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Discipline and Respect, Bulgarian Style

Discipline and respect are two of many important components that make people into good citizens and these characteristics are shaped by the society we live in and our home environment. However, in countries like the USA, UK and other Western European nations, these worthy traits are on the decline giving rise to a nation of young people with little regard for authority and their fellow men. Bulgaria may be lacking in many things – good roads and efficient organisation to name but two – it stands out head and shoulders above America and the UK in terms the conduct of its young people.


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Respect and discipline are taught at an early age in the home. People still live with their extended family under one roof and rather than this being regarded as a hindrance it is seen as an advantage. Grandparents spend a lot of time with their grandchildren taking on the role as primary carers in households where both parents work. Rather than being institutionalised into day care as they are abroad, grandparents supervise homework, play, mealtimes and discipline with the full backing of the child’s parents. Discipline from parents and relatives can come in the form of smacking, stern telling off and stripping of privileges. This teaches children to respect their elders and to accept their wisdom and values. Children are also expected to do regular household chores and if the parents are self employed the child regularly visits and helps out at their place of work. This does not mean that the child’s life is devoid of freedom and independence; indeed this aspect is stronger than in the UK. Children are given keys to the house when they start school at age seven; they are given responsibility for picking up groceries from the local store; they can play all day with friends with minimum supervision. As they grow older their privacy is respected and their independence increased; they can go for coffee with friends or out to a bar and they can form relationships with the opposite sex. The fact that they don’t abuse this trust occurs because it has been built up gradually over the years.

Parents rarely compare their children here and other people seldom poke their noses into other families business. One thing people would not dream of doing is telling you how to rear your children. The breakdown of the extended family has left parents without back up and support. New mothers don’t have their mum there to give advice. Working parents absolve themselves of parental responsibility by relying on day care centres to rear their children and then in a fit of guilt they build in “quality time” with their kids at weekends to compensate for the time they have not spent with them. This results in over indulgence and creates demanding kids.

Young people also stay at home longer than abroad so they are in the family home and abiding by family rules for a far longer period. There is no pressure to leave and find a job at 18 and no desire to escape the family by jumping onto the benefit band wagon – it simply doesn’t exist here.


Bulgaria has an education system, which develops independence and self confidence from an early age. Children start school much later than in the UK and are thus allowed to be kids for that bit longer. Once they start school they are expected to take responsibility for their books and homework. They travel to and from school alone and are given money to go out and buy a snack at break time. In the UK the system is far more regimented and riddled with petty rules; school uniforms, lining up and assembly to name but a few. This regimentation takes away a child’s independence and ability to think for himself.

Within the classroom, punishment is given in a variety of forms for bad behaviour; chewing gum in class is punished by the child being lead to the bin by his ear and made to dispose of the gum; a swift clout around the head without debate lets a child know that they have overstepped the mark and parents do not question a teachers discipline. From second grade, every child has a report book known as a Bilezhnik. Teachers record the child’s academic performance in here using a number system where 6 is the highest grade and 2 the lowest. Parents must sign next to each grade to indicate that they are aware of their child’s performance. The book also contains pages where bad behaviour is recorded – things like talking in class, not doing homework and forgetting books. Again parents must sign to acknowledge this and most will meter out their own punishment at home in the form of banning the child from going out or using their phone etc.
As children get older the school day gets longer as does the workload. Each child takes pride in their work and motivates themselves to study hard to avoid the poverty trap they have seen in the older generation. In the UK, most teens do not have this drive possible because they know that their life will always be comfortable thanks to a generous state system.

Law and Order

The police also dole out a good clip around the ear to naughty kids. I once saw a teenager who had stolen from a shop in Plovdiv being hit by the police in broad daylight. This “hard” lad of around 15 ended up crying his eyes out. The police did not beat him to a pulp and knew when to stop; he was then taken away into custody. Children caught stealing have to go to trial in a juvenile court and can be sent to a children’s home similar to an orphanage the other side of the country. There they adhere to a regimented regime enforced by care workers, which involves full time attendance at school. Again these forms of discipline let young people know right from wrong and that all negative actions have unpleasant consequences. Children are not afraid of the police here, but they do know where they stand in society.

Money and Possessions

The average Bulgarian wage is 687 lv. per month, but many families take home much less and subsequently have little to waste on luxuries for their children. Trips to McDonalds and the Toys R Us equivalent are rare treats rather than the norm. Children do not have lots of toys – in many ways they don’t need them because life here is based around playing outdoors –and when Christmas comes there is not a mountain of gifts under the tree. Children usually get one large present from their parents and smaller gifts from grandparents, aunts and uncles. Pocket money comes in the form of dinner money – for younger children this is usually 1 lv. per day. As children get older many take on work to supplement their lifestyle and this can mean being paid for jobs in the home, but they do not demand allowances – most children try to give their parents money to help them out whenever they can.

This shortage of money and possessions has a thoroughly positive effect. Children learn the value of money and to respect what they and others have.  They also do the things that Western parents scorn – they all watch TV, but when a parent takes over the remote, they go off to do something else. TV’s in the bedroom are luxury items. Many have play stations and computers, but this is not a solitary activity in Bulgaria as those kids who do not have them gather round at friends who do and share the facilities.

The Lack of “Do-Gooders”

So far, the proverbial do-gooder has yet to find a niche in Bulgarian society and as a result people are not scared to take responsibility for their child’s behaviour and dole out some short sharp shock treatment.  Someone told me that smacking is actually banned here under some EU directive, but nobody takes any notice after all how else do you control unruly kids? In the UK parents are too afraid of reprisals if they take a stern course of action.

Within UK schools, teachers have been stripped of any power thanks to over protective parents who think nothing of seeking legal advice for any form of discipline – how is a teacher supposed to control a class if they have no back up methods? In Bulgaria they are given their full support and the result is a bunch of self motivated independent and respectful kids.

Children cotton on to what they can get away with from a very young age. Those who realise there will be no severe punishment will push the boundaries of right and wrong further and further. Parents and the state have taken away any form of hardship from children’s lives and this has created demanding young people who expect the world on a plate without having to work.