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  • Henriette Johnsen

Teenage life: friendship, freedom, efterskole, sex and alcohol

Friendships mean the world to children and teens. This is where they develop their sense of self and identity, they learn social coding and develop their sense of belonging to a group. It's also via friendships, children start to see that there is a life outside of the family, and that things can be, and are, done differently than behind their own four walls.


Friendships can be seen as a source of psychological oxygen in the sense that it is in interaction with others, we grow and learn how to be people. As mentioned in an earlier post in this series about Danish childhood, one of the aims of early institutionalisation of children in Denmark is to enhance their social and emotional skills.


From a very young age, children in Denmark can venture out on their own as well as take responsibility for themselves. Soon they are expected to make their own way to school and extracurricular activities, and some children spend a few hours home alone after school when they have become too old for after school clubs. Teachers and many parents expect their children to be in charge of their homework and own learning.


Teenagers are encouraged to take a job delivering papers, working in the local supermarket, fast-food restaurant or babysitting at other people’s houses. Many are also expected to help around the house: empty the dishwasher, tidy and clean their own rooms, help with the grocery shopping as well as cooking meals. This means taking on responsibility and earning money - money which can be spent with friends. Many teenagers are also involved in voluntary jobs in sports clubs and the like.


Many teens, approximately 30.000 each year, take their 8th, 9th or 10th year of schooling at a boarding school, "efterskole". Efterskoler are residential schools for teens between the age of 14 and 18. Students attend for many different reasons: wanting to enhance their academic skills before heading into college, wanting to focus on a special skill like writing, sports, art, drama or wanting a year outside of the family home.


The students live together in dorms or double rooms and have chores. Students learn how to get along with other people; and great, sometimes lifelong, friendships are formed. All students return from efterskole changed, and many parents report their children growing up into mature, sensible young people ready to embrace the next educational step of their life. You can learn more about efterskoler here.


From a relatively early age, children have their own mobile phones and other electronic devices. I won't go into details here, but reckon it is as important for parents to set healthy boundaries around this as it is to realise that for younger generations, the interaction they have online can be as valid and valuable as the interaction "in real life". For them, the digital world is part of the real world.


On one hand, Danish children have many responsibilities; on the other hand, they have a vast degree of freedom. Family life doesn't so much evolve around the parents' whereabouts as those of the children. Taking on age appropriate responsibilities as well as having an age appropriate amount of freedom enhances children's sense of independence and capability, but it can also have a downside.


The covid-19 crises aside, it is not uncommon to see youngsters rummage around the streets in the evening, hanging on street corners. Some smoke, some drink, some just hang. One of the things which had me worried when I relocated three teens back to Denmark a few years ago was the drinking culture amongst teenagers in Denmark.


It is safe to say that teens in Denmark drink more than most. According to a study ESPAD published in 2019, Denmark holds the questionable honour of having the most heavy drinkers in Europe in the age bracket 15-17 years of age. Generation Z and New Millinium have traditions around drinking which could send any liver spinning for a break: For instance, at midnight on their 18th birthday, it has become custom to drink 18 shots on the trot.


A study published a few days ago confirms this tendency amongst the 15 year olds. Mette Rasmussen, leading up the study, says "the drinking tendency is worrying as we know that a great intake of alcohol - and in particular a lot of alcohol in one intake - increases the risk of accidents, violence, sex and drug abuse which is then later regretted".


In Denmark, 15 years of age is where teens are allowed to practise sex with people 15 years of age of older; and it is also the age where teens are considered old enough to be accountable for their actions, including those which aren't legal. Tomorrow, I shall give you an overview of what children and teens are allowed to and held responsible for.


Most, if not all, efterskoler operate with a zero-tolerance policy on alcohol intake.


In relation to sex, a 2016-study carried out by The National Institute of Public Health found that a quarter of all 18-19 year olds are still virgins. In January 2020, Statistics Denmark announced that 2018 was a recording breaking low in teenagers giving birth; in fact, this number has been on the decrease over the past 45 years.


These are sensitive subjects which it can be difficult to approach without risking complete alienation of your teenage child. In the last blogpost of this mini series of child life in Denmark, I will give you some tips on how to have these difficult conversations with you children.

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