It’s been a while since I’ve read and reviewed a parenting book, therefore, when my brother’s wife recommended a parenting book with a catchy and interesting title, I took note of it. I decided to read “Achtung Baby: An American Mom on the German Art of Raising Self-Reliant Children” in Germany, during our trip to Schwarzwald (Black Forest), enjoying the perfect weather and scenery, while sipping my drink at the pool, German kids running around me (with a few Swiss, French and British kids added to the mix).

As a father of a 7-year-old & a 10-month-old living in Belgium, and frequently making trips to Germany and the Netherlands, I found the book more informative on what happened to USA in the recent years, rather than how Germans, particularly Berliners, raised their kids. I found the book not only very readable, but also it provided me with the perfect contrasts between Europe and USA. A striking theme of the book was the irony of the “freedom rhetoric” of USA, and how at the same time children were so much controlled by their parents, coupled with “parent’s rights”, and not much about children’s rights (the Wikipedia article titled “U.S. ratification of the Convention on the Rights of the Child” sheds more light on it). Another striking point was how happy the author, a mother of two children, felt because of the social safety net provided for families, as well as the ability to take 2 weeks of uninterrupted vacations with her family (that she found ‘luxurious’).

What also drew my attention was how USA was pushing academic achievement, turning it to a kind of crazy race, even before the children started primary school: I learned from the author that “kindergarten is the new first grade” in USA, meaning that younger and younger USA children were expected to master a lot of reading, writing and math skills even before they started the primary school, and there were even ‘exams’ for some kindergartens. I know firsthand what such pressure does to kids, having been subjected to many exams and put into ‘race’ at a very early age when I was a kid back in Istanbul.

The part about “risk taking” of children can be considered the best part of the book: the author gave many examples about “dangerous” playgrounds of Berlin, and how it helped children of various ages gauge the risks for themselves and learn the take responsibility for their actions and their consequences. What I found revealing was the fact that the safer you made the playground, the more difficulties the children had estimating the risks, leading to overcompensating to have adequate excitement, which, in turn, led to more dangerous actions ironically!

I really liked this book, and can recommend it to parents both in Europe and in USA to understand the current trends better. Oh, and I’ll always remember this book whenever I shout “pas op!”, “wees voorzichtig!”, or “dikkatli ol! yavaş!” to my kids. Who knows, maybe I’ll even shout less, and be more relaxed with those highly energetic kids, entrusting them to the legacy of human evolution a little more.

 

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