Overcoming Teenage Angst –Can Iceland Teach Us A Thing Or Two?

Iceland is hitting the headlines for several right reasons.

Its dramatic, evocative, surreal landscapes are a photographer’s dream and increasingly ripe for discovery as trailing tourists testify. Its national football team creates more than a stir while its Viking-looking supporters [in total contrast to Algerians living in France] teach the world how to celebrate with joy and good manners. It has just outlawed unequal pay for women.  Now, it is garnering accolades for turning its notoriously drunk and drugged teenagers into happy and dignified adolescents.

The World Economic Forum is spotlighting this outstanding success in one of its SM posts which outlines how the northern European island has turned the tables on super sloshed and stoned teens.  It all began twenty years ago. How Iceland tackled the problem is what I’d like to share and more.

The first thing that struck me was the outright admission that education was getting nowhere in encouraging clean living adolescents. Critical thinking and a holistic approach to helping teens out of their boredom and frustration followed. No vapid political posturing or useless preaching but a concerted effort to find doable and long-term solutions by learning from the then small percentage of young people who did not drown their woes and insecurities in binge drinking or substance abuse.

Meaning psychologists listened to teenagers rather than discussed them. This is a winning strategy in getting the facts straight from the horses’ mouths, more so since adults don’t know it all and their teenage experiences were lived out in totally different times.

The first notable find was that non-drinking teens spent time with their parents who in turn also got them involved in several extracurricular activities. Nor did they stay out late. Family life was a daily, vibrant dynamic. Far from being hot housed, the teens in question felt loved, fulfilled, secure and cared for in the full knowledge of available, accessible and listening parents despite inevitable generation gap clashes.

This led to schools mentoring parents across the board which translated into teaching parental skills while sharing experiences. Why is this a brilliant idea? For starters, parenting is no easy task; and given their desire to assert their independence, hormonal upheaval, peer pressure, and truckloads of issues, adolescents are more than a handful.

Within a few years, parents spent double the time they used to with their kids on weekdays. Meanwhile, teenagers were cajoled into joining clubs offering sports, music, art, and dance to satisfy their hunger for a sense of belonging while saying no to drugs. The government even paid an annual allowance of about 280 euros per child to parents in Reykjavik to spend on activities.

Admittedly, our world doesn’t make it easy. Think of how work schedules have resulted in wholesale dumping of kids on grandparents, nannies, childcare centres, private tutors, summer school or leaving children alone for hours on end.

Ink in today’s incessant techy intrusions and dominance having many parents and kids living on utterly different and alienated planets especially if all are constantly glued to their smart devices and not bothered to communicate.

Back to Iceland, focus on family was complimented with new legislation that barred the sale of tobacco to under-16s and alcohol to under-18s. It also banned under-16s from staying out late. Taken seriously, enforcement was consequently real and effective. Introducing a curfew on teenagers may sound draconian and many will surely argue that Iceland’s weather helps in this regard. Yet polar winters are also what turns many people to drink.  Quite frankly, there’s no point in quibbling if the hand of the law does a better job than a parental one.

I’m not trumpeting that such measures are a hundred percent full proof yet having bars and clubs only open to adults gives the right message that these spots are adult zones at any time of day and night. Surely some may point to alcohol and drug-fired parties raging at friends’ houses. My retort is ‘Where are the parents?’ Also, how many parents give their blessing to their teenage kids renting out flats for the weekend?

There’s another important consideration I’d like to mention which the cited SM post did not go into but which I feel makes it harder for the local scene to emulate. Open spaces. We have never given importance to family parks where there’s something exciting for all age groups to enjoy. Today’s suffocating, ugly urbanisation – all in the name of economic progress – continues to stifle us while rendering everyone more short-fused. No doubt teenagers need their haunts which should not automatically offer drink and drugs.

It’s sad to see how our Maltese mindset [generally speaking] resists embracing a fun, all-round education despite the millions poured into our state schools. Nor are we lacking in dance, sports and drama clubs. Yet we have even reached a stage where hundreds of our children don’t know how to swim and our beaches are under threat from fish farms and further ‘development’.

Perhaps I’m digressing so I’ll revert to how Iceland presents an eye-opener to boosting the health and happiness of our teenagers. Belief in family life is the linchpin. Any cynic out there please spare me that Iceland currently tops the syphilis charts in Europe. Successful solutions are always worth adapting and adopting.

#teenagers, #teenageangst, #parenting, #beliefinfamilylife #icelanddoingitright


Noemi Zarb
Noemi Zarb
Writing, teaching, marketing. I have pursued three totally different career paths with the power of words serving both as link and lynchpin. Now I dedicate most of my time to writing - a never-ending romance. Typical of content writing I have been and am still responsible for scripting webs, advertorials as well as full-length articles. As a feature/opinion writer, I have over 600 articles published in Malta's leading newspapers and magazines (and still counting) - an experience which honed my interviewing skills when I interviewed countless painters and people involved in the performance arts. I also have over two decades of teaching English Literature and Critical Thinking via Textual Analysis under my belt having prepared students for the IB Diploma in English Language and Literature as well as MATSEC, IGCSE and SEC examinations in English language and English Literature. TEFL sometimes punctuated my summer holidays. Dealing with young people keeps you young and I have truckloads of cherished memories of my past students My current writing continues to be inspired by what life throws at me together with my critical thinking of what goes on (or doesn’t) around me firing my sense perception and vice versa. Being immersed in the corporate world gives me endless opportunities to observe facets of human behavior which invariably have me brood over. Learning and thinking over what I learn is still my way forward.

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  1. Another finely woven tapestry of a phenomenal viewpoint my friend. Although we are closer to the world than anyone ever in previous history, the dominating factor must remain our community. We can be globally conscious yet remain community minded. This is how we all can flourish.

    • Thank you ever so much, John, for your time, reflection, and comments. You definitely nailed it in ‘We can be globally conscious yet remain community-minded. This is how we all can flourish.’

  2. Nicely penned article Noemi,
    “ Quite frankly, there’s no point in quibbling if the hand of the law does a better job than a parental one.”
    Impact in this statement right here! But is it really? We’re previous governing bodies not enabling societies to become less family oriented? It’s great that they are stepping up to help “repair”. It’s the responsible thing to do.
    It’s something that should be implemented everywhere. Family dynamics have changed considerately and rapidly. It’s imperative to help out.
    I question the fact that the governing body does a better job.
    I do find it ironic that a governing body that previously allowed laws to exist, when truly new ones would be needed in order to deal with the residual part they also In the family dynamics as well.
    We all have a part to play.we all need help. Growth is rapid and we can’t keep up so that’s the “rub” of the matter. Kudos to Iceland for taking initiative.
    Thank you, This really got me thinking. I appreciate you letting me comment them here! Have a wonderful day.?

  3. Another wonderful article by a master writer that a nuclear family has always been the groundwork and garden to raise interested children in our culture. I agree that parents need to take time as the guiding role to bond and build relationships with their children to last a lifetime. The sad reality is the brevity of time spend together at home because teenagers soon need to seek their independence to move on. A sadder reality is the texting and posting of wasted time and communication in an alternative virtual world creating such vacuum in a family home. This article is important to share to return focus to the nuclear family, the foundation of our social order.

    • Thank you so much, Annemarie for your time and appreciation. Your last comment: ‘To return focus to the nuclear family, the foundation of our social order’ resonates most powerfully because this is what the world we live in is ignoring, even denigrating little realising that it is the ultimate seed that empowers us with all that is worth while. As adults, we owe it to all children and young people to live sowing and cultivating this seed.

  4. Yes, Noemi, Iceland can teach us a lot in more ways than one.

    According to the 2019 World Happiness Report, Iceland is the fourth happiest country in the world, with Finland, Denmark and Norway taking the first, second and third place.

    Happiness is not really a thing to be found, but more something to be unveiled within ourselves. It is an internal ‘strength’ which is cultivated by choice every single day, individually and together in harmony with all members of the family. This also reflects positively on the society.

    In her book The Single Parent Family, Marge Kennedy explains, “In truth a family is what you make it. It is made strong, not by number of heads counted at the dinner table, but by the rituals you help family members create, by the memories you share, by the commitment of time, caring, and love you show to one another, and by the hopes for the future you have as individuals and as a unit.”

    • Thank you, Jonathan, for the time spent reading and commenting so insightfully. The reference to ritual in Marge Kennedy’s quotation particularly resonated with me for it brings to mind the wonderful gestures in daily life like starting and ending the day with a caressing ‘Good morning’ and ‘Good night’ or waving ‘Goodbye’, cheering ‘I’m home’ and gathering around the table, at least once a day. I would also add harmony with nature’s rhythms to the harmony with self and togetherness as pivotal to interiorised happiness.