Tuesday's papers: Better parents, good friends and a six-hour workday

Finland's print press celebrates Valentine's Day with a list of improvements to family life in the 21st century, a story of true friendship and a researcher promoting a six-hour workday as a means to improve efficiency.

Äii niistää lapsen nenää.
The paper Helsinki Sanomat lists 11 ways parenting has improved in Finland. Image: AOP

The country’s leading newspaper Helsingin Sanomat features a reassuring Valentine’s Day article for all you hard-working parents out here: A list of 11 things that parents in Finland are doing better today than in the past.

Experts from several institutions, including the National Institute for Health and Welfare (THL) and the University of Helsinki, were consulted.

First on the list is the fact that fathers are participating much more in raising their children. THL research professor Sakari Karvonen wrote in his blog that relationships between preadolescent boys and their dads are the best in the world right now, as in a recent WHO survey of 42 countries, 92 percent of Finnish boys reported that they can talk with their dads about difficult subjects.

Next, the experts say parents in the 21st century respect their children’s opinions. In addition, families in Finland now speak about their feelings freely, a big change from the last generation. A THL doctor said that almost all of the eighth-graders in their nationwide health survey this year checked the box that said they could talk about personal things with at least one of their parents.

Playing and spending time together

The fourth and fifth items are an extension of this: parents now know their children better and want to spend time with them. They learn to play with their children already when they are small.

An important element in the improved overall health of families in Finland is the fact that parents now dare to seek help if they need it. THL psychiatrist Jukka Mäkelä says the old ethos of ‘going it alone through thick and thin’ is slowly receding.

Number eight on the list is better parental sharing of childcare responsibilities. The percentage of dads taking their full parental leave after a baby has been born has increased eight-fold between 2003 and 2012 in Finland. Even so, there’s plenty of room for improvement here, the paper writes, as only three percent of dads take child care leave to care of their preschool children, a figure that hasn’t changed since 1995. 

Children are also eating better now, with more nutritious food on offer. Eating together as a family is also on the rise. Finishing off the list of today’s good parenting traits are less corporal punishment and degradation as a form of discipline, and a dramatic drop in accidental deaths. In the 1970s in Finland, about 300 children under 15 were killed in accidents each year. By 2015, this number had plummeted to just 25.

True colours

The Aamulehti newspaper out of Tampere has a story about its ‘True Friend of the Year’ in honour of Finnish Friends’ Day. Each year the paper runs a contest asking people to tell about a good friend, and this year’s hands-down winner was Maija Lahtinen, a 34-year-old woman from Tampere. 

Maija’s friend Heidi Mäkelä from the town of Nokia wrote into the paper to explain their friendship, which began in the 1990s, when the young girls were in a music playgroup together.

Heidi says Maija was there for her, helping her out with day-to-day things, when she burned out after her father died suddenly and she was going through a divorce. She says she did the same for Maija when she was struck by a brain haemorrhage and lost her memory for a period, letting her friend live with her until she recovered.

Maija was awarded the prize for being “helpful, trustworthy, there through the tough times and a little crazy”. The paper awarded her movie tickets and a basket full of delicious treats. Several other papers share this tradition in Finland, running a 'true friend' contest on February 14.

Improving production with less work

The tabloid Iltalehti carries a story on Tuesday about a six-hour working day. Research professor Mikko Härmä from the Finnish Institute of Occupational Health says that it would likely increase efficiency at the workplace.

Härmä says Sweden has experimented with a shorter working day in the public sector, and a few scattered trials have also taken place in the public sector in Finland. He brings up one example he knows of, a private company with demanding production rates that required a lot of overtime from the staff.

“They switched to two shifts of six-hour days. People received the same wage, but lost their overtime compensation. It was a very positive experience all around. The employees were happy with their shorter days and production levels stayed high,” he tells the paper.

Härmä says a six-hour working day should actually be easier to apply in private businesses, because it is so much easier to quantify production and economic performance. He says research leads him to the conclusion that a shorter day actually improves efficiency, as people are less idle and need less breaks.

He is careful however about drawing a connection between a shorter work day and an increase in employment opportunities. He said improved efficiently due to the shorter day would likely eliminate the need to hire more people.

Härmä says data from Sweden also shows that a shorter working day significantly reduces musculoskeletal strain and other work-related stress factors. 

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