How do Czechs raise their children?


With the end of June the school year in the Czech Republic comes to an end, and children receive their school reports. Many of them can now boast good marks and look forward to two months of vacation. But there are also many who are not so happy with their school achievements. Some of them are even scared of severe punishment from their parents, and it is not unusual to hear of cases of children who decide to run away from home at this time of the year.

How do Czech parents raise their children? Are physical punishments still used? What are the trends in upbringing in Czech families?

Whereas the generation of today's 30- and 40-year olds experienced physical punishments quite often in their childhood, today these kinds of punishments are much less common. That of course doesn't mean they wouldn't be used at all, says child psychologist Vaclav Mertin.

"Of course, they are used - because they are fast and simple. Sometimes you choose physical punishment because it is more appropriate than to discuss an issue for two hours with a child, especially if the child is very young. So physical punishment is still used, but I think less than 20, 30 years ago."

Jana Prochazkova who teaches child psychology at the Pedagogical Faculty in Prague also confirms that physical punishment is used much less in Czech families today.

"After many years working in the area of child abuse neglect syndrome I must say that physical punishment is used a little bit less, especially regarding children of school age. Czech parents behave similarly to parents in other countries, even though I must say that our education is more restrictive and it is accepted if small babies (preschool children) are punished."

Even though physical punishment is used much less nowadays, Jana Prochazkova is not quite satisfied with the current trends of education in Czech families. Especially the lack of interest of parents in their children - what she calls "emotional child abuse" appears to be a great problem.

"What changes is the situation regarding the so called 'emotional abuse'. Whereas earlier it used to be normal that parents played with children, now parents are less interested in their children. They say: 'We have no time'. But I am sure they have time if they want."

During the communist era Czechoslovakia was rather isolated from educational theories that promoted extremely liberal approach in the 1960s and 1970s. Psychologist Vaclav Mertin does not think it would affect Czech families in a negative way.

"Maybe it was an advantage that these trends of extreme liberalization in the approach to children in the United States and in Western Europe in 1960s and 1970s did not affect Czechoslovakia. On the other hand, now, since the revolution in 1989 upbringing has been liberalized here and the dignity of and respect for the child in the society has grown. Now you take a child as your fellow - and it's not really correct to beat your fellow, is it?"

Even though Czech parents still remain rather stricter then their counterparts in most western countries, Vaclav Mertin does not think it is a bad thing.

"I myself consider it convenient. Even according to developmental psychology, a child needs a system to be able to develop. It also involves a sort of consistency and strictness. A child for example needs to have certain limits. That kind of a unlimited approach when a child does not know if he can or can not do something is not good. And the notion that he discovers the limits himself does not seem to be very realistic."

But the limits have loosened and authority has declined. As a consequence of that, many teachers complain that children nowadays are much more unruly at school in comparison to situation 15 year ago.

But according to Vaclav Mertin we cannot expect children to be strictly disciplined and active at the same time.

"You can hardly want children to be independent, to find their in the world and at the same time to go to school and sit there in silence. That's illogical! If we want to raise our children to not be shy but to become confident adults, we have to start from childhood. Today's children have very good access to information and they know more about many subjects than we do. So if some schools are like from the times of Maria Theresa, they have to expect some clashes."

Every generation when they grow older tends to criticise the young about their extremely relaxed behaviour. And the gap is even greater after a huge social transformation from a totalitarian system into democracy.

"In my opinion, the whole society of is more relaxed. Even foreigners say that we used to be serious and frowned, but today you see many more people happy and smiling. It would be really strange if we didn't transfer this to our children. So it seems to me that children are a sort of a mirror, and they reflect our behaviour, our moods and our attitudes."

15 years after the fall of communism Czech society is facing many different challenges. Democracy and freedom have affected all aspects of social life. Consequently, people are becoming more laid back; the young generation especially tends to be much more self-confident in comparison to what their parents used to be like at their age. But even at this time when freedom is a supreme value, many psychologists point to the necessity of certain limits as a natural part of upbringing, and so it seems that not all the old methods should be discarded straight away.