Photo: Ulf Lundin/imagebank.sweden.se
Children in Sweden
What is it like to be a child in Sweden? Here’s a brief overview of the Swedish school system, what children’s rights are and what children in Sweden do in their free time.
Ever since 1842, every child in Sweden has had the right to go to school, by law. Today there are ten years of compulsory schooling, divided into four stages: förskoleklass (‘pre-school year’, year 0), lågstadiet (years 1–3), mellanstadiet (years 4–6) and högstadiet (years 7–9). Most children then go on to the optional gymnasium (upper secondary school, or the equivalent of American high school – years 10–12) and graduate when they are 18–19.
Children who are between 6 and 13 years old are offered out-of-school care before and after school hours. Compulsory education also includes sameskolor (Sami schools) for children of the indigenous Sami people.
Around one-fifth of Sweden’s 10 million inhabitants are under 18. Swedish law ensures that children are well protected and their rights are defended.
In 1993, the Swedish government appointed an ombudsman to protect children’s rights and look after their interests. The Ombudsman for Children in Sweden is obliged to follow the 1989 United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child and enforce it in Swedish society. Sweden was one of the first countries to sign up. As of 1 January 2020, Sweden has incorporated the UN Convention into Swedish law.
In 1979, Sweden became the first country to ban corporal punishment of children. By introducing a ban in the Parent Code, which is a civil code, Swedish law explicitly states that parents cannot use any form of violence or other humiliating treatment as part of bringing up their children. The aim was not to criminalise parents, but rather to change attitudes. Having said that, beating or spanking a child is also a criminal offence according to the Swedish Penal Code.
#3 Help and support
There are many organisations that young people in Sweden can turn to if they need help. Children’s Rights in Society (BRIS) offers support services such as telephone helplines, chat and email counselling.
Friends is an organisation dedicated to stamping out bullying, mainly in schools but also outside – during organised sports activities, for example.
Save the Children Sweden (link in Swedish) is another organisation that defends the rights of children.
#4 Family life
Nearly children in Sweden start off living with their mother and father, who may or may not be married and tend to have one or two children on average. But separation is not unusual. Today 75 per cent of children under 18 live with both their birth parents, while 18 per cent live with a single mother or father and 5 per cent live with a stepfather or stepmother.
About one in four children in Sweden has a family with roots in another country. Most children living in Sweden who were born abroad, or whose parents were born abroad, come from Syria, Somalia, Iraq, Afghanistan or Poland. More than 60 per cent of children live in detached houses or row houses, the rest in flats.
#5 Working parents
Most children have a working mother, based on the fact that 80 per cent of women between 20 and 64 are employed. The figure for men between 20 and 64 is 85 per cent, so most children also have fathers with jobs. Parents gets 480 days of paid parental leave per child to share between them. These days must be claimed before the child turns eight or finishes the first year in school. Most parental leave is taken by mothers, but fathers are spending an increasing amount of time at home with their children. Men now claim about 30 per cent of all parental leave taken.
#6 Hobbies and pastimes
Like most children the world over, Swedish children enjoy listening to music and hanging out with friends. They are also encouraged to focus on their interests. Singing and playing a musical instrument are popular extra-curricular activities. About one-fourth of 12- to 15-year-olds have been to a concert in the last six months, more girls than boys.
Everyone is encouraged to take up sport, and 66 per cent of 12- to 15-year-olds are members of a sports club. Among the most popular sports are football (soccer), ice hockey and floorball. Horseriding is also a big sport among girls. Overall, individual sports like gymnastics see the highest growth, even among boys – most likely thanks to a quickly growing number of parkour clubs.
#7 Internet and TV
Young Swedes surf the internet much more than they watch TV. Among 12- to 15-year-olds, 13 per cent watch TV at least three hours a day, but more than half spend as much time surfing the internet. As many as 30 per cent of boys between 12 and 15 play video games for three hours a day, but only 5 per cent of girls. Watching videos is popular, but children do different things depending on their age and gender.
Doing school work, chatting and using social media and smartphone apps are common pastimes among older children. Younger children are more into games – half of all 2-year-olds play games via the internet.
Swedish directors making movies for young people do not shy away from difficult subjects. Beyond dreams (Dröm vidare, 2017) by Rojda Sekersöz is an honest account about what it can be like to grow up. Mirja has served her first prison sentence for a failed robbery. After prison, she has to get a job. She’s trying to find her way, being torn between her sick mother and her old gang, who has always been her real family.
In Girls Lost (Pojkarna, 2016) by Alexandra-Therese Keining, three 14-year-old girls discover that they can transform themselves into boys by drinking nectar from a strange flower. The film offers a new take on teenage anxiety.
Monky (2017) tells the story of 11-year-old Frank and his secret friendship with a monkey that shows up in his family’s backyard one night after tragedy strikes. It’s soon clear that this is no ordinary animal and in the search for answers, Frank and his family embarks on a journey from a small Swedish village to the deep jungles of Thailand.
Astrid Lindgren — creator of Pippi Longstocking, Emil, Karlsson-on-the-Roof and numerous other story-book characters — is the most-read children’s author in Sweden. Her books are more widespread than any other Swedish author’s. Having been translated into more than 100 languages, about 165 million of her books have been sold globally. Many have been turned into films or plays.
Gunilla Bergström wanted to write about real life, and created a little boy, Alfie Atkins (Alfons Åberg), as her main character. She describes the stories as mini-dramas on the psychological level. Making mischief, being frightened of ghosts, missing a friend, getting into fights, Christmas being over… they cover the sorts of things any child can relate to. The series includes 26 titles so far, published in around 30 languages.
Sven Nordqvist’s Pettsson and Findus stories and Anders Jacobsson’s and Sören Olsson’s Sune books are widely read, too. Martin Widmark’s and Helena Willis’s JerryMaya (Lasse Maja) series has been translated into 19 languages. Their books have become bestsellers and are also among the most popular of all the children’s fiction housed in Sweden’s libraries.
The average price of a printed book in Sweden is about SEK 120 (EUR 12). Sweden has a lower tax rate for printed books and audio books – 6 per cent instead of 25 per cent.
Photo: Lina Roos/
Swedish schools are working with a variety of organisations to encourage young people’s interest in technology and entrepreneurship.
The youth programme Finn upp (‘invent’) uses a teaching method designed to awaken a desire for knowledge in school children. The programme encourages them to invent things to help them learn. Finn upp arranges a competition for young inventors aged 12 to 15 every year, an event that aims to inspire a new generation of inventors, innovators and entrepreneurs, and release the power of fresh ideas. Finn upp was founded in 1979 by the Swedish Society of Engineers (Ingenjörsamfundet).
The non-profit association Snilleblixtarna (‘the flashes of genius’, link in Swedish) is geared to children from pre-school age to sixth grade. The aim is to encourage children’s interest in technology, the natural sciences and entrepreneurship. Snilleblixtarna provides teachers and educators with tools and a working model to stimulate children’s curiosity, desire to learn and ability to think critically.
- The Ombudsman for Children in Sweden
- UN Convention on the Rights of the Child
- Children’s Rights in Society (BRIS)
- Save the Children Sweden (in Swedish)
- The Skogsmulle Foundation (in Swedish)
- The Guides and Scouts of Sweden
- The Swedish Environmental Protection Agency
- Tom Tits Experiment – a science centre for children
Last updated: 9 January 2020