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Thursday, September 17, 2015

Japan's Independent Kids - Video & Commentary

Here's an interesting video about Japan's parenting skills... which essentially is something people in the western world won't do:

I'm not saying that we westerners are dumb and baby our kids - though I think that happens quite a bit... but this form of creating independence works in Japan.

I am a proponent of not babying kids.

I have a nine-year-old son... and he can't do a damn thing by himself. He won't even go and play in his own room by himself... it ticks me off. I try, but am screwed down by the other half of the parental unit who thinks it's okay.

Hey... I'm not saying he should be out of the house by the time he is 10, but I do think he needs to develop some skills so he isn't as useless at some things like I was.

By the time I was almost 26 and away from the home for the first time ever in Japan, I really had no clue how to cook, clean, shop, cook, do laundry, sew... any of that stuff that is important to being an adult.

My parents being of Indian stock, babied me, and it did me no favors.... but in Japan... I had to learn, and fortunately, I was a quick learner. I did lose about 15lbs of weight in a couple of weeks in Japan as I didn't eat very well... cereal and milk... three squares a day... until I tried shopping and cooking for myself...

My son... he has to go to school with one of us... that's nuts... I was 6 and going to school by myself... so I did have some independence...

In Toronto... I think we were naive until the late 1970s, when a kid was snatched and raped and murdered  - a sensational case - Emanuel Jaques , in August of 1977... and after that, parents became slightly more vigilant. Toronto also got 'cleaned up'. And now... with every kid having a mobile phone (mine doesn't, and neither do I), and those phones having trackers/GPS built in... parents really try to keep tabs on their kids to the point of paranoia.

Anyhow... nowadays, along with the predators, there is also car traffic. I live in the suburbs of Toronto, and you'd think that would be okay, but suburbanites are the worst when it comes to hurrying to get to work.

On my son's first day back to school last Tuesday, he was nearly run over by our next door neighbor. She didn't look behind her as she backed out and instead relied on the camera at the back of the car which only told her there was nothing directly behind her... if she had looked, she could have seen the boy riding his bike... or pedestrians walking... safety feature my left testicle! It makes drivers lazy.

I'm not picking on my neighbor, who is very nice, but rather just plain old carelessness of people in general.

There's also a three way intersection for the boy on the way to school... he has to cross the street, where as parents in cars have to make a left or right hand turn to get into the school street:

|----- X school
| X my house

Every school day, one could stand at the corner and watch the idiot moms and dads race around the corner nearly taking out one kid or another in a rush to get their own precious bundle of stupid to school on time.

They signal and turn... but they don't actually look to see if anyone is crossing the street!

If you watched the whole video above, you would have heard how Australia proudly has this 40km/h school safety zone to make drivers slow down.

Uh... toss another shrimp on the barbie, Bruce, but Canada has had those zones for as long as I've been driving... and without some sort of police presence or photo radar, people just don't care.

I drive past one school zone before I hit the highway everyday on the way in to work... and while I drop down to 40... people behind me on this two-lane road will change directions, safely signally, but then speed by at 50 or 60 or 70 km/h.

There are drivers who pass other cars while zooming through crosswalks... change lanes in intersections... signal right and then turn left... stupid things... stupid people.

Hey... I used to speed... in my youth - and on the highways, especially, I would crank it up over 200km/h... and while stupidly excessive, I never weaved in and out of lanes... still managed to signal (for what it was worth)... but then I grew up.

I might still speed occasionally... but not in traffic, and especially not on non-highway drives... and certainly not at those past excessive speeds.

As a parent... and a parent with a conscience, I am aware of what my actions could unravel... it's why I grew up in the years before parenthood...

Others... is it stupidity, poor driving skill, lack of conscience, in ability to manage personal time?

The point, however, is all about helicopter parenting,.... that means the parent is always buzzing around the child...

I have a friend who has a 12-year-old daughter... who lives maybe 200 meters away from the school... 300 meters even... and yet, she has to be walked over with her brothers, by a parent.

But it's not JUST the parents. That same school my son goes to, refuses to let kids leave school unless a parent or guardian is there to pick them up. The teachers really do hold the door closed and wait until the kid says so-and-so is there... That's grades 1 through 5.

I hardly live in a 'dangerous neighborhood' - except for the poor drivers, but here the school has set out rules to keep kids safer.

Now, because kids can't simply leave school by themselves and travel home and use their own key to get in and plop themselves down in front of the television with a bowl of cereal or leftover lunch sandwich, parents who both work now have to find alternative day-care options.

And just so you know, you can't pay for daycare as required. You must pay and continue to pay on a monthly basis for daycare whether it is used or not... to hold the space...

So... all I'm saying, is that Japan currently has a unique situation with regards to developing independence for its kids.

I will say, however, and I hope it never happens, that Japan is a few child snatchings away from having all of this come and bite itself in the butt.

There is a false sense of security in Japan (and over security in Canada, sometimes), but there are child molesters hiding in their midst, waiting for opportunities to grab young kids and sexually assault them and possible murder them.

Although the video above interviewed noted newspaper crime reporter and author Jake Adelstein (whom I've chatted with a few times via Twitter - really, purchase a copy of Tokyo Vice and read it!), I would love to have heard about the number of instances of child abduction in Japan over a given year.

It exists. It doesn't even matter if the per capita number is less than Canada's, my point is that it happens. It is a crime and it does occur.

Even if it happens once, it's one time too many.

And here I am at a crossroads... while I admire Japanese families for trying to raise independent children, I think Japan is behind the times when it comes to admitting that there are people out there waiting to prey on said children.

As such... shouldn't some sort of system be put in place—a buddy system, at least?—to ensure no child is going off to school alone? Sometime... is better than doing nothing... and especially after something bad happens.

Again... I love the independence of this child in the video... I wish to god my kid had some of that... but there must be a happy-medium somewhere to be able to teach independence while ensuring their safety.

I don't believe the Japanese system, nor the one at my kids' school has found it yet. Still... I appreciate the fact that I know my kid is safe, rather than has achieved independence but still finds a dangerous situation.

For the record... I myself was twice hit by a car while riding my bicycle home from teaching at a junior high school in Ohtawara. Twice within seven (7) days.

If I had been a kid, I might have broken a few bones or worse. Then again... the Japanese students all wear bicycle safety helmets.

I also recall an afternoon where I peered at two junior high kids riding home after school. I was up on my balcony, and after one kid peeled off for home, I watched the other put his head down and pedal off in a mad fury, only to pedal straight into a parked car with a tremendous thud.

It was enough to make me stand up and yell for help (and I did it in Japanese) even though I was about 300 meters and three stories away. But despite my poor language skills, a man nearby also saw it happen and came out to comfort the dazed boy who was, luckily, all right. That car was heavily dented, however. 

Second-lastly (I'm a writer... I make made-up words work for me), in Japan, parents do not have as strong an input in raising their kids as teachers do. I mean they do, of course, ingrain the little buggers with child-rearing, but teachers are responsible for the moral upbringing of the kids... I know that when a kid gets caught say shoplifting, the parents aren't called, rather the school is called... specifically the kid's homeroom teacher is called... and regardless of the day or the time, the teacher goes and talks to the shopkeeper... and then the student. The whole incident is handled by the teacher, with the parents possibly never hearing about it unless it truly was a terrible offense.

So... I suppose Japanese parents have to teach their kids something...

Lastly... independent Japanese kids, right? Did you see the very last scene of the video? The little girls is walking down an empty street - in the middle of the road... no sidewalks... but no cars... at least not at that moment. Keep in mind cars drive on the left side of the road, like in the U.K.

Andrew Joseph

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