You must have heard about the 7-year old Japanese boy who was found alive after spending 6 days alone in a bear-infested forest, being left behind by his parents as a punishment for bad behaviour.
The incident has sparked a debate about parenting in general and parenting in Japan in particular. Journalists and social media have not been kind to the parents, using words such as ‘abandoned’ and ‘left without food or water’. While it could be construed this way, and not for a moment am I condoning the parents’ actions, it is an inaccurate sensationalisation of what actually happened.
The boy had been misbehaving, throwing stones at cars and people, so his father made him leave the car in the middle of the forest as a punishment and drove off. After driving half a mile, his parents returned, but their son was not where they left him. He had wandered off and was found about 3 miles from where he was dropped off almost a week later, hiding in a military hut. His survival is truly a miracle.
While the parents took disciplining to an extreme, it was not their intention to abandon him for even a night or leave him for days without food or water. They intended to pick him up in a short time. However, we know what the road to hell is paved with, so their intentions do not change the fact that their child was traumatised in order to drive home a disciplinary point. It brings to light how parents can go too far, as opposed to not far enough, to be strict with their kids. The father initially told the police that the boy had just become separated from his parents while the family were foraging for wild plants. He says he lied because he did not want to ‘lose face’.
This shows that societal image and disciplinary rules can be seen to be more important than the well-being of a child. Japan has always seemed to be an incredibly strict society (http://www.nytimes.com/1990/07/30/world/student-dies-whose-fault-japanese-ask.html), and the cultural difference might make the extent of even everyday disciplining seem even harsher to international audiences than the locals (http://www.japansubculture.com/corporal-punishment-getting-punished-in-japan-dont-throw-pens-at-the-kids/) . However, Japanese parents have become more indulgent in recent years, to the point where some of the country fears they have become too soft.
The issue that clearly comes under the spotlight is parenting in general, not as a culturally or nationally specific phenomenon but as a universal condition. While the abandonment of a 7 year-old boy has been uniformly condemned, the response from some people in both Japanese and international society has been nuanced and sensitive. Some people have asked if no one has walked away from their child having a tantrum; but of course, a supermarket is not the same as a forest! Didn’t the parents teach their son to stay in one place if ever separated from them? Perhaps they did but maybe he really believed they were leaving and not coming back for him. One of the cornerstones of successful disciplining is following through with what you say, consistently.
There are shades of grey in this debate that show that parenting is an incredibly complex endeavour. The collective sigh around the world seems to be about the shared knowledge that parenting is hard, and that there is no guide book. Where do you draw the line? When does discipline become abuse? The incident in Japan is an example of how parents feel powerless in dealing with a serially misbehaving child, and how this frustration can lead to unthinking end-of-tether behaviour that an outsider to the situation can all too easily condemn.
Perhaps like there is now marriage counselling before marriage, there should be parenting classes before becoming parents, and not just on how to change diapers. Children of different ages require different types of discipline. You tend to parent the way you were parented. If you do not resolve the issues that you carry around from childhood, the sins of the parent might very literally be visited onto the child. More advice and information would prevent such woefully misguided parenting, preventing issues which the parents and child in this story will be dealing with for years to come, unfortunately.
If you are a parent, do you have any horror stories about your parenting decisions? If you are not a parent, do you have any anecdotes that exemplify bad parenting? If you have an opinion or question about parenting, leave a comment and let’s see what people think!