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Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Raising kids the Japanese way

My impression of the Japanese, with my limited exposure to their people and culture, is that they are unfailingly polite, spotlessly clean and oh, so law-abiding. You would think that with an aging population, their kids would be coddled and pampered, but I found out is quite the opposite. Japanese children are encouraged from an early age to be independent and fend for themselves in every situation.

Walking along the busy streets of Tokyo, I was delighted to come across tiny tots who probably went to nursery school being taken for a walk by their teachers. They all held hands and followed each other like ducklings without bickering. They were taught how to cross the busy street, something that I can't imagine ever happening in my own city streets. Similarly in buses and trains, I saw many schoolchildren in uniforms traveling by themselves, talking quietly among themselves and generally behaving with impeccable manners.

Japanese kids walk and cycle by themselves everywhere in the city
Staying with my Japanese relatives, I saw firsthand how my grandniece, M, behaved as a latchkey kid. She has gone to and from school by herself from an early age, and also sees herself to violin  and tuition classes. She cycles and takes the bus and train everywhere, also by herself. While waiting for her mum to come home from work, M starts dinner by making the rice, handles the laundry, quietly does her homework and practices her violin, all without any prompting from an adult!

It's the norm for Japanese teenagers like M and her friends to get a part time job to make extra money, and we did in fact meet one of her classmates serving us at the neighborhood sushi restaurant. M has a job at the post office, and hopes to serve as a volunteer at the upcoming Olympic Games in Tokyo.

I do know that many of my friends would shudder at the thought of letting their kids move about the city on their own, when there are abductors and pedophiles lurking everywhere. Worrying about their kids' grades has also made them mollycoddle their children to the point where all these kids know is how to study. They don't pick up useful skills like helping in the kitchen, housecleaning, gardening and doing the laundry, because mum or the maid handles their chores. They're told to stay away from knives and stove for fear of them getting cut or burnt. They aren't taught any life skills to learn how to be independent and self-reliant.

I recently saw a video of Japanese kids setting out their own school lunch and cleaning up after themselves, without complaint. They are also taught to thank those who prepared their lunch. They are responsible for keeping their classrooms clean, sweeping the floor, throwing rubbish and arranging chairs and desks in the room. While my classmates and I used to do this when we went to school, I don't think it happens anymore in countries other than Japan. By doing these simple chores, children learn responsibility and accountability. Perhaps that's one reason more and more young people entering the workforce have an attitude of expectant entitlement while being unwilling to be held accountable. Can we reverse the trend? Surely there are lessons to be learned by all of us from how the Japanese raise their children.

Japanese kids travel to school on their own - The Feed
Sick of 'helicopter parenting'? Kids in Japan are encouraged to be independent from a very young age. #TheFeedSBS
Posted by SBS 2 on Monday, 7 September 2015

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