One of my best friends from high school spent most of her formative years with her mother in Berlin. When she finally came to the United States to live with her father during high school, she said it was a little bit like the American movies she had seen where teenagers lie to their parents and try to get away with things.
She observed us with a great deal of amusement, the way a scientist might research animals in the wild - cautiously keeping her distance while we engaged in the typical 1980’s teenage hijinks.
In hindsight, she says it wasn’t just that American teenagers behaved differently than their German peers, it was that German children were raised so differently that they handled the teenage years with a level of aplomb not always present in our culture.
She recently sent me an article about some of the differences between German and American parenting, and while I am well beyond the small child years, I can see how some of these may help mold a child into an independent young adult. I am not weighing in on the value of the list, as much as I am recognizing that parenting styles from other cultures can help inform our choices as parents. Some may work for you, some may not.
The list was authored by American Sara Zaske, who is living in Berlin and has a book, "Achtung Baby: An American Mom on the German Art of Raising Self-Reliant Children," coming Jan. 2, 2018.
Here are a few excepts from her article, which recently ran in Travel + Leisure.
Don’t push reading: Zaske explains that in Berlin reading is not a big focus until first grade. Kindergarten is all about play and social development.
Encourage kids to play with fire: While American parents tend to be paranoid about danger, Zaske says Germans are of the mindset that you expose your child to risky activities safely, under your guidance. Teach them how to light a candle or two.
Let children go almost everywhere alone: From a young age, German children navigate their city and public transportation on their own, developing a sense of independence and maturity, says Zaske.
Party when school starts: The biggest events in a German’s life are considered the first day of school, your passage into adulthood (age 14) and marriage. Zaske says they are all celebrated with great joy and with a big party, of course.
Take the kids outside everyday: We know this is important. A child who plays outside and appreciates nature will hopefully be a nature-loving adult. Zaske points out that In Berlin, no matter the weather, parents are outside with their children. Playing outside is also a fundamental part of school for them.
As the parent of two teenage girls, there are definitely things I wish I had done differently, things I feel like can’t be undone now. This list is a reminder to me that despite our self-perceived shortcomings, we can always improve on our parenting techniques, even when we think the damage has been done.
“What do you think we should do?” my 17-year-old asked me while we were having a crucial conversation about a serious topic the other day.
“I don’t know,” I replied honestly. “I’ve never had a 17-year-old before. I’m learning too.”
My kids enjoy reading. I’ve never pushed it. They light candles and never leave them burning unattended. They navigate the world around them with independence and maturity - driving, cycling and getting rides to and from places while I am working. And yes, they do love a good party.
I’m still working on the going outside part … I guess four out of five isn’t bad?
Amanda is the mom of two, a reporter for WRAL-TV and the author of several books, including some on motherhood. Find her here on Mondays.