Yamato Tanooka is surely the most famous seven-year-old boy in all Japan – maybe in all the world, for interest in him, and attention on him, was global. “The missing Japanese boy,” overseas media dubbed him. Six terrifying days – from May 28 to June 3 – he spent alone and lost in the forested mountains of southwestern Hokkaido, left there by his parents as punishment for misbehavior. His discovery safe and well, sheltering in a Self-Defense Forces hut, gave the entire world something to celebrate.
Now the entire misadventure is giving the world something to debate. Raising children is difficult and stressful. They are anarchic little beings who must be taught the social basics – not to throw rocks at cars for example, as Yamato had apparently been doing. Where, asks Shukan Josei (June 21) is the fine line between discipline and abuse?
The consensus is that, wherever it is, Yamato’s parents crossed it. Yamato’s father, in his repeated and evidently heartfelt apologies, has admitted it. “I too,” a mother in her 30s tells the magazine, “throw my kid out of the car when he misbehaves – but I never let him out of my sight. I never go farther than a few meters away.”
To Hosei University professor and education analyst Naoki Ogi, it’s as much a human rights issue as anything else. “The point of discipline is to make the child respect other people’s dignity and human rights. That means respecting the child’s own dignity and human rights.”
Was discipline in this case abusive? Yes, he says. “To make a child feel pain and anxiety is abuse. What kind of fear must he have been going through, left alone deep in the mountains?”
Perhaps it’s something he’ll remember all his life, but with what effect on his emotional development? It’s incalculable, but Ogi stresses a child’s psychological need to trust his or her parents implicitly. “The feeling that my parents love me and protect me is generally established by age 2,” he says. We don’t know much about Yamato’s relationship with his parents – perhaps in his case, that feeling was deficient? Whether it was or not, it is bound to have suffered a blow that will require some healing.
Yamato’s parents may have overreacted, but the episode highlights the extreme stress parents of the nuclear family are under, says Seijo University literature professor Takeo Kojima. He reminds us of earlier times when grandparents – and indeed, the entire community – were involved in children’s upbringing. “Grandpa would take the kids into the mountains, teaching them about wildlife, having them help out as he worked in the fields… And grandparents were mediators between parents and children. They understood how the parents felt and they understood how the kids felt.”
That’s all gone now, and the parent-child relationship is just that – parent and child, often parent versus child. Parents and children live in different worlds, and yet in the same house. How can they help driving each other to distraction – and, sometimes, to excess?© Japan Today