Friday, April 28, 2006

Violent Juvenile Crimes for Thought

Japan is experiencing a surge in gruesome crimes committed by juveniles. The other day, a 15-year-old boy, probably after a trivial argument, killed a 13-year-old girl, whose body was found abandoned in a vacant pachinko parlor. This is a shocking incident which has struck terror into hearts of parents and teachers around the nation, especially those with children of the same age, who must have felt anguish at the thought that it might have happened to their own children.

I believe primary, junior high and high school years are the most dream-filled period of one’s entire life. Normally, young people of this age have an insatiable curiosity about everything and they enjoy discussing wholeheartedly. They fire their imaginations by reading great novels and adventure stories, filling their minds with all kinds of dreams as they envision freely what they want to do and what they want to be when they grow up. Murder, one would think, would be the farthest thing from their minds. That young people, who are a synonym for peace and hope, should so easily choose to kill people must be viewed seriously as a grave state of affairs.

Japanese children seem fragile and easily broken as glass. In order to change that brittleness into tenacity and flexibility, like that of the bamboo, I think the time has come when Japan must consider, on a fundamental level, the educational influence the family, school and society at large have on children. I guess no one who is a parent or teacher is indifferent to the growth or development of children; however, in what direction children’s growth should be guided is quite another matter.

Children in Japan are forced to cope with conditions that are extremely abnormal. Too much emphasis is placed on the school system, while the importance of the roles played by families and communities has been minimized. And so far, there have been no effective regulations established in this country to protect children from harmful information. With the increasingly free flow of information (violent comics and video games, pornographic magazines, “dirty” TV shows…), the mental boundary between adults and juveniles is disappearing. As a result, juveniles are strongly influenced by trends. Brutal “adult” crimes can be committed by juveniles rather easily because they lack sufficient social understanding to restrain themselves.

Japanese children spend almost no time with their parents. Every day after regular school hours, most of them are confined to cram schools (some may even go to more than one such school). They return home late, have dinner, and go to their rooms to play violent video games and read “weird” comics. With this kind of routine, children do not have much contact with their parents. I run a language school and have an opportunity to talk parents; I am amazed at how little most of them know about their children. During discussion sessions, I like to probe the emotional condition of my students. There is often an undercurrent of frustration and repressed anger, particularly among males. Some who appear to be nice young men have some dark thoughts. These thoughts are of a violent, sexual, or confused nature.

Japanese children are disciplined only to study; otherwise they are left alone and for the most part allowed to behave rudely in public. The other day in our local supermarket, a grade-school boy was screaming. After a while, his mother told him to be quiet. He then said to her: “Why do you say such a thing to me, Mom? If you say it again, I am going to kill you.” The mother did not say anything more. I do not want to imagine that child’s future and I wonder how his parents have disciplined him. They must have confused loving with pampering. I strongly believe that parents are responsible for their children. It’s their duty to teach their children what is good and what is bad, and they need to discipline them from childhood. But, I am not suggesting that parents are always to blame for their children’s behavior. There are, of course, many things that shape the growing child: temperament, constitution, intelligence, peers, culture...

Important universal values such as love, compassion, respect for life, or what could be described as the weight of humanism on one’s mind, are sorely missing from children education in Japan. The growing numbers of stabbings and murders involving the youth are a testament to how despondent some young people feel. These children are the ones on which the country’s future rests, and their despair must be of national concern.

All the system that Japan has built up over the past 60 years, including the culture of education and politics, have met their limits. The problem is not simple, and solutions must be far-reaching; but I strongly believe the social system as a whole must be changed so as to enable schools, families and communities to build a sound environment for children.

Adults must realize that the environment in which they live is also the one in which children grow up. And together they must share the problems facing young people. Our lives are becoming time-pressed, yet fathers need to be allowed more time to be with their families and take an active interest in their children’s moral and spiritual upbringing. Mothers need to show through example that love and discipline are connected.

I sincerely hope that parents will live every single day filled with a wealth of vitality so that they can offer a warm human touch like sun, not only to their own children but also to other children and adults with whom they encounter as well.