How to raise children the German way

(written by lawrence krubner, however indented passages are often quotes). You can contact lawrence at:


Zaske argues that thanks in large part to the anti-authoritarian attitudes of the postwar generation (the so-called “68ers”), contemporary German parents give their children a great deal of freedom—to do dangerous stuff; to go places alone; to make their own mistakes, most of which involve nudity, fire, or both. This freedom makes those kids better, happier, and ultimately less prone to turn into miserable sociopaths. “The biggest lesson I learned in Germany,” she writes, “is that my children are not really mine. They belong first and foremost to themselves. I already knew this intellectually, but when I saw parents in Germany put this value into practice, I saw how differently I was acting.” Yes, Zaske notes, we here in the ostensible land of the free could learn a thing or zwei from our friends in Merkel-world. It’s breathtaking to rethink so many American parenting assumptions in light of another culture’s way of doing things. But it’s devastating to consider just how unlikely it is that we’ll ever adopt any of these delightful German habits on a societal level.

This is not just because Americans pride ourselves on eschewing the advice of outsiders, though that certainly doesn’t help. Our political and social institutions are so firmly entrenched that no amount of wise Germanic advice can help us. “We’ve created a culture of control,” Zaske laments. “In the name of safety and academic achievement, we have stripped kids of fundamental rights and freedoms: the freedom to move, to be alone for even a few minutes, to take risks, to play, to think for themselves.” It’s not just parents who are responsible for this, says Zaske, “it’s culture-wide,” from the “hours of homework” to the “intense” focus on competitive sports and extracurriculars; it’s also the “exaggerated media that makes it seem like a child can be abducted by a stranger at any time,” though stranger kidnappings in the United States are actually exceedingly rare. I mean, this is America, where the simple act of feeding an infant in public is enough to set off mommy warfare—allowing the entire nude body of a child in the out-of-doors is enough to warrant calling Child Protective Services or the cops.