“French people think Swedish children are little princes and princesses whose parents are afraid of being jailed if they discipline their children,” Cuerq tells The Local. “But this is mostly a myth that is used by parents who want to continue hitting their children.”
In reaction to this situation Cuerq has produced a French/Swedish film which is in part a tribute to Swedish society with regards to children and an information film aimed at persuading the French to remove physical punishment from their parental repertoire.
The film entitled, "If I'd known… I would have been born in Sweden," is self-financed and features on the website of French children's rights group The Observatory of Ordinary Disciplinary Violence (l'Observatoire de la Violence Educative Ordinaire – OVEO).
Cuerq tells The Local that there is strong opposition in France to a law similar to Sweden’s ground-breaking 1979 move to ban all forms of physical punishment in the home, but still her film has gained a significant response.
“Most of the reactions have been very positive. Although many are connected to this issue in some way. I don’t know if it has reached out to other groups, those who may be more inclined to disagree,” she says.
“Almost 17,000 have seen it,” she adds.
The film is divided into three parts with the first specifically addressing corporal punishment, the second about Sweden’s pre-school system and the third about attitudes to children in society in general.
This is where, Cuerq argues, the gulf in attitudes really manifests itself between her country of origin and her adopted home for the past four years.
“This is perhaps the country which works best in the whole world. There is greater freedom, more respect. I am still amazed by how much everyone respects each other here. How one listens and takes consideration for each other,” she says.
“In my country children should obey, they should not talk back to their parents at all. It is like a battle and there can be only one winner.”
After a few years' lull, Swedish parenting has been in renewed focus in recent months following a book by psychiatrist David Eberhard entitled “How Children Took Power” in which he advocates a return to authoritarian parenting.
Eberhard questions the Swedish parenting tradition of the past few decades, calling for a tougher approach and linking the "liberal parenting" development to increasing rates of truancy, anxiety and poor school results.
While she hasn’t yet read Eberhard’s book, Cuerq rejects this assertion arguing that you simply have to look at Swedish society to find evidence to the contrary.
“Some people say it has gone too far, but look at society. It works, here and now. We have a generation of children who were never hit as children and who have enjoyed rights. Has it not worked? Is there anarchy everywhere? Of course there isn’t.”
"I can't understand this thinking that kids should have a tough upbringing. It's going to be tough enough anyway."
Eberhard argues that parents should decide more of the time. Cuerq argues that parents should decide some of the time and in her experience as an au pair in three different Stockholm families, this is what happens.
“There are rules, but there is a lot of dialogue also. That is perhaps why overseas Swedish parents are seen as not ‘doing’ anything, because they talk instead with their children,” she says.
Eberhard’s book has received a fair amount of international media coverage which has at times linked his analysis to the decision to outlaw smacking, a point which Eberhard has rejected as erroneous in several interviews.
Cuerq argues that this connection is perhaps made by parents who “simply want to go on hitting their children” and notes similarities with what she calls the “myths” about Swedish parenting which prevail in France.
“I hope that they start to become interested in other countries. They don’t notice other countries in France. They don’t exist. They don’t know that corporal punishment is banned in more than 40 countries, for example – it is not just in Sweden.”
"In France children are seen as monsters, in Sweden as equals," she says.