Shibata Yukinori (Jesuit Social Center, Tokyo)

A12-year old child kills a little girl; an adult man abducts 4 little girls and keeps them prisoners; young people commit suicide together. Such incidents involving children continue occurring around us. The government tries to offer policies, like the reform of legislation for minors and the enforcement of stricter penalties, as well as moral education. But, will those policies really destroy the darkness surrounding children and guide them towards a bright future? I want to look for hints about how to confront the issues on children, searching some magazines that reach our center.
Difficult Life Environments for Children
The realities confronting children have changed a lot. I have two kids, one 14 year old and the other 11 years old and when I reflect on my childhood (about 30 years ago) and compare my life then with theirs, I feel that children now must face quite difficult times. The magazine SEKAI (Iwanami books) started to publish in January a series of articles written by Takii Hiroomi on the "Life Hazard of Children." The author has thoroughly searched the issues concerning the bodies and souls of modern children and what is happening to them now. He tries to clarify the phenomenon that provokes children to take problematic moves and the reasons why children live in difficulties. I will just offer a simple introduction of the articles.
The first three articles of the series deal with children's body problems. The author mentions, first, an increase of allergic cases of atopic dermatitis, the "Homo Atopius Child" (January issue). Research conducted in the year 2000 shows that, out of 95 university students, 85 (90%) show signs of allergy. A different study of 3-year-old children, undertaken by the city of Tokyo in 1999, gives the results that 42% of them are affected by some kind of allergic diseases. Two reasons are given. One of them has to do with the daily intake of antibiotics that destroy the immunity balance. The other one concerns the changes of life style and, consequently, the rapid increase of material causes for allergy, like, food allergy, a result of the westernization of daily food styles, the "tick" allergy occasioned by tightly closed houses, allergy from an increased use of chemicals, etc. All this reflects the modern life style.

The February issue deals with the malfunction of children's bodies: "Dangerous Signal. Unusual Body Temperature Changes" In a nursery school of Okayama prefecture they checked the body temperature of little children to find out why the number of weak children had increased. The results were that the temperature of 30% of them showed unusual changes. On one hand, in a survey conducted by the Ministry of Education and Science, they discovered that children have become taller, but their physical strength has decreased since the '90s. A special concern is the backbones. There are children with weak backbones and this makes us wonder not only how will they be able to support their own weight, but how much strength needed to rear children or to care for senior citizens in the future will they have. The causes for such malfunctioning of people's bodies are: 1) disorders in sleeping daily practices, in food and in evacuation 2) lack of physical exercise 3) remaining home and as result the function of the nerves for self sufficiency weakens. In other words, the disorders in the lives of the parents are the main causes.

The third issue deals with the increase of diabetes: "Hiding Life Style Diseases" (February). Formerly, life style diseases like high cholesterol, high blood pressure and diabetes were considered adult diseases, but they are increasingly growing among children also. The reasons are biased eating customs and lack of physical exercise. After all, parents do not care enough about the children's life, they let them eat only the things they like, provide them with TV games and let them watch television as much as they want. Here again, one can say that the influence of parents who do not make efforts to care about their children is coming to the surface.
Then, the content of the articles focuses on the dark spots of the children's hearts. First comes the increase in the collapse of school classes: "The beginning of the Collapse of School Education. Darkness of the Heart" (April).
The students, refusing to participate in the lessons, act totally free by themselves and as a result the class looses its function. In other words, the class system crumbled at a considerable speed in the 90s. Formerly, since the puberty period had advanced to the last years of Primary education, teachers were almost unable to meet the needs of children.

"Brain Sciences Send Warning Signals" (May) Research has been done on the connection between the lack of development of the brain and the lack of psychological training education of children. The human brain possesses axle and brakes that work unanimously in the process of growth, so that people learn how to make them function in balance. Nevertheless, children today are either late in their growth or, according to circumstances, turn back to situations of underdevelopment. One given reason is that group games have almost disappeared. On the opposite, tests undertaken show that, by making children play in groups, the axle and brakes of the brain develop properly. The fact that the natural development of the brains of children cannot easily develop is the fault of Japanese society.


Other research has also shown that the lack of development in children is due to poor communication between mother and child: "Shaking Relationship Between Mother and Baby" (June). A strong loving relationship between mother and babies forms the basis of a society fit for children, and when this is not enough children act problematically. Then, why a relationship of love between mother and baby is not nurtured? The main reasons given are:
1, Changes in the style of giving birth (in hospitals) and the development of goods used in child rearing (nursing bottles, paper diapers, baby cars, baby beds, etc.) have diminished a skin ship relationship
2, The nuclear family system obliges the mothers to nurture their babies and this produces psychological stress
3, Mothers were not able to create in themselves attitudes of affection, because during infancy they were maltreated or left aside alone. Of course, there is no doubt that the absence of the fathers at home has made the problem serious. Some kindergartens have introduced funny games in order to counter such lack of affection. Teachers and children play together and, thus, children recover their energy and the development of their brains advances. In fact, this should take place within the family.
As mentioned above, the fact that children do not play has greatly influenced the growth of their bodies and souls. "Who Has Taken Away the Play of Children?" (July). Children have lost friends, time and space to play. Discipline and moral education is important, but we all have experienced that education is conducted playing with friends. In spite that schools have accepted a 5 day-a-week system, it is unbearable that even the way to pass the vacations has to follow the school's guiding rules. The duty of the adults is to return to children friends, time and space to play and let them free to play.

There are also problems caused by the IT revolution: "Maltreatment occasioned by the use of TV" (August). Some studies show that manifestations of autism is a result of putting children to watch TV, because the mother is busy to take care of them. Other research shows that, when children concentrate on TV games and cellular phones, the functioning of the brain that has to do with human relationships diminishes. Autism seems to be a result of brain damage difficult to heal, but a false autism that is caused by TV heals naturally by turning off the TV and by increasing the occasions of communication with others. There is a new American citizen group, called "TV-Turn off Network", and also in Japan a "No TV Movement" has just begun. The more families spend their time together without watching TV, the stronger their links become.
The series of articles still continues, but this synthesis will be enough to see the difficulties surrounding children today. The conclusion is simple: parents and teachers, local communities and all adults should make efforts and spend their time to dialogue with each child face to face. Besides that, they must prepare an environment suitable for children to develop naturally. Afterwards, let's carefully take care of them.

Moral Notes
The government has published some policies as an answer to these problems. One of them is a booklet called "Heart Notes" with materials of moral education that have been widely distributed. "Heart Notes" consist of educational materials under the form of a Work Book supervised by a psychologist, Kawai Hayao, Minister of Culture. The book consists of 4 different kinds that address the lowest, middle and high grades of Primary and the Middle Junior students. It varies from 80 to 128 pages.
I read the book that my children brought home from school and my first reaction was one of doubt, "could such Work Book address the problems of the heart?" Later, I found out that the "PTA Studies" nn. 327, 328 (Oct. 2002 and June 2003), the official bulletin of the National PTA Study Group, also holds similar doubts.
Let's have ideals" "Think and decide by yourself" "Let's sense the wonders of Nature" "Keep the regulations and live pleasantly" "Defend your country, culture and traditions", etc. Similar natural themes line up one after the other. The problem is that, although they are work notes, in fact, one can immediately see in them the only true answer that is asked for. Thus, "Think and decide by yourself" could really educate the hearts?
A different doubt is to consider the problems surrounding children as issues related to the movements of children's hearts. Problems that face children have also social dimensions. To affirm that, when the hearts of each one change, society also changes is just one aspect of the truth. But, if there is no mention at all of dislocated social structures and changes of the heart are only stressed, then, will not this become a new psychological pressure on children?
A student wrote the following in the "PTA Studies" (n.327). "When I was in 3rd year of Primary, we were told at the morning school gathering that, when somebody is kind to others flowers bloom in the mountain where flowers grow. A week later, the teacher pasted in the wall a paper where she wrote "a mountain where flowers bloom", and then she made the students report "kind acts" of their classmates to make as many flowers bloomed as the numbers of kind acts reported. As a result, a competition on kindness started, targeting at getting "flowers," and finally the students began a kind of "a trade" inviting each other: " today I report on kind acts done by you, do the same with me tomorrow." This shows the dangers of "moral education.

Educating Both: Children and Adults
Neither parents nor children are really educated. The reason why parents are not educated rests in the loss of human relationships at a local level, because the system that holds a suitable environment to educate parents got broken.
Reflecting on this, there are local attempts to try to educate children within the local communities. The weekly "Musubu" (March 2003, n.391) introduces activities held by residents of Hirakata City (Osaka).
For instance, "Local Network Ceese for Children's education." A mother whose children live independently now, a young mother raising her child and a university student work together to promote exchanges of ladies belonging to various generations that try to put into practice the education of children at local levels. There is also the group "Hirakata Educational Mailing List for Educating Children." Using the Internet, guardian parents and teachers, parents of disabled children and of refuters to attend school, experts on education, ombuds-persons for the "defense of the rights of the child" and several others exchange mutual information regarding children's education, in a free and joyful atmosphere.
On top of that, there is a social moral organization, called "Child Information and Research Center." located in the Chuo ward of Osaka City. The center runs training programs on behalf of Osaka prefecture, called "Advices to stop the maltreatment of Children," better known as "Supporter of Children and Families." Those wishing to become advisers learn there about domestic violence, education of disabled children, child's maltreatment, etc., and, once they graduate, start participating in Child Assault Protection (CAP), organize programs for educational exchanges and act as a link for the Administration.
About 20 years ago, Hirakata City was so well prepared to educate children that people would say "if you want to educate your child, send him/her to Hirakata." After reading this issue, one gets the impression that it is true even now.
Whenever some incident happens people try to look for immediate solutions, like a book, legislation, an advisor or a good medicine. But, we should not forget that long years and lots of experiences are needed so that children get educated. Adults think that children can be changed, but will that be so simple? Is it a good thing to change them? "In order to educate a child parents need to educate themselves." This expression of the weekly "Musubu" gives me a lot to reflect on my own daily life.

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