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Parenting All Over the World

Our family recently came back from a 5 month sabbatical in Israel, just over a month ago. Even though I have spent nearly my entire life in the United States, the culture shock upon the return trip has been significant. Among the most significant parts of the shock is the extent to which parenting attitudes differ between Israeli culture and American culture. Of note, Israeli families tend to be larger, which means that most of the time there are more children than adults supervising. Playgrounds, shopping malls, and restaurants are all designed with this in mind. 6 year old children can be responsible for their younger siblings, kids can walk to school and the grocery store and pretty much every place on their own, and adults all know to watch out for kids, especially when driving through intersections.

In the United States, by contrast, many family structures have one adult per child, which translates into an expectation of much closer supervision. On our first day back, for example, I was talking to an administrator in our local town recreation center, when my 6.5 year old wandered around the corner. I, of course, paid no attention, but the woman I was talking to stopped in mid-sentence.

“Where did he go?” she asked.

“I don’t know,” I admitted, nonchalantly.

“You should go check on him,” she persisted.

“Probably he is around the corner reading signs on the wall. I am sure he is fine.” He is 6 years old, I thought, not 6 months.

“We can continue this conversation another time when you are not as busy,” the woman said, effectively ending the conversation.

The two of us walked around the corner and saw my child reading signs on the wall.

“Oh,” the woman said, sighing with relief. “Thank goodness he is safe.”

Thank goodness indeed, I thought, with no small trace of irony. The Sharon, MA recreation center can be a really dangerous place sometimes.

What do you think about these parenting differences? Share your comments below!

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