The Local editor Rachel Stern, an American mother in Germany, talks about how she sees raising children in Germany – and what is often starkly different from parenting styles in the US.
In her opinion, the main differences between the upbringing of children in Germany and the United States can be summarized in seven points.
According to stereotypes, the USA is a country of freedom-loving people who value individuality, while the Germans must always adhere to strict rules.
However, when it comes to raising children, Germans tend to be more democratic. It is common for children as young as five or six to go to school on their own or jump around the playground while their parents are busy talking or out of sight.
What in the US can be called “free parenting” is the norm in Germany. Parents believe that early independence allows children to gain self-confidence and common sense, which will help them become more successful in the future.
Differences between raising children in Germany and the USA: safety
While American playgrounds often consist of neatly stacked soft equipment and foam floors, German Spielplätze are often a labyrinth of long metal pipes, towering towers and rickety wooden footbridges.
But does this mean that German parents are not worried about the safety of their children? Of course not, but their philosophy is that if they fall, they will rise again and learn to perform the task better next time.
They also tend to trust the common sense of preteens as they go to school on their own. In the US, either bright yellow school buses or parents themselves carefully deliver their children to class – this is not customary in Germany.
Some US states even have laws that set a minimum age for a child to be left alone, and there have been several cases of parents receiving calls from Child Protective Services for letting their children play in a nearby park on their own without supervision.
Differences between raising children in Germany and the USA: Kindergarten
In the US, the word “kindergarten” is usually synonymous with the last resort for parents who are forced to return to work (often shortly after giving birth).
At the same time, in Germany, “kita” (kindergartens, designed for children up to kindergarten age) are desirable institutions, where many parents compete for a place.
Since 2013, all children in Germany, starting from the first year of life, have the right to “Kitaplatz” – and the search for such a place, as you know, begins even during pregnancy.
According to the OECD, by the age of three, 92% of all German children are in the whale. While many American parents take pride in not sending their children to daycare if they have the means, Germans usually brag about the early socialization and “self-sufficiency” (self-sufficiency) that comes from kitakinders.
This is facilitated by the fact that in Berlin and Hamburg they are free, and in the rest of the country they are well subsidized.
Attitude towards microbes
“It will boost their immune system,” is a common German proverb that helps them stay calm when their little child has sand in his mouth or food that has fallen off the table.
American parenting publications, however, are replete with articles on how to keep children safe from germs, which one of them calls “public enemy number one.”
German publications, on the contrary, often try to reassure parents that contact with Keime (a word meaning both germs and bacteria) is normal and even useful in preventing allergies that can occur in too sterile environments.
Dealing with bad weather
As in the colder Scandinavian countries, Germany has an expression that translates as: “There is no bad weather, there are inappropriate clothes.”
Just as Germans are serious about opening windows at least once a day in the middle of winter to ventilate the room, most of them also strongly believe in the benefits of taking babies and children outside every day.
This may explain why about two-thirds of German children spend an average of 108 minutes a day there. Compare this to the US, where it is estimated that children spend four to seven minutes a day playing outdoors.
Differences between raising children in Germany and the USA: games
Most Americans are familiar with the “football mom” stereotype—the middle-class mother who drives a minivan and takes her kids to sports and lots of “extracurricular activities.” This is a true reflection of a culture in which children, from an early age, are often overwhelmed by the various activities and activities that mom and dad have chosen for them.
However, many German parents prefer to have their children “bored” or be left alone with their own interests in order to develop their creativity and problem-solving skills.
Starting with Kita, children are encouraged to engage in unstructured play, which teachers say is far more rewarding than being able to read by age five.
Discipline or lack thereof
The German schoolyard can look a bit like Lord of the Flies with kids playing (and often fighting) on their own. While teachers certainly intervene in more serious situations, they often try to let children resolve their own conflicts or enter into a dialogue with them about why they did (or didn’t do) something.
This attitude to discipline is also characteristic of German parents. Unlike some parts of the US, spanking is not supported (and in fact illegal), and the house arrest that American parents place on older children is neither common nor frowned upon.
This is not surprising in a country where children learn from an early age to make their own decisions, independent of their parents.