Many Americans would be concerned to see a child playing unattended at the playground, running to the store by themselves or riding the bus alone.
Sara Zaske, of Moscow, explores this difference in her book, “Achtung Baby: An American Mom on the German Art of Raising Self-Reliant Kids.” She will read, answer questions and sign copies Wednesday at BookPeople of Moscow.
Like many American adults, Zaske remembers spending her childhood playing outside unattended and considered herself a fairly relaxed parent. But several years ago, that view was challenged when she moved to Germany with her husband and 2-year-old daughter.
She was at a 3-year-old’s birthday party when she first noticed it. They were at a park, where a wall separated the playground from the party area. The young kids at the party left to go to the playground — and no adults followed to watch.
Zaske was alarmed. She wondered what was wrong with their parents. Why weren’t they taking care of their children? Then she looked around the park. None of the other parents at the park seemed concerned with their kids either.
“It totally took me by surprise,” Zaske said.
It wasn’t just the playground where she observed this degree of independence, it was everywhere. Kids walked to and from school, used sharp knives and rode the subway by themselves. Difficult subjects such as death and sex were openly discussed in an age-appropriate context. And no one seemed to think it odd — no one except her.
It didn’t take long for Zaske to see the benefits to this style of parenting.
“When you do something for yourself for the first time you feel proud of yourself,” Zaske said.
For example, riding your bike to school by yourself for the first time might be daunting, she said, but once you do it, you experience a sense of accomplishment. These types of experiences build on each other to create a mindset of capability.
By receiving small bits of freedom as they grow, children in Germany are ready to take charge of their life when they reach adulthood. By contrast, Zaske said, young adults in America experience high rates of depression and anxiety, which studies correlate to feeling overwhelmed by the sudden burden of responsibility.
And it’s not just American kids that suffer under the lack of freedom — their parents do too.
“Short term, parents are driving themselves crazy trying to do everything for their kids,” Zaske said.
Developing self-reliance in children is essential to who we are as a culture, Zaske said. It’s important to raise individuals who know what independence is, she said, because controlled kids become controlling kids and adults. Freedom is important in Germany, she explained, because they know that kids who are raised in a highly controlled environment are more vulnerable to advocating for or being controlled under authoritarian governments.
“Raising kids is not a side issue,” Zaske said. “It’s our kids who are going to be running the economy and government, they’re the future. We have a vested interest in how they are raised.”
IF YOU GO
WHAT: Sara Zaske reading and signing “Achtung Baby”
WHEN: 7 p.m. Wednesday
WHERE: BookPeople of Moscow, 521 S. Main St.