[The UNICEF report can be downloaded
"The Netherlands has always been a very child-centred
society," says Paul Vangeert, professor of developmental
psychology at the University of Groningen. "In particular, there
is a lot of focus on young children."
He says he is not surprised by the
"On the one hand you have
objective indicators in the report like health, income and education.
The Netherlands is a very rich country. On the other hand, and perhaps
more importantly, are the subjective indicators, young people's own
subjective sense of well-being."
Child well-being table
9. Republic of Ireland
15. Czech Republic
20. United States
21. United Kingdom
Much of this, he says, comes from the
relationship that Dutch parents have with their children. And, from the
fact that less pressure is put on them at school.
"If you take the percentage of
young mothers in the labour force, it's not very high in comparison to
comparable countries," Mr Vangeert told the BBC News Website.
"There is a strong tendency for mothers to raise children or take
a long time off work after children are born."
He says children are used to a
"highly protective, highly
positive caring environment."
One of the strong points of the Dutch
family, he says, is that it is very open and communicative. Relations
are generally good between parents and children and they can talk about
But, he says, the downside is that
children almost rule the family.
"It's almost a caricature that
children are the ones that decide what happens within the
family," says Mr Vangeert. "Their wishes become so strong
that parents have to work very hard to give them what they want.
Sometimes, there can be a lack of balance between the happiness of the
child and that of the parent."
18-year-old Ysbrand, a student in
Helmond near Eindhoven, says this picture matched his childhood. He says
that his parents spent a lot of time with him when he was younger. His
mother stayed at home while his father worked.
But, he said the contrast when you get
to 18 can be something of a shock.
"Now I'm left to look after
myself," he told the BBC News website. "My parents say that
I need to care for myself and to be independent. It's hard. I don't
have much money as a student and to go out is expensive. Beer, for
example, is very expensive in the Netherlands."
He says that while he has been drinking
and smoking for some time, his parents have never really seen it as a
"They've never liked it," he
says. "But they realise that they were young once. They are just
waiting for me to give it up in my own time."
The Dutch are famous for their liberal
attitudes towards drinks, drugs and sex.
"Because parents are more
relaxed, the dynamics of the problems are less severe than in
countries where they are seen as more of a serious issue," says
Laura Vos, a 16-year-old schoolgirl from
"In this country, it's very free,
you can do anything you want," she told the BBC's Newsnight
programme. "You can smoke at 16, you can buy pot in the store
next to the school. You can do what you like and because it's not
illegal, it's not that interesting for us to provoke our parents with
Schoolfriend Michell Klimt told the BBC
that she thought that teenagers in other countries had to deal with the
type of peer pressure that her friends did not have to even
"I think in England, for example,
there is a lot of pressure on teenagers. There is something on MTV
called Virgin Diaries. Girls of 16 and 17 worry because they are still
virgins. It's like they have to have sex to be cool," she
says." In Holland, it isn't that important - it doesn't matter to
Ruut Veenhoven, professor of social
conditions for human happiness at Erasmus University in Rotterdam, says
he was unsurprised by the report's findings.
"Small affluent countries such as
the Netherlands and Denmark are very democratic and very free. There
is also a very good education system. People can use that freedom and
education to make the right choices," he says.
Selma el Maknouzi, a 16-year-old student
from The Hague says young people in the Netherlands have a lot to look
"I'm very happy with the
education here because it's at a very high level," she told the
BBC News website. "Everybody has the chance and the opportunity
to do whatever he or she wants to do. There are many jobs - everyone
can work and there are opportunities to build a good career in later
Mr Veenhoven says that the general
picture is pretty much in keeping with what he has seen in samples of
the adult population. He says that typically in Western Europe countries
like the Netherlands and Denmark score particularly well.
"And we know that happy adults
raise happy children," he says.