Was Sweden right to spare the rod? A new book has attacked the 1979 decision to ban smacking

Philip O’Connor tots up the evidence for and against

Stockholm

With its generous maternity and paternity leave, affordable childcare and child-centric society, Sweden has long been the envy of parents all over the world.  But a new book suggests that being so focused on children may in fact do kids – and Swedish society – more harm than good.

In How The Children Took Power, the author and psychiatrist David Eberhard claims that since Sweden became the first country in the world to ban smacking in 1979, a measure now adopted by more than 30 countries including the UK, parents have also become less willing to discipline their children verbally. Eberhard argues that this has led kids to become the key decision-makers in families, and that parents and kids suffer as a result.

“[Children] decide what is to be watched on TV, what’s for dinner, where to go on holiday. They don’t go to places that parents decide any more – they go somewhere the kids will have a good time,” he says.

On paper at least, Sweden seems a perfect society for children and parents. Since introducing the ban on smacking, Sweden became one of the first countries in the world to ratify the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child in 1990. The government’s Early Childhood Education and Care programme forms the cornerstone of family policy, which puts children’s rights high on the national agenda by giving parents the right to take more than two years’ leave when they have children, with fathers encouraged to take an active role in their children’s lives.

Childcare is also heavily subsidised. A full-time preschool place for a child between the ages of one and two in Stockholm costs around £120 per month. According to the Family and Childcare Trust, the average nursery cost for a child under the age of two is £106.38 per week for 25 hours a week.

A recent UN report into child well-being ranked Sweden in fifth place after its Nordic neighbours Iceland, Finland and Norway, with the Netherlands topping the table.

But despite these apparent advantages, Eberhard argues that there has been a downside to the measures, which is evident in the increasing number of anxiety disorders and self-harming cases among young Swedish people. The UN has also pointed to an increase in child obesity.

“We’ve gone from not being physical towards children to not being allowed to say anything to them – it’s not the same thing,” says Eberhard.

“We have this notion that we must over-protect children, because there are so many terrible things that can happen to them. The effect is that is very hard to tell someone who is so fragile what to do. They’ve become like porcelain dolls.

“We don’t have the courage to correct them. That automatically transfers decision-making to the child,” says the father of six.

By encouraging parents to return to work, Eberhard says the seemingly utopian Swedish system has set up a “guilt trap” for parents.

“If you have feelings of guilt, such as, ‘I work too much, I send [the kids] to preschool, people believe that I don’t see my children enough’, you think, ‘I’m going to make sure they have a fantastic time when they’re at home.’

“[Parents] still haven’t the courage to resist the culture, so they go to work despite believing that it damages the children. They then over-compensate by giving the child everything outside of that and letting them decide everything. I believe that damages the child much more than sending them to pre-school does.”

Eberhard’s book has sparked debate among Swedish parents about how much children should be allowed to influence the modern family.

A free parenting course called “All Children in the Centre” offered by local Swedish authorities was set up in 2010 to support parents with young children, and one of its key messages was that punishments and boundaries are not necessarily the right approach to take with kids.

“If you want a child to co-operate the best way is to have a close relationship,” the psychologist Kajsa Lönn-Rhodin, one of the architects of the course, told The Local. She rejects the idea that children have taken over and says a bigger problem is posed by “harsh parenting”.

Rebecka Edgren Alden, editor-in-chief of Mama, a Swedish parenting magazine, said she could relate to the idea that children do now rule the roost, and that is not always a positive step. “Too much choice is probably not good for a child – I say that not as an expert, but as a mother of three,” she says. “We adults have responsibility for them, and it’s up to us to decide.”

But overall, she says she believes the advantages of the Swedish system outweigh the disadvantages. 

“There is a fundamental respect for children in Sweden, a consensus that all children have rights and should be listened to. It’s a very good lesson in democracy – I don’t think scaring them into obedience and silence is good for society,” she says.

“In general we have very good parents in Sweden who care an awful lot about their children and who give them a lot of their time and energy.”

Despite the apparent generosity of the system they live in, the challenges facing Swedish parents are the same as those faced by parents the world over – trying to achieve a balance between work and family.

Ebhard says it’s time to stop thinking of our children, Swedish or otherwise, as delicate, brittle creatures.

“Quick fixes don’t exist, but I keep coming back to the same thing – children aren’t as fragile as we think.”

News
Netherlands' goalkeeper Tim Krul fails to make a save from Costa Rica's midfielder Celso Borges during a penalty shoot-out in the quarter-final between Netherlands and Costa Rica during the 2014 FIFA World Cup
newsGoalkeepers suffer from 'gambler’s fallacy' during shoot-outs
Arts and Entertainment
Sydney and Melbourne are locked in a row over giant milk crates
artCultural relations between Sydney and Melbourne soured by row over milk crate art instillation
Arts and Entertainment
Adèle Exarchopoulos and Léa Seydoux play teeneage lovers in the French erotic drama 'Blue Is The Warmest Colour' - The survey found four times as many women admitting to same-sex experiences than 20 years ago
arts + entsBlue Is The Warmest Colour, Bojack Horseman and Hobbit on the way
News
people
PROMOTED VIDEO
News
ebookA unique anthology of reporting and analysis of a crucial period of history
News
Morrissey pictured in 2013
people
News
A scene from the video shows students mock rioting
newsEnd-of-year leaver's YouTube film features playground gun massacre
News
i100
Life and Style
The director of Wall-E Andrew Stanton with Angus MacLane's Lego model
gadgetsDesign made in Pixar animator’s spare time could get retail release
News
peopleGuitarist, who played with Aerosmith, Lou Reed and Alice Cooper among others, was 71
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Lead Application Developer

£80000 - £90000 per annum + competitive: Progressive Recruitment: I am current...

Senior Networks Architect

£65000 per annum + 15% Pension, Health, Travel & Bonus: Progressive Recruitmen...

SAP BW/BO Consultant

£55000 - £65000 per annum + Benefits: Progressive Recruitment: SAP BW/BO CONSU...

Hydraulic Power Pack Design Engineer

competitive: Progressive Recruitment: I recruit for contract mechanical design...

Day In a Page

Dress the Gaza situation up all you like, but the truth hurts

Robert Fisk on Gaza conflict

Dress the situation up all you like, but the truth hurts
Save the tiger: Tiger, tiger burning less brightly as numbers plummet

Tiger, tiger burning less brightly

When William Blake wrote his famous poem there were probably more than 100,000 tigers in the wild. These days they probably number around 3,200
5 News's Andy Bell retraces his grandfather's steps on the First World War battlefields

In grandfather's footsteps

5 News's political editor Andy Bell only knows his grandfather from the compelling diary he kept during WWI. But when he returned to the killing fields where Edwin Vaughan suffered so much, his ancestor came to life
Lifestyle guru Martha Stewart reveals she has flying robot ... to take photos of her farm

Martha Stewart has flying robot

The lifestyle guru used the drone to get a bird's eye view her 153-acre farm in Bedford, New York
Former Labour minister Meg Hillier has demanded 'pootling lanes' for women cyclists

Do women cyclists need 'pootling lanes'?

Simon Usborne (who's more of a hurtler) explains why winning the space race is key to happy riding
A tale of two presidents: George W Bush downs his paintbrush to pen father’s life story

A tale of two presidents

George W Bush downs his paintbrush to pen father’s life story
Restaurateur Mitch Tonks has given the Great Western Pullman dining car a makeover

The dining car makes a comeback

Restaurateur Mitch Tonks has given the Great Western Pullman dining car a makeover
Gallery rage: How are institutions tackling the discomfort of overcrowding this summer?

Gallery rage

How are institutions tackling the discomfort of overcrowding this summer?
Louis van Gaal has £500,000 video surveillance system installed to monitor Manchester United players

Eye on the prize

Louis van Gaal has £500,000 video surveillance system installed to monitor Manchester United players
Women's rugby: Tamara Taylor adds fuel to the ire in quest to land World Cup

Women's rugby

Tamara Taylor adds fuel to the ire in quest to land World Cup
Save the tiger: The day America’s love of backyard tigers led to a horrific bloodbath

The day America’s love of backyard tigers led to a horrific bloodbath

With only six per cent of the US population of these amazing big cats held in zoos, the Zanesville incident in 2011 was inevitable
Samuel Beckett's biographer reveals secrets of the writer's time as a French Resistance spy

How Samuel Beckett became a French Resistance spy

As this year's Samuel Beckett festival opens in Enniskillen, James Knowlson, recalls how the Irish writer risked his life for liberty and narrowly escaped capture by the Gestapo
We will remember them: relatives still honour those who fought in the Great War

We will remember them

Relatives still honour those who fought in the Great War
Star Wars Episode VII is being shot on film - and now Kodak is launching a last-ditch bid to keep celluloid alive

Kodak's last-ditch bid to keep celluloid alive

Director J J Abrams and a few digital refuseniks shoot movies on film. Simon Usborne wonders what the fuss is about
Once stilted and melodramatic, Hollywood is giving acting in video games a makeover

Acting in video games gets a makeover

David Crookes meets two of the genre's most popular voices