Why Dutch teenagers are among the happiest in the world | Netherlands
In a biology lesson at a high school near Rotterdam, Gerrit the skeleton isn’t the only one smiling all the time.
The Groen van Prinstererlyceum, which first trialled classes on happiness a decade ago, teaches some of the world’s least troubled teenagers.
In report after report, the Netherlands tops the OECD countries for high life satisfaction among young people. This contrasts sharply with the situation in countries like Britain, where depression and anxiety are on the rise among adolescents, and the United States, where the number of young people take their own life has increased sharply.
So why this flat and humid country of 17 million people with its history of Calvinism and colonialism so good at giving young people an optimistic outlook?
Dr Simone de Roos, researcher at Netherlands Institute for Social Research (SCP), says adolescent life satisfaction has not declined since 2013.
“I think Dutch children generally have positive interactions throughout their social environment,” says De Roos. “They have a supportive environment at home, with friends and also at school. Dutch parents give a lot of support and have a little control. There is an egalitarian climate, teachers are not authoritarian but accept students’ feelings, and students trust teachers.
the latest health behavior in school-aged children (HBSC), comparing children aged 11, 13 and 15, showed a happy Dutch youth. When asked where they would find themselves on the ‘Cantril scale’ – with the worst possible life for them at 0 and the best at 10, around 94% of Dutch boys answered six or more. Dutch girls were slightly lower, ranging from 84% to 92%.
According to this report, young people in the Netherlands were also among the top five for eating breakfast on weekdays, watching more than two hours of television on weekdays, having kind and helpful classmates – and among the bottom five for being overweight, having sex before age 15. , and feel the pressure of school work. They were less likely than average to be bullied and generally found it easy to talk to parents.
The results ring with a 2016 Netherlands Statistics Office study of 4,000 people aged 12 to 25, who rated their happiness at 8.4 out of 10, and a PISA 2015 report noting that the country – alongside Finland and Switzerland – seemed “capable of combining good learning outcomes with very satisfied students”.
Of course, the general state of the nation helps. There are Small unemployment in the Netherlands, relatively low inequality and good health economy. Five months ago, the SCP compared the Netherlands favorably to 25 years agowhile another one A study showed people were more optimistic than a year ago. “At some point there is a critical mass of optimistic voices, and then it becomes its own dynamic,” says Professor Paul Dekker, SCP Program Leader in Values and Meaning.
The director of the World Happiness DatabaseProfessor Ruut Veenhoven, also believes that young people are less burdened with the expectation of being ‘good’.
“If you look through Europe, the Dutch and Danes are the most forgiving and focus more on developing autonomy than prioritizing obedience – and that fits the society,” he says. “Children are more free to do what they want and, by doing what they want, develop an idea of what they really like and social skills. A happy boy can sometimes not be a very good boy .
In Dutch, there is no phrase that literally means ‘you are a good boy’ or ‘a good girl’, says 14-year-old Tjalling Appelhof from Amsterdam. “You say ‘bravo, boy’ or ‘well done’ or ‘thank you,'” he says. Like most Dutch teenagers, he bikes to school and feels he has a good level of self-determination. “I can tell what time I get home – not 3am, I mean, but sometime before bedtime!” he says. “I think I have enough freedom.”
Despite the country’s reputation for cannabis use, the Trimbos Institute reports a downward trend for alcohol and drug use and smoking among Dutch children aged 12-16. Such activities are described by HBSC experts as “risky behaviors” that impact happiness.
Other negative aspects are bullying and fighting. At the Groen van Prinstererlyceum, 16-year-old science major Dani Karremans says such pressures are not extreme in the Netherlands.
“If I compare things with other countries and especially other schools, you hear that people are being bullied, often badly,” he says. “Here, you don’t really see that. If people try to bully me, I just ignore them. I have my own friends who I get along with. I don’t have a social ‘image’ where I think everyone has to like me – that’s not realistic.
Dani, whose mother is Indonesian and Polish and whose father is Moroccan, says his father spends more time on Facebook than he does.
Saffron Jones, also 16 and majoring in social sciences, is half English and half Dutch. She says that since her parents split 11 years ago, her group of friends has always been supportive. “I could always stay with my friends in primary school. Now, if I’m stressed about school, most of the time a friend of mine is good at it, so I’ll call them and they’ll help me. It calms me down. »
HBSC data confirms this: 86% of Dutch teenagers say their classmates are kind and helpful, putting the country at the top of the rankings at 13 and 15 years old. Sex education begins at age four, and Saffron says her boyfriend is accepted by his friends and parents. Meanwhile, a poster on the wall of his school encouraging people of all sexualities to “come out” reaffirms that openness is acceptable. The teenage pregnancy rate in the Netherlands is also the the lowest in the EU.
The Dutch school system – almost entirely financed by public funds – integrates major examinations around the age of 12 and three levels of secondary education, from practical to more academic. But it is possible to pass from one to the other or to repeat and, despite concerns on dropping norms and increasing segregation, such flexibility could reduce stress.
Yara Agterhof, 17, from Vlaardingen, just changed the subject. “I was a year early, [taking] physics, chemistry and biology,” she says. “I thought it was too hard for me and I made the decision to go back. Now I have a different profile with the things I really like. I don’t feel of losing a year and I think my parents think, ‘As long as you’re happy, we’re happy.’ »
There are social issues such as differences in performance between ethnic minorities and native Dutch people, while one in nine children grow up in poverty. But Jacqueline Boerefijn, a biology teacher at the Groen van Prinstererlyceum, says that even if a school wants to expel a child, they have to find another school for them, so there are incentives to sort things out.
But Boerefijn, who developed happiness lessons at school ten years ago, and also gives positive psychology lessons for educators, worries that Dutch children are threatened by new pressures around academic achievement.
“Please stop raising the bar because we have happy children,” she said. “We already have so many highly educated people, and right now there aren’t enough people to do the plumbing and carpentry work.”
For Tjalling, it’s quite simple. “In the Netherlands we are rich, most things around children are well organised, like school and health care, and if people are poor we try to help them. Maybe that’s why the kids are happy.
“It rains a lot. But you get used to it.”
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