[Articles & Essays - C]
Why Dutch Kids are Happier Than Yours
Lauren Comiteau. July 11, 2007
Dutch children are the happiest children in the industrialized world. Don't take my word for it, that was the finding of an extensive survey in UNICEF's Report Card 7.
The Netherlands, my adopted home and birthplace of my children beat out the competition in a study that took account of material well-being, health and safety, education, family and peer relationships, behaviors and risks, and their own perceptions of their well-being. The U.S. by contrast finished second to last ahead of Britain.
So, what's the secret of Dutch happiness?
And their positive Dutch outlook is fostered in the education system.
Play gives way, further up the education ladder, to learning based on conversation and consensus:
He says Dutch children are encouraged to form and express their own opinions.
The same model of consensus decision-making pervades the highest levels of Dutch politics and corporate culture.
A group of 12-year olds I cornered for an impromptu opinion poll outside their public school enthused about their teachers, their friends and their school work. Their only complaints about life in Holland? The drunks in the park, and the rain.
The freedom allowed to Dutch high schoolers would shock their American counterparts. The country's legal drinking age is 16, so at school parties — at least in Van Veen's school — kids 16 and over are allowed to drink beer and wine, although no hard liquor, in what he calls "a controlled setting."
Fifteen-year-old Tess ten Pos, who I find sipping a latte with friends in a cafe during a break from morning classes, agrees.
Despite exceptions like Karima, who plans to be a doctor, immigrant children are less likely to get the best of Holland's impressive levels of investment in children. A recent city-wide survey of Amsterdam primary schools revealed that children of Moroccan and Turkish descent were being directed to lower-level schools than their Dutch counterparts, despite scoring identically on the all-important placement exams.
Says Sahro Ahmed, a Somali researcher at Leiden University,
Despite the raw deal experienced by many immigrants, the Dutch social system, with its extensive support structures and family-friendly work ethic, is clearly designed to make parenting as painless as possible.
Dutch parenting is largely shared, and in the professional classes, most women and men work only four days a week, each devoting their free day to the kids. That means young children spend only three days a week at child-facilities which are employer-subsidized. So, what's not to be happy about? (Did I mention free health care until the age of 18?)
And obviously, beneficial for the kids. Ninety percent of Dutch families still eat their main meal together around a table several times a week. Compare that to 65.7 percent of Americans.
The real source of Dutch happiness, of course, will remain a mystery. Professor Veenhoven says that although people know they're happy, they never really know why. Not that it matters:
That's certainly an argument for raising my own kids here. They look Dutch, speak Dutch and, admittedly, they're from the right side of the canal. But maybe more importantly, they're on the right side of the pond.
[Articles & Essays - C]