“I’m no good, I’m no good.” We all feel that way at times. Bad day at work, bad day at home. Usually we get over it; sometimes we don’t. It’s a stressed life society imposes on us. Stress all too easily waxes into depression.
It’s the price too many adults must pay for the pursuit, fruitful or not, of success. But Aera (April 29) is raising the issue of stressed-out children. The little boy convinced he’s no good is all of three years old, sobbing out his sorrows in the arms of his daycare teacher.
“I started noticing 10-15 years ago,” says the teacher, referring to a growing number of small children coping – or failing to cope – with debilitating stress. Whose fault could it be? Society’s, for failing to properly nurture its children? The schools’, for pushing them through an ultra-competitive system that makes light of individual needs? Neither, in Aera’s view. Blame it on parents, says the magazine. Not, for the most part, on selfish or evil parents who criminally or borderline-criminally mistreat their kids, but on well-intentioned parents who try hard but simply don’t know what they’re doing.
Naturally there are social problems in the background beyond parents’ control. Local communities and their inbuilt support networks have broken down, leaving families isolated. Fewer and fewer children are being born, meaning fewer children to play with. And the education system is demanding, probably necessarily so in a complex, high-tech society. So children would be stressed to some degree in any case, the magazine hears from pediatrician and neurologist Naoko Narita. Stress up to a certain point, she says, is not only inevitable but salutary – it stimulates the mind. But beyond that point it becomes a problem – “and when it does,” says Narita, “it’s unmistakably due to the way parents approach their children.”
Their approaches tends to fall under two extremes, in her experience. Some parents try too hard, others not hard enough. Some are too attentive, others border on neglectful. Sometimes the overly lax parents are fooled by the child’s docility at home into presuming he or she is docile at school. In the case of one boy whose story Aera sketches, docility turned out to mean he was being bullied at school and was keeping it to himself. He reached junior high school, and one day there was a phone call from a female classmate’s parents: “Your son is stalking our daughter.” This brought a reflex response: “Impossible!” They didn’t even talk to the boy. If they had, they might have learned it was all too possible. The story ends with the boy’s arrest. Stress kept quiet explodes eventually.
That could never have happened in another family Aera profiles. Here the problem was the opposite. The parents watched their child like hawks – otherwise who could know what mischief would arise? They interfered at the slightest hint of a quarrel with a friend, determined to settle it immediately. They transmitted their anxieties to the child, who began suffering headaches and stomach aches every morning before school. It could have been worse, Narita says – she knows of children who cut their wrists in similar cases.
With children so delicate and parents so blundering, it’s a wonder the situation hasn’t escalated into a full-fledged crisis. It’s bad enough all the same – and yet the remedies proposed are surprisingly simple. The main one is: establish a predictable daily rhythm – breakfast at least, if not other meals, at the same time every day, for example. Kids need stability, and any symbol of it is important. That so basic a solution is being missed betrays a society with so many other preoccupations that children are getting lost in the shuffle.© Japan Today