Rules for Raising Japanese Kids
A new Education Ministry report rebukes parents, giving guidelines for everything from playtime to holidays.
TANASHI CITY, JAPAN
One day recently, Takashi Ozawa, a sixth-grader with a passion for soccer, arrived home in this bedroom community an hour from Tokyo with a question for his mother. What had she done when she had been a teacher, and a student forgot his book?Skip to next paragraph
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In the course of their talk, the issue behind the question came out. To discipline Takashi and four others who had forgotten their texts, their teacher called them to the front of the class and struck them.
"I got very agitated," remembers Kyoko Ozawa, who demanded and got apologies from the teacher and school principal. "I try to have a lot of communication with my kids. When Takashi told me about this, I said 'You don't have to put yourself in a position where he can do that.' "
Japan's Ministry of Education would probably approve of Mrs. Ozawa's actions. Parents taking more responsibility for the behavior of their children, even challenging teachers, is central to a new ministry campaign.
Faced with rising youth crime, truancy, and delinquency, the ministry is trying to teach adults a thing or two about parenting. A report called "Let's Talk to Our Children" offers advice on everything from play time to family holidays (see box below). But the report is controversial, helping to fuel a national discussion about the role of families today.
The price of economic success?
The report questions the fundamental tenets of modern Japanese society. It intimates that the current formula for economic success - men work long hours while women raise children, fitting-in taking precedence over challenging the norm, and study before play (even to the exclusion of play) - is fostering imbalances within the family. Absentee fathers, child-rearing with the sole focus on future careers, and abdication of parental responsibility to educational institutions are producing unprecedented social ills among youths here.
The ministry's report is subtitled "a crisis of confidence in raising the next generation," a widely held sentiment. Newspaper articles ask, "What has happened to Japanese families?" This year's winner in a national high school speech contest argued that parents no longer fulfill their traditional roles.
"The family is the most fundamental unit of the society where we all learn its basic rules and also how to love others," said Tatekimi Matsuzaki of Kasukabe Kyoei High last month.
He said mothers aren't providing proper love and fathers aren't teaching discipline. "When my father started coming home late, we couldn't spend so much time together.... I began to turn into a spoiled brat.... My father was something like the foundation of morals and justice. So, when he began to be absent from the house, our house was like a society without any law enforcement. Thus, discipline taught by fathers is necessary for children to know the rules of the society we live in, and with that we learn how to get along with others."
Even the entertainment industry has chimed in. Takeshi Kitano, a popular creator of violent, nihilistic films, offered this advice in an article: "Nothing is more irresponsible than telling kids, 'You're free. Do what you want,' " he wrote. "If we set limits and tell them how they have to go about things, they find out how to enjoy themselves within those limits."
In the last few years, Japanese kids have been testing limits as never before. Reports of teen violence, crime, and rising drug use have dominated the media, and a series of school killings have shocked the nation.
While the numbers are tiny compared to the US, they have profoundly unsettled Japan, which has long thought of itself as a safe and stable country.
In the hunt for the roots of this juvenile instability, the magnifying glass is now poised over parents.
The Central Council for Education, meeting to discuss curriculum revisions last year, decided solutions lie, at least partially, at home. "We want to teach kids respect for life, independence, and integrity," says Yoshiko Takahashi, who heads the School Management Research Department within the Tokyo Board of Education. "We decided it can't just be done in schools, it had to include families. Parents have great responsibility for teaching kids character."