Following my – I thought – rather sage economic advice to the people of Denmark last week, I received a number of messages pointing out that I knew diddly-squat about economics and the global energy markets and that perhaps I should just stick to complaining about leverpostej in my columns – either that or “F**k off home to where you came from if you don’t like Denmark” (although, personally, I don’t think that’s any way for a wife to talk to a husband).
So, this week I thought I’d stick to talking about something I do at least have some experience in: raising children.
I am pretty much a model father. Last year, I took my son to see Father Christmas, all the way up in Finnish Arctic (what do you mean, Father Christmas lives in Greenland? Try telling the Finns that). Ok, so we went in July, perhaps not the optimum time for a visit to Santa but, as I pointed out to my son, we would have had to have queued so much more in December.
So there was that.
And then, just last week, I took both of my kids to Christiania on an educational trip to expose them to some alternative ways of living – surrounded by mountains of old cigarette butts and alarmingly large piles of dog poo, for instance.
Admittedly, we inadvertently inhaled some exotic smoke as we passed a cafe while we were there, which I hadn’t foreseen happening. "So, now I can tell my friends in class that I’ve smoked pot!," beamed my ten-year-old excitedly. Probably not a great idea for a fifth grader, I explained gently, distracting him with the colourful pipes on a nearby stall.
So, you see, I know about parenting. And one thing I do know as a parent is this: Denmark is the greatest country on earth in which to raise children. Bar none.
Aside from the pretty great, low cost child care facilities, the decent schools and free-to-all higher education system, children enjoy an extraordinary degree of freedom and civil respect here. In Copenhagen, even in the ‘seamier’ quarters, you will see under-10s walking about alone, travelling on public transport and, of course, riding their bikes around. Since they were seven, my own kids have travelled to school on a bus every day, something my sister, who lives in England, found deeply troubling. She, like most English parents, is convinced that there is an international gang of paedophiles lurking in the shrubbery on every street corner, ready to pounce and whisk her children off to a basement somewhere (probably in Belgium).
In Britain, and the US, the media has done a fantastic job of instilling a permanent sense of danger around children, whether it be from the risk of kiddy fiddlers, or just crossing the road and climbing trees. While I do realise these dangers exist, they are nowhere near as widespread as they are depicted, as all sensible Danes know.
But I am beginning to notice some worrying developments here in down-to-earth Denmark. Here, too, the media is starting to pick up on the potential in stirring up parental fear where none is warranted.
It happened just this week when the editor of a mothering website innocently described a game she and her toddler son played in which she was a hungry seagull and his penis was a worm. Before your imaginations run away with you, this amounted to nothing more than a kind of rhyme or song – there was no pecking, if you’ll forgive the pun – but apparently some readers were outraged.
Then there was the story a while back about a father who was similarly outraged at the nude bathing of some of his elderly neighbours: heaven forbid that his young daughter should catch a glimpse of their shrivelled sex vegetables as they lolloped to the sea. His solution: photograph the offenders, and post the pictures online. Erm… riiight.
Please, Danish parents, don’t go the way of the prudish, silly, hyper-sensitive over-reactive Brits and Americans. By all means, protect your children from real dangers, like your processed pork products and Grand Theft Auto, but don’t start to see sex-pests in the shadows, or pederasts in every swimming pool, and don’t allow this culture of fear to engulf you and your children because, once that genie is released, you will never again get it back in its bottle.
Michael Booth is the author of The Almost Nearly Perfect People: The Truth About the Nordic Miracle available now on Amazon and is a regular contributor to publications including the Guardian and Monocle.