Friday, August 3, 2012

French Children Don't Talk Back!

I’ve been thinking a lot recently about the behavior of French children compared to British. It's apparent when living here that French children are better behaved. They are more obedient, polite and respectful than the British youth. I’ve often marveled when seeing groups of young children out on a school trip. They all line up neatly, do as they’re told and often have far fewer adults supervising them than they would in the UK. I’ve been wondering why this is and examining my own parenting skills to see what we can learn from the French. There is no doubt you can always spot the British children in the supermarket (mine included). They’ll be the ones running about shouting and whining, while the French children hold onto the trolley and follow their mother around the shop like little ducklings. And if any of the ducklings stray, one stern look or sharp word from their mother and they stop what their doing immediately, eyes down and mouth shut.  There's none of that oh so familiar back chat "Oh but Muuummmm, why can't I have that....?"

So why are French Children better behaved? I've noticed that French parents are much stricter from an early age. Sit in any pediatricians’ waiting room (I've sat in many) and you will see toddlers being severely reprimanded for what seems to be very minor, normal toddler behavior (by British standards). I suppose it makes sense that if you nip any devient behviour in the bud, before it has time to develop, this will produce a better behaved child.

This form of strict, zero tolerance parenting makes for an easier life for the adults, but I wonder how good this is for the children in the long run.  The lives of French children are controlled, structured and organized. They’re told what to do and when to do it and generally they dutifully obey. Their holidays are filled with organized trips and educational ones. The school life is very structured too and lessons quite rigid without much opportunity to make decisions for themselves.  As a result, French students are not as adventurous or independent as their British equivalents. Gap years between School and Uni are unheard of. Maybe this is just because it’s not fashionable to do this in France, but I wonder if it is more down to a lack of independence of the students and an unwillingness to let go by the parents. We have many 16-18 year old French students come to stay with us to learn English. Whenever asked why they have chosen to stay in France to study English rather than go to England, it’s always because they (and their parents) are afraid of travelling abroad and prefer to stay in France.

French children seem to mature later than the British. Our ten year old tends to have more in common with children several years older than him. Our older sons have observed that many of their fellow students are immature and find it difficult to interact with adults.  I think that because French parents are stricter, the parent/child relationship is more pronounced. This makes it easier to control them when they are younger, but the parents and the children find it difficult to know when and how to move into a more adult/adult relationship.

Many French, when attending University or Higher Education are more likely to choose a University close to home, which is not the case in the UK. They seem less willing to branch out and seek new opportunities. Is this down to a restrictive upbringing resulting in lack of independence? My husband would argue that it’s because there is more of a community spirit here, young adults are happy where they live and so less likely to feel the need to escape and move away. Whereas in the UK, community spirit is largely dead, no one feels particularly tied or rooted to the place they grew up and therefore can’t wait to get away. I’m not sure which is true – perhaps it’s a bit of both!

Looking at some of the behavior of youths in Britain, I suppose you could say the British have a lot to learn from the French. Maybe we do let our children get away with too much when they're little, making a rod for our own backs as they get older. I sometimes feel like a terrible mother when my willful four year old makes a scene in the supermarket, but then my husband will point out how often we receive praise for what lovely children we have. Having such large age gaps between them, we have the rare advantage of seeing whether our parenting methods have worked (or not) as our eldest two sons have now reached adulthood. Our children may be challenging to control when they are young, but so far, they mature into independent thinking, confident, polite and respectful adults and that’s all that any parent can ask. I think we’ll stick with our own formula, as it seems to work well in the long run.

If you live or have lived abroad, what do you think about the differences in parenting between your home country and your new one and have you adopted any new parenting methods as a result?

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