Iceland is hitting the headlines for several right reasons.
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