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Jesper Juul: "Children and young people hardly need any rules"

In an interview, Jesper Juul, family therapist and native Dane, explains why rules are a very primitive form of leadership, how parents avoid their child lying in the bus stop drunk and why children secretly long for learning.

Jesper Juul advocates giving young people freedom. Photo: Edu Lauton, Unsplash

The well-known education expert Jesper Juul has died

Jesper Juul, education expert and family therapist from Denmark, died in July 2019. He has helped parents with a wide variety of questions with numerous guides and in many columns. He talked to us about why parents should give their children and young people space.

Mr. Juul, in your company «familylab» you prepare families for the future. What will the family of the future look like?

Jesper Juul: I have no idea about that. What is clear, however, is that a completely new relationship must develop between man and woman, parents and child.

What is so wrong with the current relationships that they have to change?

Nothing. Relationship and parenting are just at an early stage. We are all experimenting with parenting right now and trying to do the best we can. It has to go on like this, there is no longer a general educational concept as it used to be. Instead, there are principles, values, and behavior that is healthier and better for everyone involved.

Educational guides like you are booming. Why do parents seek help from experts? Are you overwhelmed?

I don't know if the parents are overwhelmed. But most of them are unsure. They do not know exactly how to behave when dealing with their children. They are looking for information and dialogue. This is where we so-called experts come into play.

They have been raising their offspring for as long as there have been people. Then why are parents still insecure at all?

In the last century we were used to the fact that there was a very strong moral consensus in society: this is how you do something and this is not how you do it. But there is no longer this unity. Parents are left to their own devices, there is no generally applicable value system.

Bernhard Bueb, the long-time director of the Schloss Salem elite school, praised the discipline. Michael Winterhoff, child psychiatrist and author of “Why Our Children Become Tyrants”, advises that children should be brought up according to their level of development. They, in turn, recommend that parents treat their children on an equal footing and show them respect. Who should the legal guardian believe?

Thank goodness the experts disagree. Parents have to find their own answers. We are not offering a new collective common consensus. In relationships between adults and children, we need above all authenticity and personal responsibility: I am responsible for my actions. We can or must choose personally like never before in our history. There is no longer any authority that says: You have to do this and that. Children also find themselves in this dilemma. In my opinion, stories of discipline and obedience are no longer of any use.

Don't children and adolescents need values ​​by which they can orientate themselves?

The goal or the end result of upbringing should be the optimal mental and social health of a child and adult. Seen in this way, the previous upbringing was an absolute catastrophe.

Do you agree with Immanuel Kant who said: Man can only become man through education?

Jesper Juul: Yes absolutely. Because a kind of education has to be experienced. These nature children, who grow up without external influences and without pressure, only exist as a romantic illusion. Leadership is very important in education in general. Only this leadership has to be very different for the child and the adolescent. Children need parents who act as beacons, i.e. send clear signals more or less regularly. This is how children can orientate themselves. Adolescents need parents who offer maximum resistance while causing minimal damage.

What does that mean in concrete terms?

Parents should be responsible and loyal to their children. They have to stand by their views and experiences - but do not force their children to be like themselves. You are welcome to be powerful and make a big impression on your children - but you must never abuse your superiority over your child. Upbringing based on the motto “If you don't do what I say, then. . . " has not worked in the past, nor does it work today.

Still, do young people need rules?

Why do young people need rules?

For example, I don't want my daughter to hang around at the local bus stop at midnight when she is thirteen.

You see, we have the dilemma. You can set bans and threaten sanctions at the same time. Or you can have a dialogue instead. You explain to your daughter why you are against it. What are your reasons and fears. When you make rules, the whole circus begins. Then the children become submissive or criminal.

What options do parents still have?

From puberty onwards, people have to find themselves. Recognize your own limits, values ​​and potential. And that takes seven to eight years - during this time they need the resistance of their parents. And the youngsters have to learn to withstand this resistance from their parents. A 15-year-old comes home drunk. Finding his friends Alcohol is fun, the parents think it is dangerous. In this area of ​​tension he has to find himself and his position.

Are rules generally bad?

Rules are a very primitive form of leadership. Every family needs a handful of rules in order to live comfortably together. But rules as problem solving or problem prevention do not work.

Parents of young children don't want them to stay up late or consume tons of sweets. How do I convey my personal wish to the child?

The mother or father has to say clearly: I don't want that. There will be an argument over which the parents will have to build their personal authority. Instead, if you stubbornly invoke rules, you never get that kind of authority. You are nothing more than a police officer who controls compliance with the rules. When I was a child, it still worked, because back then it was still allowed to use violence in upbringing. Violence is the only way to enforce rules. That is why I advocate dialogue. That does not mean endless discussion, but simply means: Here I am, here you are. I am ready to take your wishes and needs seriously, then I will decide. This is new - we have never tried this attempt at mutual interaction. Children are brought up by the behavior of their parents, by how they organize their everyday lives, how they relate to their fellow human beings.

They write that thirteen-year-olds only need one or two people to make them feel: It is right and good the way you are. In the case of aggressive or drug addicted children, however, this is a major requirement for their parents!

That's it. But the parents are also responsible for the fact that their children got into this situation. The dear, well-behaved teenagers hardly need their parents anymore. But the truants, drug addicts, even more so.

What role does school play in everyday educational life?

Jesper Juul: The school is, in general terms, a disaster - an academic, educational and human disaster. Not only for the students, but also for the teachers. Everywhere in Europe there is a great fear of Pisa: Performance is more important than anything. Unfortunately, it was not yet understood that performance and good relationships do not work against each other, but for each other. The students are treated today like the industrial workers 50 years ago - what you experience, how you usually do, is not important to us. You just have to be here on time and do what we tell you. I did family work in refugee camps in Croatia and Bosnia.

What did you experience there?

The Croatian professionals and I were supported by international students, social workers and psychologists. We wanted to do good for the children and offered them everything imaginable: a football camp, a circus project and so on. After three months the children no longer wanted any of this at all, they insisted on lessons. Her express wish was: "We want to learn". Learning is a natural desire of children, and this thirst for knowledge must be encouraged and encouraged in schools.

Weren't you confronted with much tougher problems there than in your local seminars?

Of course it's terrible when half the family is dead and you've lost your home. But the problems here are no less serious. Any problem that is felt to be serious is stressful. Whether the father is at the front and the child does not know where he is, or whether the father is not interested in his child and never visits - the feelings of a child are the same. If you could calculate the total amount of pain, the result would be the same in both cases.

Jesper Juul, born in 1948 and died on July 25, 2019, was one of the most innovative family therapists in Europe. The Danish psychologist was the founder of "familylab - the family workshop" and worked with families for many decades. Juul did therapeutic family work in refugee camps in Croatia and Bosnia.

His books on family relationships and upbringing have been translated into several languages. The German edition of his book “Puberty - when educating no longer goes” (Kösel Verlag, Munich 2010) became a non-fiction bestseller in Germany.

You can find out more about Jesper Juul and the Familylabs at www.familylab.ch

Photo: private