After hearing these kinds of concerns from more than a few of my friends, and having experienced some similar issues with my son, I started to reflect more deeply on what the cause of such problems might be, and to discuss it with both my Finnish and foreigner friends. Although any problem usually has many roots, causes and facets, I noticed the words most repeated in our conversations were these: Independence and Freedom.
Independence - Is it always a positive thing?
In Finland we promote and encourage the independence and individuality of children and youth. "He is very independent!", one mother says of her son. She says it with pride.
Of course, no one will argue the fact that independence has very many good and important points. It encourages development of the personality. It teaches practical skills. It builds self-confidence and self-esteem. And, let's face it - it makes life a lot easier for the parents, especially if both are working outside of the home. But is independence in a child always a good thing? Often when I have asked this question, it has been waved away with a, "Oh, but they can do this very well, it's not difficult for them!" But, if a child is able to do something independently, does that automatically make it good for them?
"I used to walk with my three-year-old son in the forest, and young school age boys would ask if they could come with us, or they would just follow us, and chat with us as we went along. I understood from these situations that their parents were not yet home from work, and that the children were home alone after school. I understood that these children were feeling lonely."
Antti has a smartphone, why can't I have one?
It is common habit for young people to compare their own situations with their peers. They question why they cannot do certain activities, or have certain things, as their friends do. With regards to permissiveness, there can oftentimes be a stark contrast between Finnish and other cultures. This can be difficult for parents of intercultural families.
To adapt, or not to adapt? To compromise or to stand firm?
While we don't wish to isolate our children from the others, at the same time we sometimes just cannot reconcile ourselves to allowing something we feel goes against our values and what we believe to be good parenting. One has to make such decisions nearly every day.
The issues may range from simple to quite complicated:
One couple wish to teach their child respect for elders, and they feel it very strange to hear the children address their parents and teachers by their first names.
Another mother is reluctant to let her 6-year-old boy play in the neighborhood out of sight, where the other kids are allowed to play, and often after dark. The mother is faced with a difficult choice. In her culture the smaller children are always in the company of an adult. Not only for safety, but for the purpose of guidance, and to nurture their sense of security.
Some parents don't react if their children talk back at them. Others don't allow it at all.
Some families are very strict, and keep a consistent discipline of behaviour. Others give more space and freedom, allowing the children to do almost anything they want.
While there is value in the encouragement of independence and the freedom which children are given in Finnish culture, it may have another side which is not conducive to the development of a healthy personality. Also, when independence crosses the line of balance, it may also encourage the child to go against the parents, teachers and other adults.
When Carlos first came to Finland he was shocked at some of the things he witnessed, such as seeing young children playing at the Central Railway Station by themselves, and pre-teens smoking and drinking. He feels that there are many parents who are not monitoring what their children are doing, and that this is one of the negative outcomes of too much emphasis on independence of children. "There are two extremes," he explains, "In Peru, we tend to have too much authority, too much protection. Here in Finland, for parents and teachers, it is often difficult to get children to do what they're told, and there is no respect."
There is nothing wrong with authority. It helps to set limitations of freedom in a good way. We can use freedom to live a good, healthy and happy life, but we can also use freedom to destroy ourselves. To be guided and taught by those who are older and more experienced can help us to grow into balanced and mature individuals.
Carlos believes that in a culture that makes children individualistic, these children may not have the opportunity to develop collective values of solidarity, nor a strong sense of civil behaviour, respect, compassion and concern for others.
Social consciousness on the human level
We have one of the best models of a country in the world with regards to social welfare. But in the areas of social consciousness on the human level, is there something that can be improved?
We find the most empty seat on the bus away from others, and when someone sits opposite us, we studiously avoid eye contact.
An obviously pregnant woman stands in a full metro. No one offers their seat.
A mother struggles to get a pram up the steps of a tram by herself. Most of us just look, and maybe then look away. Now on the bus, the baby starts to cry. A teen sitting nearby complains under their breath, "Can you switch it off?"
"It is different where I come from," Carlos says, "in my country the teenagers will talk with a pregnant lady, very sweetly, smiling, asking when the little one to be born. Here, my Finnish wife, who was pregnant at the time, had the experience that she very kindly asked some teenagers to not use bad language, as there were small children around. They began to attack her verbally, calling her ugly."
Carlos wonders how he can pass on to his son the good values he was taught, in a culture that at times promotes the opposite. He believes such values to be not only a necessary part of a truly healthy and happy individual, but also essential in becoming a good member of the society. He tries to be optimistic, and makes a few suggestions to other parents sharing a similar situation, "Keep trying to pass on the values. If possible, keep contact with your country by traveling there periodically with your child. Give access to both cultures and compare them in a positive way. Show appreciation of both cultures and try to imbibe and cultivate what is good in both, connecting it with multiculturalism."
Things are almost never black and white. It is difficult to say what would be the solution in trying to preserve the best of both cultures in the children of an intercultural family. Perhaps it could be helpful for parents to sit down together and discuss what each feels are important values from their culture, and how these can be incorporated into the upbringing of their child.
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