What do we do with all our irritable and impulsive kids?

A while back when I brought my kids to see a highly touted Ghibili studios cartoon “Gedo Senki” that was based on the Earthsea fantasy books series, the movie had me squirming in my cinema seat because the movie opened with a scene of the young protagonist committing patricide. The boy killed his father (the king) for the frivolous reason that he wanted the king’s sword for his own.

This week’s news had me squirming in (TV breakfast) seat in a similar manner again. This time — over the rather troubling news spotlighted by the media,Teen suspect says she decided to kill dad on impulse“, in which the fifteen-year-old schoolgirl had stabbed her father in the chest and on the forehead.

According to Yomiuri Shimbun (Jul 22, 2008), “When the investigators discussed the girl’s studying with her, she reportedly told them that she was very annoyed with her parents, saying, “I was irritated with my parents for telling me to study more.”

In the earlier report on Jul 20, “Girl arrested over killing her father” she was thought by acquaintances as well as those who knew the family well to have been on good terms with her father.


So what’s the state of juvenile crime delinquency in Japan?


According to a 1997 MEXT survey, 28,526 incidents of crime involving children at all levels of school had been reported. Bullying was found to have declined but the figure was still high at 42,790 incidents.


According to “A Statistical Look at Japan”, police data (Police White Paper) says that juvenile crime has not been increasing much at all, and that juvenile crime is not high when compared with other countries: one-fifth of Germany, one-third that of UK and one-half of France and the US.


The police would have us believe we have nothing to worry about because the crime rate stays flat (though they admit crimes in society on the whole have been becoming more violent. According to the same police data there was three peak periods when the number of juveniles taken into custody for crimes jumped – in 1946, in the early 1960s, and in the mid 1980s.


Well, I don’t know about you but those figures run into tens of thousands, and encountering less than one tenth of that much bullying or crime is enough to make my weak heart give out.


1997 was the year Pandora’s Box was opened so to speak, when stabbings and woundings committed by a juvenile in Kobe, as well as the 1998 incident when a jr high school student stabbed and killed a female teacher with a butterfly knife. Following these cases, were a steady string of reports of shocking crimes (shocking for Japan that is), all of them highlighted and amplified by the media giving the impression that juvenile crime as a whole is becoming more brutal and violent. While the police downplays crimes saying that we still need to remember that the numbers of kids getting into trouble on the whole are not really increasing, MEXT on the other hand, admits and is worried that violence in schools is on the rise in Japan.


More importantly perhaps, we ought to be focused on the whys and the cause behind the juvenile delinquent acts– the Ministry of Public Management, Home Affairs, Posts and Telecommunications’ Survey on Trends in Youth Delinquency showed that the commonest reason given for crimes and delinquent acts committed was “an inability to control one’s own emotions” (complexes / strong sense of inferiority – was selected by only 10% of respondents, a low surprisingly figure. The survey was taken in 1998 and I don’t have any more updated figures, but I should guess the result wouldn’t vary much.


Incidentally, research shows that teens undergo a chemical/hormonal rewiring similar to that of the toddlers’ terrible twos and threes. The effect of this chemical rewiring of kids’ brains is to make kids more impulsive and to obscure their powers of reason and judgement. The report pointed out that in light of the research, the age for obtaining drivers’ licenses should be raised rather than lowered … perhaps something that should be considered in the current debate centering on whether the age of adulthood in Japan should be lowered.


More importantly, I think I would want to know what is the trigger for the loss of control by kids.


According to the 1998 White Paper on Education which surveyed 6th graders, 3rd year jr high school students and 3rd year high schools students around 80% of students said they were “often” in a state of irritation. The reasons they provided (multipe answers were possible) ranged from “When I’m not getting on well with my friends” (over 50% of all those surveyed), to 48% who said “When I don’t understand the lesson”. 19% of elementary school students, 27% of jr high school students and 28% of high school students said they felt irritable “without knowing why”.


Note: This state of irritation is perceived by 30% of teachers says the survey data, but only by 10% of parents … rather worrying don’t you think?



Perhaps, we don’t know all the true circumstances of the case, but it bugs me to consider that the girl could possibly have killed her father out of “irritation” rather than out of something that would give us sympathy like child abuse. Also, this follows in the wake of the earlier but still recent case of the doctor’s son who burned his father to death for having scolded him at not working hard enough towards his exam entrance studies.


Most of all aren’t such paragons of virtue, and do get irritated some of the time, but I hate to think that … among our precious and dwindling broods of the young … there are “younglings” who would knife someone for so lame a reason.




Is Japan entering the Age of the Moral Vacuum?


A quick survey at the content of the educational news coverage, it would appear the key concerns are with moral-ethical issues, whether over violence/crime/discipline at schools and crime by juveniles or over crimes targeted at the young … rather than with falling standards of academics, with the latter actually at the bottom of the heap of issues.

Actually, the same public concern was noted almost a decade ago when Japan Research Center’s Survey on Attitudes to Living in Society in 1997 showed that the top 3 things respondents were most dissatisfied about with education in Japan were: 1) “bullying and other social problems”; 2) “lack of character-building and moral training”; 3) “irresponsibility and over-protectiveness of parents” in that order.

And when respondents were asked what improvements they would like to see in school education, the commonest response was “basic discipline and ethical education”.


MEXT is upping moral education in the national curriculum. Nevertheless, the government’s educational policy feels somewhat like a scene from “Animal Farm”, you know, the vicious cycle that we never seem to break out of. It tried to introduced a more “relaxed education” for kids to help them become more wholesome, but has had to backtrack on that one, going back to a more rigid curriculum and doubling the amount of textbook information to be learned. So if kids are “losing it” due to academic stress, these policies are not really going to be a part of the solution.


Nobody seems to have good solutions, at least, if somebody did, they don’t have a voice in public.


We do have many success stories in the press and TV media, however, accounts of how kids who have seemingly dropped out of mainstream schooling, are thriving when NPO organizations take them out of conventional schools and put them in alternative school situations, that got them in touch with nature or put them in a rural setting. If these NPOs have it right, then they might have something of a solution to society’s most pressing youth problem.


Everyone is in search of the right fix, but what exactly is this solution?


Is it a chemical fix? Is it to slow our pace of living down and to get kids in touch with nature as was suggested in the recent movie “Nishinomajo ga shinda” (The East Witch has died)? Is it to have a more “relaxed education”? Or is it more fundamental — to change the very structure of this society itself to allow every kid to learn in a child-oriented way in which his or her individual strengths and talents can be recognised without having to make each kid jump through the same set of academic hoops and hurdles?





Related News Links:



Schools slow to respond to rise in ‘Net bullying’






Elderly take to the streets to patrol school routes(Jul.19)


Teacher hits 83 students on head for being late (Jul.12)

Keeping kids from Internet dangers gains some urgency
Nov. 1, 2007


Panel proposes increasing classroom hours

Return to rigid school system hit Jan. 5, 2007


Haves and have-nots finding their way into the nation’s classrooms, too Dec. 29, 2006









Arrests made over teacher exam bribery (Jul.8)

Oita education official ‘took gift certificates’ (Jul.9)

Dearth of teaching jobs seen behind bribes (Jul.12)

Scandal intensifies over teacher job exam (Jul.12)

Oita education board hands over administration of teacher exam

Grounds for firing Oita teachers questioned(Jul.18)

Teacher exam reviews eyed by 37 boards (Jul.24) (Jul. 24, 2008)

Politicians got teaching exam results early (Jul.19)

Official admits influence peddling over teacher tests (Jul.22)

Politicians tied to exam scandal (Jul. 21, 2008)

Basic education plan to boost moral training (Jul.2)


Tokyo U. scientists faked data used in Italian journal / Ethics body, patients didn’t give consent (Jul.12



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