe normaal” (be normal) basically meaning that you should not behave in a way to stand out or to be different in a negative way. It kind of translates to “stop, that’s crazy enough.”
Finally, this is an interesting study regarding the stressors of teens in The Netherlands.