7 ways being a parent is different around the world

Multiple generations of a family in China.

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Multiple generations of a family in China.
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Matt Barber/Attribution License/Flickr

  • Parenthood looks different in every culture around the world.
  • In some places, kids don’t start school until the age of 7, have minimal homework, and take long breaks during school.
  • Here are seven unique parenting styles from around the world that could leave Americans shocked (or jealous).

Parenthood doesn’t come with a rulebook. There does, however, seem to be a set of unofficial parenting guidelines, and they vary profoundly among different cultures. Parents in one country might not think twice about spanking for bad behavior, parents in other parts of the world would consider it a crime.

Some Americans would be horrified by the sight of unsupervised babies sleeping in their strollers on the sidewalks of Scandinavia, Japanese elementary students cleaning their own school toilets, or preteens sipping cabernet sauvignon with their pizza in Italy.

Here are seven unique parenting styles from around the world that might come as a surprise:


1. Independence at a young age

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Japanese children commute to school by themselves.
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Buddhika Weerasinghe/Getty Images

In Japan, children as young as six years oldwalk to school and run errands sans supervision, even in the bustling city of Tokyo, according to The Atlantic. The country’s crime rates areexceptionally low, and parents expect others in the communityto help look after their children.

Kids don’t need a chaperone to help get them to school, nor do they need anyone else cleaning up after them once there. From as early as first grade,Japanese studentssweep and mop classrooms and hallways, dust, and even sometimes clean the bathrooms in their schools, according to Mic.


2. Babies nap outside (even during the winter)

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Many Nordic parents believe napping outside keeps their children healthy.
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Michael Dodge/Getty Images

Scandinavian children areraised on the foundation of “friluftsliv,”or “open-air living.” It isn’t abnormal to see babies napping outside in their strollers, unattended, even in the wintertime.

Expat parentshave even been arrestedin the US because of the common practice, The New York Times reports. But, many parents in Nordic countries stillbelieve that al fresco napping keeps their children healthy, according to the BBC.


3. Toilet training from birth

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In China, children are typically potty trained by age 2.
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China Photos/Getty Images

Chinese babies are taught to relieve themselves into the toileton command of a parent’s whistle, sometimes starting when they are only a few months old. Many kids are fully potty trainedby age 2, according to The Washington Post.


4. Less time in the classroom

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Finnish education is exceptional, and kids do way less homework.
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Brett Neilson/Attribution License/Flickr

Students in Finlandrank among the smartest in the world – they are consistently at or near the top of OECD rankings for math, science, and reading, according to The Times. Some might be surprised to discover that they don’t start schooluntil they turn seven.

Tiina Marjoniemi, the head of Franzenia Daycare Centre in Helsinki,told The Guardianthat before the age of seven, children are expected to “play and be physically active,” calling the first seven years of life “a time for creativity.”

And yet while thehomework is minimal and holiday breaks are long– up to 11 weeks – the Finnish education system manages toroutinely rankamongst the best in the world, Business Insider previously reported.


5. More time traveling the world

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Gap years are common outside of the US.
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vonnahmed1/Shutterstock

It haslong been traditionin Great Britain and other countries outside the US to take a “gap year” between high school and college, according to Quartz. A2017 statisticrevealed that in the UK, 230,000 students between 18 and 25 years old took a gap year to travel, work, and volunteer.


6. Kids and adults eat (and drink) the same things

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Kids who drink small amounts of wine from a young age may be less likely to be problem drinkers later in life.
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Shutterstock/Dmitri Ma

Adults in Italy aren’t the only ones sipping on a glass of red with dinner – their kids are, too. According to a study by Boston University Medical Center, Italian children who were raised with wine at dinnertime were less likely to develop “harmful drinking patterns” in adulthood.

Wine and the responsible consumption of it is so important to Italians that it’s included in the primary school curriculum, where students startlearning about their country’s wine cultureat six years old, The Daily Mail reports.

And while Italian kids are raised to be responsible drinkers, French kids are raised to be sophisticated eaters. French kids eat the same nutritious, balanced meals as adults, says University of British Columbia Professor Karen Le Billon in her book, “French Kids Eat Everything.”


7. All-hands-on-deck parenting

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African communities raise children together.
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Christopher Furlong/Getty Images

In many parts of Africa, the responsibility of raising a child lies withentire extended families, but even non-relatives are happy to help out.

It isn’t unusual for mothers toshare breast milkwith other people’s children in The Democratic Republic of Congo and Kenya. Researchers have even discoveredmen “breastfeeding”children among Central Africa’s Aka Pygmy tribe, according to The Guardian.