National radio and television, 1 January 2019.
It is with a sense of great wonder that we feel a newborn child grip our finger for the first time. That we see a child take her first steps. Hear him say his first words.
Small miracles. So commonplace, and yet almost beyond comprehension.
Children give us our greatest joys and our greatest worries.
Children need to be allowed to graze their knees. And they need someone to wipe their tears and put on a plaster.
This is what a good childhood is all about.
It has been said that a good childhood lasts a lifetime.
A good childhood is also invaluable for building a good society. A good future.
Throughout the ages, parents have looked at their newborn child and wondered:
What does the future hold for you?
It’s so easy to think that many things were better before.
Not so long ago – in the 1950s – we lost many children to accidents and diseases.
Seven times as many as today.
Children today have a safer start in life.
Studies even show that children and young people are happy with their parents.
But that’s not surprising.
Parents wax skis, make waffles for school band events, and invite groups of classmates to their homes.
And young people drink less, use drugs less. Commit fewer crimes. And more of them finish school.
Most new parents can look at their baby and think: You have a safe and secure childhood and fantastic opportunities ahead of you.
But although most children’s lives evolve as we hoped and dreamt they would, unfortunately that is not the case for all.
Some children don’t have an adult they can trust to put on a plaster when they hurt themselves.
Sometimes the hurt is inside, and others don’t see it.
In the time ahead, the Government will do more to identify and help these children.
Our ambition is to make Norwegian society second to none when it comes to giving children security and opportunities.
The most vulnerable children are those who experience violence and abuse.
The Child Welfare Act has now been updated, and we will soon have a new one. This will strengthen children’s rights and help to ensure that more children have a good, secure childhood.
In cases where children cannot live with their parents, the wider family and network are to be involved to a greater extent. More families are to receive the help they need at an earlier stage, and before it is too late. And only the most competent people are to work with the most vulnerable children.
Christopher Davidsen won the silver medal in the 2017 world championship for chefs, Bocuse d’Or. His mother was a drug addict. At the age of six, it was he who changed his little sister’s nappies.
He grew up in a foster family, and once said to the national broadcaster NRK: ‘I grew up in a very good foster home. (...) Without them I would never have achieved this.
There are many success stories like his. And we want to create even more.
A lot of children spend a good deal of time online.
Reports of online abuse have increased dramatically. Nude photos being spread on social media. Children being persuaded or threatened to take indecent pictures. And in the worst cases, physical abuse.
These are difficult cases for the police to deal with. However, the police have been given more resources in recent years, and are now being reorganised to be better able to protect our children.
More children are growing up in low-income families.
An important reason for this is that there are now more immigrants in Norway who don’t have the qualifications they need to take part in our labour market.
We must ensure that all children have the same opportunities regardless of the challenges their parents may have.
This is why we have made it easier for these children to go to a day-care centre.
We are aiming to introduce a similar scheme for day-care for schoolchildren outside school hours.
But the best help we can give is to enable their parents to get a job. The Government has stepped up its efforts to enhance inclusion and integration in order to help more people enter the labour market.
In any case, it is vital that all children have the opportunity to play with, learn from, and develop together with other children.
This is why we work with organisations that arrange extracurricular activities, to ensure that fees and requirements for equipment do not prevent children from taking part.
Most young people in Norway have a good life. They also behave better than my generation did.
However, the proportion of young people struggling with mental health problems is increasing.
More young people say they are lonely. Many are stressed, and find it hard to tackle the pressure they feel from various quarters.
‘I can’t be everything that everyone wants me to be. This makes me angry with myself and makes me feel like a failure.’ These are the words of 15-year-old Julie Irene Svendgård, writing in an online discussion forum for young people. I think she puts it well.
We can all worry too much about what others will think and say about us.
We should be more concerned about what feels right for us. We should strive to meet our own goals, not other people’s.
What I would like to say to young people today is this: Be proud whenever you are yourself. Appreciate your friends when they are themselves. It’s good to have ambitions and to work hard, but be realistic and make time for your friends and family.
Sadly, some of those who are struggling don’t get help when they need it.
Over the last few years, more psychologists have been employed by local authorities, and the number of people employed in public health clinics and the school health service has increased considerably.
Schools are to include the teaching of life skills in a range of school subjects. Children learn more when they enjoy school and feel that they are coping well.
Earlier this year, I visited Vardal lower secondary school in Gjøvik, just north of Oslo. Here the pupils are brought together in discussion groups twice a year.
The pupils create a secure setting for one another, and they are more likely to ask for help in dealing with difficult thoughts and feelings. The teachers believe this is increasingly important in a world where it is easy to feel left out and inadequate.
Perhaps we don’t talk enough about our feelings? Perhaps we simply don’t know what to say when we feel we are not coping?
The Government is drawing up a plan for promoting children’s and young people’s mental health. In it, we will consider how we can improve prevention and provide better support, before problems escalate.
The professional support services are to be improved. But perhaps the role each and every one of us can play is just as important, if not more so?
I’m thinking of the boy who stands up for the classmate who’s being bullied. Of the girl who phones and asks if everything is all right when her friend has withdrawn into her shell.
I’m thinking of the adults who speak out when they see that a child has problems at home.
Small contributions that mean so much. It is things like this that shape our society. That enable us to take care of one another.
The family is the closest and most important community we have.
In the past, it was your family that took care of you when you were old. Now, the local authorities and the health service are becoming increasingly important.
But the solidarity between generations is still the same.
The wheels of our society keep turning because adults look after children. And those who are able to work ensure that the elderly can be cared for.
In the coming decades, we will encounter problems with this model.
Norwegians are having fewer children.
In order to maintain our population, the average birth rate needs to be a little over two children per woman. Today the average birth rate is just 1.6.
This means that, relatively speaking, there will be fewer young people to bear the increasingly heavy burden of the welfare state.
Norway needs more children!
I don’t think I need to tell anyone how this is done. And I’m not thinking of issuing any orders!
Not everyone is able to have children, and not everyone wants to have children. For various reasons.
And more people are waiting longer to start a family. Again, for various reasons.
But if you wait too long, it becomes more difficult.
An increasing number of children are now being conceived with the help of the health service.
So we have to ask ourselves: Is it too difficult for people to have children early on?
We need to make it easier for people to have children while they are studying or at an early stage of their career.
Bringing children into the world makes us think about what kind of society we will be passing on to them.
Our aim is to ensure that the society we hand on to our children and young people is in at least as good a state as it was when we took it over from our parents.
This is what we call a sustainable welfare society.
Economically sustainable, in the sense that more people are in work, and more people work for longer before retiring.
Socially sustainable, in the sense that we maintain a high level of trust and small social differences. In that more people feel included, and fewer groups remain on the outside.
And environmentally sustainable, in the sense that we take care of the climate and the environment.
The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change recently reported that a two-degree increase in the global temperature will significantly worsen the consequences for human life compared with an increase of 1.5 degrees.
Our climate targets have been set with a view to limiting the increase in the global temperature to two degrees.
We will set more stringent targets so that Norway does its share to prevent dangerous climate change.
Norwegian children are privileged compared with children growing up in many other parts of the world. In some countries, many children do not get an education. The quality of the education received by many others is so poor that it is of no use to them. And far too many children grow up in areas affected by war and conflict.
Norway is at the forefront of efforts to ensure that the world achieves the UN Sustainable Development Goals.
Many Norwegians are actively engaged in this work outside Norway. Aid workers are promoting development and justice.
Personnel in the Norwegian Armed Forces are helping to increase security and promote democracy.
Regrettably, there is still a need for armed interventions in the fight against terror.
We were reminded of this just before Christmas.
When we heard the news that Islamist terrorists had struck down two young women in a cowardly and ruthless way in Morocco.
This Christmas, their friends and family in Denmark and Norway have sorely missed these fine young people, who had their whole lives ahead of them.
You are in our thoughts, and we share your grief.
After the 22 July terrorist attacks in Norway, we know all too well the pain that terrorism can cause.
We also know how important it is to stand together and safeguard the values that terrorists are attacking:
Freedom, openness, democracy and justice.
This is what we are doing this time, too. The terrorists will not win.
The fight against them will continue. Both through international development work and through a major international military effort. Norwegian soldiers are taking part in this.
They are doing a vital job for us all. For our democracy. For our freedom. Far away from Norway.
Many of them spend much of the year, even Christmas, away from their loved ones.
I would like to send a special greeting to them and to aid workers and other Norwegians working abroad: Thank you for the work you do. You are a fine example to your children and to all of us.
I would also like to thank our much-loved Royal Family. This year, once again, they have made an impressive effort for Norway.
The Royal Family have shown us how our common values are passed on from one generation to the next.
And how each new generation has to find its own way of doing things in a society undergoing constant change.
In this way, the Royal Family are an example to us all, and a reminder that we are only borrowing today’s society from our children. It is our children who will carry our society into the future.
Happy New Year!