The German parenting style is focused more on a child’s independence than anything else. Some of the ways German parents raise their children might even appear insensitive or uncaring to many American parents. This leads to lower stress levels among parents and more independent children in general.
There seems to be a growing trend among American parents to send their children to Europe after graduating High School, as a sort of gap year before starting further studies or getting a job. But why is this such a popular trend? Maybe it has to do with the different ways in which children are raised. As an example, let’s compare German parenting vs. American parenting.
Germany was recently ranked as the thirteenth best country to raise children. This may not seem all that impressive, until you see that the United States ranked number 22. This is not only due to cultural differences but also partially because of different parenting styles that flow into the education system and the values instilled in the children. Let’s evaluate these more closely.
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German Vs. American Parenting Styles
German parenting styles differ vastly from those in America. Since America has been at the forefront of psychological advancement and publishing of studies and information lately, many other countries have adopted American parenting styles and accepted them as the norm, but this tends not to be the case in many European countries where traditions have been established for millennia.
Germany, in particular, has a very independence-focused parenting style. Though there is love, caring, and affection, these are often shown in ways that American parents would find strange and may almost seem like neglect or a “don’t care” attitude. However, this is not the case, and the parenting style seems to work. Here are the primary differences.
The American parenting style frequently involves “helicopter parenting”; so called because of the parents’ tendency to hover around their children. When Americans go to the park, for example, the parents will always be close to the children, keeping an eye on them and shouting warnings when things seem to be too dangerous.
The consequences of this are far-reaching. Even some educational institutions require that a parent sign their child in and out each day, and many parents expect that to happen, which makes sense for child protection reasons.
Unfortunately, helicopter parenting places loads of unnecessary stress and strain on the shoulders of the parents, who feel responsible for everything that happens to their children. It also makes children more dependent on the constant presence of a parent or authority figure in their lives, often failing to prepare them adequately for an independent life as teen and later an adult.
German parents don’t do helicopter parenting. They tend to let their children run free (within certain pre-determined boundaries, of course), trusting in the child’s ability to return to them if there should be a problem.
Many parents are concerned about the possibility of kidnapping, and rightly so. But statistically, kidnapping (or, more specifically, child abductions) numbers are so low as not to warrant the level of concern that many parents have. In fact, Germany ranks much higher than the US in kidnapping statistics, with the US not even appearing in the top 50 countries. It is worthy to note that these numbers could, in fact, be so low due to the rise of helicopter parenting and resulting decrease in opportunities for children to be kidnapped.
The Focus on Being Outdoors
American parents want to keep their children safe from the elements and tend to keep them indoors when it’s too hot, too cold, rainy or snowy. This is the accepted standard in many countries, and it makes medical sense. Caring parents shouldn’t let their children play outside when it’s below freezing.
Or should they?
German parents tend to hold the exact opposite view. Even if they have to wrap their children in layers and layers of clothing, their children must go outside to play every day. Parents often take the kids to explore the woods, for example, even in bitter cold, snowy, or rainy weather.
This is not just true of Germany, but it’s relatively common all over Europe and even further east. In Russia, for example, it’s believed that forcing your body into cold temperatures (like swimming in an ice-covered pool) boosts your immune system and resilience.
In Germany, though, it’s not so much a belief in boosting the immune system, but that physical play and fresh air are essential to children’s physical and mental development.
Modern cinema often portrays Germans as serious, work-oriented people who take everything seriously. This is not the truth at all. Germans believe in a balance between work and playtime. Even preschools aren’t concerned with teaching children how to write or do basic maths, but rather with letting kids be kids, allowing them to play and be creative.
There seems to be a drive in the US, especially amongst particularly competitive parents, to see how soon their children can learn new things. Kids are encouraged to learn the basics of the alphabet and mathematics from an early age, and educational achievements are celebrated. This is massively beneficial to the kids since it almost guarantees academic success in their school years.
German parents believe that playtime is the most essential factor in a child’s life until about age seven or eight. And not just any playtime; sitting in front of a screen doesn’t count. They believe this playtime should be active, possibly involving other kids, preferably outside but in a safe environment.
There’s evidence that this enhanced emphasis on playtime is beneficial to children’s learning ability rather than distracting from it, which could be part of the reason why Germans are commonly seen as such productive and successful people.
Emphasis On Safety
In America and many parts of the world, there’s a booming industry specializing in ways to make your home child safe. American parents can easily spend hundreds or even thousands of dollars in an effort to make their homes safe for their offspring. Young couples who are just buying a home and planning to start a family usually look for homes that are already child safe.
Germans have a very different approach. They are less concerned with making their environment safe and more with focusing their energy on explaining to their kids how to safely navigate their home and the reasons for that. Their approach isn’t “how can I make my stove safer,” but rather “how can I teach my child not to touch the stove?”.
Your child’s safety should be of crucial importance to you. Making your home safer for your child makes sense, and some American parents may interpret the German approach as dangerous or uncaring. This is not the case. German parents are just as concerned about their children’s safety as American parents.
Their approach is different, based on the idea that life as a grown-up is just as unsafe, and humans should learn how to navigate it safely at some stage. So, childhood is as good a time as any, and maybe even better than trying to understand it at an older age.
It’s difficult to determine a clear difference in discipline style between the United States and Germany since both countries have parents who prefer vastly different techniques.
Corporal punishment is becoming less common in both the US and Germany. In the US, this is mainly replaced with a “make them feel safe” approach (based on the belief that most misbehaving children are doing so from a place of discomfort or insecurity), while German parents are mostly choosing a path of logical communication.
Most German parents will handle misbehaving children by having logical discussions with them, explaining the repercussions of their actions, and getting the child to think about their activities from a place of logic and empathy. This helps them understand that everything they do will affect other people and to always consider that before any action.
In this regard, the American way leans more towards a child-centric type of discipline, helping the child focus on their needs and the reasons why they might be acting out. The German method allows the child to see the world around them as a whole, understand that their actions have an impact on more than just themselves, and consider these effects.
Continue Reading: Is Attachment Parenting “Better” Than Gentle Parenting?
Though parenting methods in the US differ vastly from those in Germany, both ways have their pros and cons, and who’s to say which is right or wrong, or even better than the other. In every situation, remember that your parenting style will significantly depend on you and your child. If you have doubts about your parenting style, the best advice is always to get advice from a profe