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Reducing substance abuse – what actually works

Written By: - Date published: 8:25 am, March 18th, 2017 - 66 comments
Categories: class war, drugs, quality of life - Tags: , , , ,

National’s “War on P” has been a total failure (as wars on drugs always are). If, instead of macho posturing, we wanted to actually tackle substance abuse, we would be looking at what actually works:

Iceland Knows How To Stop Teen Substance Abuse But The Rest Of The World Isn’t Listening

According to an Icelandic psychologist, Gudberg Jonsson, just twenty years ago Icelandic teens were among the heaviest drinking youths in all of Europe. Apparently you couldn’t even walk downtown in Reykjavik on a Friday night without being bothered by rowdy teenagers getting wasted. He says it felt unsafe.

Iceland now tops the European table for the cleanest living teens. The percentage of 15- and 16-year-old teens who had been drunk in the previous month dropped from 42% in 1998 to 5% in 2016. The percentage of cannabis users has even dropped from 17% to 7%, and those smoking cigarettes every day fell from 23% to 3%.

This country has been able to achieve such a successful turnaround thanks to what might best be described as enforced common sense. “This is the most remarkably intense and profound study of stress in the lives of teenagers that I have ever seen,” says Milkman. “I’m just so impressed how well it’s working.”

Milkman helped develop the idea that people were addicted to changes in the brain chemistry, rather than the drug itself. “People can get addicted to drink, cars, money, sex, calories, cocaine – whatever. The idea of behavioural addiction became our trademark,” he says.

This is what spawned another idea: “Why not orchestrate a social movement around natural highs: around people getting high on their own brain chemistry – because it seems obvious to me that people want to change their consciousness – without the deleterious effects of drugs?”

By 1992, Milkman’s team in Denver had been granted $1.2 million from the government to fund Project Self-Discovery, which offered teenagers natural high alternatives to drugs and various crimes.

“We didn’t say to them, you’re coming in for treatment. We said, we’ll teach you anything you want to learn: music, dance, hip hop, art, martial arts.” The idea was that these different classes catering to the interests of many teenagers could get the teens excited and provide alterations in their brain chemistry. It would keep them busy for one, but also it would keep them interested and in the learning phase. Being addicted to dance is obviously a much better alternative than being addicted to drugs or alcohol.

At the same time, teens also received life-skills training, which focused on having more positive thoughts about themselves, their lives, and how they were interacting with others. “The main principle was that drug education doesn’t work because nobody pays attention to it. What is needed are the life skills to act on that information,” Milkman says.

Possibly the most important step to this plan was increasing state funding for organized sport, music, art, dance, and other clubs. This allowed kids more ways to be able to bond with their peers and feel good and have fun, without resorting to drugs and alcohol. Lower income families also received a bonus for each child so that they too, could participate in these activities.

What Was the Outcome?

Between 1997 and 2012, the percentage of kids aged 15 and 16 who reported always spending time with their parents nearly doubled, increasing from 23% to 43%. The percentage of teens who participated in organized sports at least four times a week increased from 23% to 42%. Use of cigarettes, cannabis, and alcohol, on the other hand, all plummeted.

“Although this cannot be shown in the form of a causal relationship – which is a good example of why primary prevention methods are sometimes hard to sell to scientists – the trend is very clear,” says Alfgeir Kristjansson, who worked on the data. “Protective factors have gone up, risk factors down, and substance use has gone down – and more consistently in Iceland than in any other European country.” …

Makes sense doesn’t it.

Unfortunately: “Possibly the most important step to this plan was increasing state funding for organized sport, music, art, dance, and other clubs”. That’s never going to happen in National’s NZ.

66 comments on “Reducing substance abuse – what actually works”

  1. Bill 1

    So a richer environment that stimulates and that also offers connection will generally stave off the disconnect and boredom that might lend itself to self-medication and escape. That’s a no-brainer.

    Maybe we need to ask why our social environment is so fucking fucked that a government or state has to step in and construct or manufacture an approximation of healthy normal social spaces?

    When did we lose community and connection; control of our own society? Why did we lose it; what were the incentives, threats and/or promises that made us give it all up?

    Answers on a postcard please. (Because a manufactured landscape tacked on and presided over by a state or a government is. not. the answer we need)

    • Draco T Bastard 1.1

      When did we lose community and connection; control of our own society?

      When the capitalists took over and placed everyone into competition with each other for the jobs that they offered.

      Why did we lose it; what were the incentives, threats and/or promises that made us give it all up?

      Poverty and starvation – conform to what the capitalists want or die.

      • Bill 1.1.1

        Thank you Draco. That’s the kind of bolts of it. Would fit nicely on a post card too! 🙂

      • Psycho Milt 1.1.2

        When the capitalists took over and placed everyone into competition with each other for the jobs that they offered.

        As evidenced by drunkenness and anti-social behaviour being little-known before capitalism – oh, wait…

        • Bill

          As evinced by the likes of my great grandfather being shoved down a fucking hole in the ground to mine coal and living a short and fairly brutal life marked by displacement as much as anything else.

          As evinced by the deliberate break up of physical communities and the later dissolving of the residual cultural glue that had held those communities together.

          As evinced by increasing instances of neurotic behaviours beside a ballooning market for ‘fix it’ psychotropic medications and widespread instances of self medication.

          But I did suggest a postcard response. Which Draco adequately provided .

        • Let’s see, beer was basically invented as a way of increasing the morale of labourers in Egypt while they were basically hauling around rocks all day to build tombs for important rich people, so yeah, I’d say Draco’s hypothesis isn’t too far off, you just have to lump in monarchies and feudal lords in with capitalists too.

          It’s possible drunkenness predates beer in this case, of course, in which case I’m open to correction.

        • Draco T Bastard

          As evidenced by the collapse of societies throughout history by the actions of the capitalists.

          Capitalism destroys societies because it focusses on what the rich want, takes away resources from everyone else which increases stress for those people and makes it so that they can’t live.

          And the rich know that if the community was strong they’d never get their greed focussed policies through. Destroy the community though and Bob’s your uncle.

          • Mordecai

            Capitalism has never destroyed any society.

            • Bill

              The enclosures. Everyone just hopped and skipped along gleefully. No lost cultures. No decimated societies. 🙄

              Wars raging across the world and time in the cause of capital. Everyone packed cucumber sandwiches on the way to some front line picnic…and no cultures were suppressed and no societies destroyed 🙄

              Colonialism. All good 🙄

            • Draco T Bastard

              Wrong. Capitalism has been destroying societies throughout recorded history:

              It finds that according to the historical record even advanced, complex civilisations are susceptible to collapse, raising questions about the sustainability of modern civilisation:

              “The fall of the Roman Empire, and the equally (if not more) advanced Han, Mauryan, and Gupta Empires, as well as so many advanced Mesopotamian Empires, are all testimony to the fact that advanced, sophisticated, complex, and creative civilizations can be both fragile and impermanent.”

              By investigating the human-nature dynamics of these past cases of collapse, the project identifies the most salient interrelated factors which explain civilisational decline, and which may help determine the risk of collapse today: namely, Population, Climate, Water, Agriculture, and Energy.

              These factors can lead to collapse when they converge to generate two crucial social features: “the stretching of resources due to the strain placed on the ecological carrying capacity”; and “the economic stratification of society into Elites [rich] and Masses (or “Commoners”) [poor]” These social phenomena have played “a central role in the character or in the process of the collapse,” in all such cases over “the last five thousand years.”

              Capitalism destroys societies as a matter of course. Always has done, always will do.

              Another good read on it is Debt: The First 5000 Years

            • Tui

              cuba. it took castro to fix things. venezuela. chavez tried to fix things but couldn’t because of the US and bankers manipulating oil prices.

              ~ Tui.

    • red-blooded 1.2

      Why do you see kids taking up opportunities for a fun and active lifestyle as “manufactured”, Bill? Today’s kids are less likely to have a stay-at-home mum to encourage them to be active and take them to activities; they’re also less likely to be involved in church-related group activities. These aren’t bad social changes, but they do have consequences for kids and teens. Similarly, technology can block interpersonal interaction and make people more inactive. I think it’s absolutely fine for government to play a role in helping people to have better lives – that’s what government is for. If it’s OK for government to fund health care, why isn’t it OK for them to fund wellness and activity programmes like this?

      • Bill 1.2.1

        Because all that the government is manufacturing – deliberately and consciously putting together – is the very stuff we used to just do as a part and parcel of every day life. And neither government nor state had any part in that.

        If it’s now the case that we need a programme or a class or a state sponsored whatever to approximate those things we used to naturally and effortlessly organise ourselves around and participate in, then something very fundamental has gone very awry with society.

        • Cinny

          How would you fix it Bill? What do you suggest?

          • Bill

            I’m pointing out that this so-called solution is itself a symptom of a deeper problem. I guess you don’t quite see that though.

        • Once was Tim now no longer

          “And neither government nor state had any part in that.”
          Except that they did have a part in it to varying degrees either at central government or local government level.
          The provision and maintenance of facilities – community halls, parks and reserves departments that hadn’t been gutted, scout halls, reasonable urban design that fitted with community requirements. Reasonable public service media, etc. Since then of course, priorities changed.
          But that’s aside from the neo-liberal wet dream that fosters the greed is good, hyper individualism, exceptionalsim, consumerism, etc

          • Bill

            Aye okay. I should have more accurately written that government and state was more remote to community or the workings of community (though in many ways antagonistic to it) . This Iceland thing has the state sitting on the loo though. (Yes. Hyperbole.)

        • Draco T Bastard

          Because all that the government is manufacturing – deliberately and consciously putting together – is the very stuff we used to just do as a part and parcel of every day life. And neither government nor state had any part in that.

          Well, IMO, that would be wrong. The government did do all that stuff because the government was the people.

          Now we’ve had government divorced from the people and given over to rich people who are doing their usual stuff out of greed that is destroying our society.

        • red-blooded

          So, Bill, should we jam all those women back into the role of “housewife”? You say “we effortlessly” managed all these activities in your version of “the good old days”, but I think if you asked your mother (assuming she’s still around) she might have a different view about how much your supposedly effortless childhood depended on her constant support in the home. Not many women want to go back to that as the “natural” role for them and their daughters.

          • Bill

            So, Bill, should we…

            You might want to do that. But I didn’t indicate that a woman’s rightful place is in the kitchen or any such like, nor suggest any of the other of the guff you’re spouting.

            • red-blooded

              Did you actually read my comment, Bill? I’m asking you to think about how much that seems effortless in childhood actually relies on others’ efforts. You’re yearning for an idealised version of the past. I’m asking you to see that it wasn’t idyllic for all.

    • Cinny 1.3

      Bill it all comes down to money. When families are struggling to put food on the table due to the high cost of housing and low wages etc, paying for sport/arts activities after school is just way out of reach.

      Kids in sport stay out of court, well that’s great if you can afford to have your kid(s) in sport.

      And when the community does not have many activities because a lack of housing which leads to a lack of people, and a lack of people leads to the possibility of a dance or music expert unable to find accommodation so they go and live somewhere else. It makes it hard to have children involved in such activities.

      It’s not that we have lost community and connection; it’s more about how to improve and enhance it.

      • Bill 1.3.1

        Poverty doesn’t stop people from dancing or singing or playing football or being in whatever way social.

        This idea that sport (or anything else) only takes place in a managed (and paid for) environment is poison.

        I don’t know what age you are Cinny, but I well remember when the paid for after school activities were…well, I was going to say ‘the exception’, but I’m thinking they didn’t exist at all. Sure, a kid might be in the school football team and go off to training or play in an inter-school league game. But that aside, kids never got together to play football under the auspices of “school activity” – not ever.

        Can’t remember my mum ever going to any class run by any “expert” singer. She just sang. And my parents danced. And maybe – just maybe – if they wanted to brush up their skills on some particular dance, they’d go to a class for a short time. But they didn’t reserve their dancing for formal or managed setting. They had friends round and they danced in the living-room. The previous generation had friends and neighbours round (usually to a house with a piano) and people had a few jars or whatever and sang…and danced.

        • Cinny

          Bill, our home has a piano, my eldest goes next door to the retired principal for lessons. Every kid that comes to our house loves playing the piano, none of them have a piano at home. JS

          I’m a trained dancer among other things, kids love coming around here because I turn up the music and dance with them, some kids get told to turn down the music at home, some kids don’t have parents that dance with them, some kids want to learn how to dance properly, some kids don’t have a parent who can show them because their parent does not have the knowledge to advance their dancing. Kids need challenges, and if a kid dances the same way every time they will become bored with it, some parents bust out the same moves every time. JS

          Kids love to create and paint, awesome. Some homes don’t have an ‘art corner’ or a ‘dress up’ corner like our house does. Because the parents may not have the room, the money or the time to set it up. Luckily my father is an ex art teacher, and another of my skills is being a trained fashion designer, so i do make dressups for my kids, and my kids and their friends love to put on a ‘show’, it seriously funny to watch. My father teaches them different painting/art/drawing techniques, when they stay at their grandparents house. Not all kids have such people in their family to help them, with out demanding a dollar in return.

          Not all families are as lucky as mine. And it does all come down to money, I’ve a small mortgage and a family with a broad knowledge base, am one of the lucky ones. Mum paid for my dance lessons all through the ’80s. You could learn music free at school, least i think it was free, will ask, was a while back lolz.

          There could be a kid in south auckland with the potential to be a world class musician, but their family has no money to pay for lessons and they can’t afford an instrument. So this bright kid, becomes bored, and starts a bit of petty crime, maybe some shoplifting, and then it starts to snow ball. But if that kid had been given the opportunity to make the most of their love of music after school, instead of being bored and searching for another way to find attention, would they be better off? Would our community be better off?

          I can’t remember drugs ever being a problem back then, not like they are now. And this solution of Icelands is in a response to reducing substance abuse and it works.

          • Bill

            And before it was all consciously smacked apart – when we had community and the cultures, mores and sense of solidarity that community contained and spawned…

            As for the talented working class kid who never gets to develop or share their talent – that’s long been a criticism of capitalism and the constraints and divisions it engenders. (Google Jimmy Reid and Rat Race for example)

            But lets just say “times have changed” and laud whatever artificial and contrived environments are handed down to us, eh?

            • marty mars

              We still have all that stuff bill – look around – it is there and some of us are getting into living in and within our communities and groups and so on. The post gives a good example. You seem cynical and grumpy and pissed off – are you?

              • Bill

                I answered to your original comment and it hit the bottom of the thread. Yes I’m pissed off – that a state should step in and play the role of community in this way; that it might be seen to be required…and above all that it’s lauded and accepted as some kind of new normal.

                Community used to be ubiquitous. That isn’t the case now. Many ,and from all across the world, have been deliberately destroyed and/or subsumed by market mores and individualism.

                States were often the drivers of or enablers for that destruction. And now we’re seeing states step in as apparent benefactors for people who are behaving in perfectly normal destructive ways given the denuded social environment we live in and that states ushered in.

                It won’t end well.

        • Draco T Bastard

          Poverty doesn’t stop people from dancing or singing or playing football or being in whatever way social.

          Yes it does. When parents can’t afford their children to go to any of those things because those things need funds to operate the dance/singing/football hall then poverty prevents people from being social.

      • gsays 1.3.2

        Hi cinny, I have done the parent sport coaching thing, cricket and rugby.
        While $ can be a barrier, I would suggest it is also time.
        All kids need is an adult to be at a place at a time, with a whistle, ball, wickets etc, and the fun ensues.

        Btw, the scouting movement has no fees for youth if the parents volunteer as leaders.

        • Bill

          And when you were a child gsays – was all this cricket and rugby organised, overseen, managed and guided by adults?

          • gsays

            I have to confess to being an unco, so sport wasn’t my thing.
            however riding bikes, playing down the creek, chucking a frisbee at the park were more my cup of tea, not an adult in sight.

          • Cinny

            We all agree that kids keeping busy learning new things keeps them out of trouble. So why don’t we all make it happen? Rather than looking at the parents, let’s just help the kids.

            G is right, it will be a time thing as well, how do we ensure the kids have adults with the time to involve themselves? Or how do we find adults with enough time on their hands to donate that and their talents to strangers to help them?

            Am so freaking lucky in Motueka, our community here is incredible. But those in the city don’t have it so sweet, how do we help those kids?

            Would Icelands solution help the city kids? The kids in south auckland? etc etc.

            It’s great to kick around a ball or throw a frisbee at the local park, some people are even lucky enough to have a safe local park. I loved riding my bike as a kid, roads were not as busy then. Times have changed so much, we need to change with the times.

            • Bill

              Times have changed so much, we need to change with the times

              Or we need to change the times.

            • gsays

              Adults! Put down that phone, iPad, device and pick up yr inner child.
              And play.

    • SpaceMonkey 1.4

      The way I see it… our social environment taking a hammering from a ficticiuos matrix-like world that we’ve been co-opted into. It’s broadcasting at a frequency that keeps us distracted but feeling ok. A gilded cage for the mind.

      We need to jam the frequency of that transmission. Sometimes nature does it for us.

      I realise this is too long for a postcard… apologies.

  2. Cinny 2

    Wow, kudos Iceland. What a fantastic system, that works. Loving this, and if such a plan was adopted and funded here, I imagine the obesity rates would drop dramatically as well

    The monies saved via the courts, health care, social services etc etc etc over time would far out weigh the cost of such an initiative.

    Far out, I would vote for such a policy if it were to be introduced here. Brilliant. Community minded thinking, putting the kids first, all the kids 😀 Yes please and thank you.

    • Once was Tim now no longer 2.1

      And I bet over time a mutual respect for one another would re-emerge – we might even eventually see attitudinal changes (rape culture, etc.)

    • Well, to be fair, the idea of getting people involved in doing things they’re passionate about is great, but they also paired it with a mandatory 10pm curfew for teens under 17, (although in summer you get ’till midnight) which is a little extreme.

      But yeah, the idea of not giving any encouragement to drink or smoke to teens and giving them lots of better alternatives seems fundamentally sound, especially the “stressing the importance of spending time together” stuff they were doing with parents.

  3. Keith 3

    You are right, all this needs to happen, in fact it must happen but we don’t see that in NZ, not Nationals New Zealand. We need to teach our kids from the youngest age that you only have one brain and we need to look after it rather than anesthetising it with drugs. Even to suggest legalising cannabis is good is sending the wrong message and lets not get started on the liberal Alcohol industry regulations, (who was that very rich corporate donor again Stephen?).

    But you are also right, alternatives or at least alternatives that compliment law enforcement are never going to happen under Nationals less government. Already in the law enforcement area cut backs to police budgets are such that enforcing drug laws are now beyond a compromise between funding and enforcement, the enforcement part is essentially exercise is pointless.

    But meth is a tricky one. That drug is hideous, extremely and quickly addictive and incredibly damaging to the brain of a user and then to all around it, users or not.

    “The war on P” is not going well because one side is armed with $2 shop water pistols that look real for appearances sake to save money whilst the other, the gangs and drug world are armed with Nuclear weapons.

    • Red Hand 3.1

      Adults respecting children and feeling and showing the respect makes children calm, confident and courageous, and also well mannered.

      Children who are respected, listened to and treated with kindness show these qualities towards other children and adults.

  4. Cynical jester 4

    Shout out to the nz police for making crack easier to score than weed.
    Safer communities together

    The polices top priority is busting weed growers and so kids go to a tinny house and the gangs say ‘oh we haven’t got any weed do you want to try some of this for free” and then you have an addict!

    Labour wants a thousand more cops? Twits.it’ll just make everything worse.

    How about labour have some modern drug policy and start decriminalizing and legalizing drugs and lets talk about this like adults.

    Ill be voting for a party which wants reform, which is actually what most kiwis want.

    • Sabine 4.1

      actually we need both.
      we need a few more community cops – not just revenue gatherers that hide in the bushes and under bridges and we need sensible drug laws.

    • Keith 4.2


      Legalising meth and having a good ol’ adult talk about it is an oxymoron when one party’s brain is fried!

  5. Antoine 5

    This is a really bad misleading post because it quotes the original news article so selectively.

    There are two different programmes going on here, which are conflated in the post:
    – Milkman’s programme in Denver (Project Self-Discovery), and
    – the Iceland programme, which is not properly described in the post above, but is the one that resulted in the great improvement in drug use in Iceland.

    The Iceland programme included funding for kids recreation but was not limited to that. Other planks included that (I quote from https://www.theatlantic.com/health/archive/2017/01/teens-drugs-iceland/513668/):

    – It became illegal to buy tobacco under the age of 18 and alcohol under the age of 20
    – Tobacco and alcohol advertising was banned
    – A law was passed prohibiting children aged between 13 and 16 from being outside after 10 p.m. in winter and midnight in summer
    – Links between parents and school were strengthened through parental organizations which by law had to be established in every school, along with school councils with parent representatives
    – Parents were encouraged to attend [educational talks]
    – The national umbrella body for parental organizations, introduced agreements for parents to sign.

    In short: recreation for kids is great but it is far from being the whole solution.


    • r0b 5.1

      There are two different programmes going on here, which are conflated in the post:

      I thought it was clear enough, apologies if not. I already quoted too much of the original, wasn’t comfortable with any more…

      • Antoine 5.1.1

        Fair enough, I appreciate the desire not to just block quote the whole thing 🙂

        But I do think it’s useful to get those other actions in there that Iceland took, that contributed to the good outcome.

    • Bill 5.2

      Ingrates to be managed and corralled and placed ‘just so’. Oh. And we have dance classes. / sarc

      Do ends justify means?

    • Mordecai 5.3

      Recreation will not be the whole answer, but it is such a big part of addressing these issues, and others.

  6. Bill 6

    Comment in response to martymars above that was trashed some time during the edit window. (Aye marty – in short, I’m a bit grumpy about it 😉 )

    People being in community is good. If ‘community’ is imposed, it’s not good.

    And I’ve just come away from reading Antoines comment below that mentions curfews, law changes, parents signing agreements….and it all sounds, well… quite Stalinist.

    Stalinism holds that people need only be ordered in a particular way to produce a perfect society.

    People acting in response to their environment are acting naturally. If behaviour is all fucked up, it’s because the environment is all fucked up.

    And at that point, we either impose an extra layer of stuff on the environment from on high to discourage or punish behaviours we’d rather not see, or we acknowledge the environment itself is the problem and change it.

    To run with a wee personal meme that’s kind of developing for me today, the question might be as to whether to “Change with the times or change the times”

    • Yeah I put it up then thought it was too harsh and not close enough to what I wanted to say.

      I’m not sure what change the times means to be honest. For me I think the results are great and that is awesome.

      It is okay to practice to get better at something even something we knew how to do, even community buildiing. And as I’ve said upstream – we have community now and good people – we need to strengthen and reinforce what we already have and then grow. I think it is happening as cinny said, Mot and over the hill in the Bay.

      • Bill 6.1.1

        My concern is that society (if the Iceland story and reactions here are anything to go by) seems happy for power to be vested with a state rather than community and that as a result communities lose even more of their already diminished agency.

        Imposing curfews on people and getting agreements signed (presumably with some come-back if the agreements are deemed to have been breached) isn’t any kind of a way to do things by my way of thinking.

        And willfully ceding community power and agency to institutions that formerly worked to destroy communities is just plain….odd.

        • marty mars

          I wonder if, as a community grows, it begins to expand beyond the control of even the progonators.

          i do hear you about the way that achieved their objectives. My natural aversion to control and coercion radar is pinging for sure. And the more I think about your argument, the more my disquiet grows. I may be just a anti authoritarian lout though ☺

        • One Two

          Responsibility always rests with the people, however the individuals interact socially, be it biological or otherwise

          The state is fighting for relevance, and is losing in front of the eyes of those who bother to observe it

          Everyone else is living life within whichever parameters they ‘fit’, and as more are turned off or spewed out by the state, the certain demise reaches self fulfillment

          With 100% certainty, the state is finished!

    • Cinny 6.2

      Ok then James, how do you suggest we change the environment?

      • Cinny 6.2.1

        Lolz, sorry, I didn’t mean that question to be directed at James. I meant it to be for Bill.

        Ok then Bill how do you suggest we change the environment?

        • Bill

          As I said to you above Cinny.

          I’m recognising a problem with the ‘Iceland way’ and suggesting it’s a symptom of a deeper malaise. You want to jump aboard with it because the end point would appear, at least at face value, to be good, then hey.

          Otherwise see portions of marty’s comments or even portions of your own on community.

  7. weka 7

    Re the curfew, I was curious so did some superficial digging. Results below, but I would guess there are further cultural contexts here that we are unaware of (it was hard to find Icelandic perspectives on it). It looks to me less like Stalinism 😉 and more like nationwide community level intervention. Yes done by the state, but would it then be ok if it was a local community initiative?

    I had to think about this quite a bit through out the day. One the one hand, if we were looking at a curfew here I’d resist, but that’s probably more because of NACT than objections to what has been done in Iceland.

    But we have levels of freedom now that are unprecedented. I can’t think of any traditional culture that would tolerate young people getting drunk and causing mayhem as a cultural norm. Most traditional cultures provide structure, function and meaning to the transition between childhood and adulthood. Maybe that’s what is being done in Iceland. I’d be interested to find Icelanders critiques of the whole thing though.

    How do you feel about the children curfew law? An example that should be followed by other countries? (self.Iceland)

    [–]Redneckviking 5 points 2 years ago

    Its not a major issue tbh. In residential neighborhoods it is common for children to be out past the times set, the law is more for keeping kids out of the downtown areas and such. But i have never heard of it being enforced in any major way. As for should it be followed by other countries i have no clue but if your cities are being overrun by unruly pre teens i would suggest a curfew. and stun guns.

    [–]Iris_BlueIf you’re lost in an Icelandic forest, just stand up!

    While I agree with r/Redneckviking, that it’s not a major issue, I think this is just a sensible, slightly security based law. Kids that age shouldn’t be outside on their own after those times anyway. I’ve always felt it was somehow put in to law so when kids whine and try asking if they can go out, the parents can just say “No, it’s the law” 🙂 End of conversation.

    How do you feel about the children curfew law? An example that should be followed by other countries? from Iceland

    On hands-off parenting: Icelanders value freedom in childhood, and that includes freedom from adult supervision. Kids often play outside without their parents, and there is a 10 p.m. curfew for kids under 12 (enforced more by parents than police). I have never heard people here talk about “stranger danger,” and there’s a very low crime rate. My boyfriend has seven- and eight-year-old sons. They spend their days just wandering, riding bikes and going to the football field. I’ll ask my boyfriend, ‘Do you know where the boys are?’ He’ll say ‘Nope, they’re out.” I’m getting more comfortable with the Icelandic parenting mode, but I still worry about my kids all the time. My six-year-old daughter will walk to school on her own this fall, but my kids don’t stay out late by themselves.


    Speaking of “perks”, I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention that the government mandates that new mothers get 3 months paid leave (plus an optional 3 unpaid), fathers another 3 and 3, and the couple can apply for an additional 3 and 3 to split as they so choose, so up to 9 months paid and 9 unpaid between them. But apparently that’s not enough because the government is looking to raise it to 12! The country is incredibly child-friendly, both in terms of laws and culture. I’ve seen kids playing around the prime minister’s table while a party speaker discussed tax policy. I’ve seen 2-6 year olds dancing in the front row of a heavy metal concert. People leave strollers with young children unattended outside because “the fresh air is good for them”. Of course the strollers are totally winterized. People just take their kids everywhere. Businesses cater to them, with things like play rooms, free fruit for kids, etc – it all varies by place and time, but parents are clearly the target. And in general kids grow up faster here, gaining both freedom and responsibility at younger ages. It can be surprising to see how young kids sometimes start work (although under tightly controlled conditions). And they’re often allowed to roam free, so long as they’re back home before a (generally late) curfew.


    It’s possible the curfew is also related to being close to the pole and the whole light/night/sleep issue,


    • Bill 7.1

      People approving or disapproving of the curfew is beside the point. There is, or has been behaviour that people don’t want.

      My perspective is that behaviour is generally and broadly a reaction to an environment. So if general behaviours are (say) undesirable, then there’s something wrong with that environment.

      At that juncture there’s a choice.

      Ignore the context, blame the individual and simply make them conform to ‘proper bahaviour’ through various mechanisms that get added or tacked onto the general environment.

      Or identify and reconfigure the fundamental environmental causes/source.

      Obviously, the first option is by far the easiest one and yes, it often produces results…at least in the short term. But over time, the underlying social or environmental malaise will become manifest in other or newer ways…or so I’d argue.

      • weka 7.1.1

        Oh sure, I got all that about your arguments here (and there’s been some good commentary today), and largely agree. I just wanted to pull that bit out because I was curious about it.

        I don’t think a curfew in the context of the other approaches is a blame the individual and ignore the context/environment thing. I think it’s the thing that is doable now and some of what they’re doing looks good to me. As I said, if this was being implemented at a community level would it be ok then?

        The other thing that interests me is what do societies do when the fundamentals are broken. You and I might have ideas about how things should or could be different, but I don’t see a clear pathway from where we are now to something that replaces what we have and is viable, meaningful and healthy. We should keep trying of course, but there is still a gap to fill.

        “Or identify and reconfigure the fundamental environmental causes/source.”

        Yes, but most people don’t believe that capitalism should end, which is the dilemma for pro-democracy people who do want it to end.

        Identify the fundamental cause/source would make a great post/discussion btw.

        • Bill

          By definition, curfews are imposed. So whether that imposition comes from a state level or a community level, it makes no difference in terms of questioning the legitimacy of the imposition.

          The focus of a curfew is the individual, so I can’t see how a curfew isn’t an illustrative example of blaming the individual.

          The other thing that interests me is what do societies do when the fundamentals are broken.

          We identify those things and then reject them in all of their forms. So for example, if asymmetry of power is identified as one of those things that results in unhealthy environments for people, then the next step is to identify and reject anything and everything that would give rise to it. Society is a never ending process. It’s not ever static. There is no perfect end point, or perfect formulation. There’s just a journey or a dynamic process, and that journey or process can either damage people in various ways or enhance people in various ways.

          Yes, but most people don’t believe that capitalism should end, which is the dilemma for pro-democracy people who do want it to end.

          Either way, whether through our own choice or via the impacts of physics (climate change), capitalism will end. It’s not a question of ‘should’, but a question of how and when.

          • marty mars

            Just on this curfew thing – they are collective not individual, they are for groups and sure sometimes very specific.

            I think different social models may help for instance the Māori model of tapu and noa, of mana, of utu and reciprocity. This model sets restrictions and they are followed to get the social benefits such as inclusion and mutual support.

            The western model is not the only model or anywhere near the best imo

            • Bill

              I kinda think you’re splitting hairs a bit on the curfew thing marty. An authority laying down enforceable rules around when people, or identifiable groups of people can go outside impacts at the individual level.

              No argument from me on what you’re terming ‘the western model’. Capitalism has bent, twisted and destroyed countless societies and cultures, both in ‘the west’ and elsewhere, so that today there’s a fairly high degree of dull homogeneity across the world in place of a former richness and diversity.

              I’m going to punt that concepts of tapu and noa, of utu and reciprocity are essentially universal and that they’ve found expression in countless cultures over large spans of time. My question, if I’m going to follow through on the angle of asymmetric power relations, wouldn’t be about the concepts themselves, but the process of how they come into being in a particular setting (ie – how, if they are codified, they come to be codified) and by what authority (if any) they are then enforced.

  8. Drowsy M. Kram 8

    Thanks for the interesting info.

    Maybe Iceland’s initiative was born out of genuine concern for societal health and is an attempt to ‘change the times’ – the programmes have been developing for a while.

    A charitable take on our government would be that it’s ignoring the times. A do-nothing government as far as the health and resilience of wider society is concerned.

  9. saveNZ 9

    Best article I’ve read on solving substance abuse!

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