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International Symposium marking the 10th anniversary of the establishment of CRN
Children in Societies with a Declining Birthrate- The Case of East Asian Countries -
   
10:00 -16:30 Saturday, February 3, 2007
Venue : U Thant Conference Hall, UN House, United Nations University (Shibuya-ku, Tokyo)
Organizer : Child Research Net (CRN)
Joint Organizers : Benesse Institute for the Child Sciences, Parenting, and Aging Benesse Corporation
With the support of Ministry of Health, Labour and Welfare, Chinese Embassy, Korean Embassy, the Japanese Society of Child Science, the Japanese Society of Baby Science
 
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Lectures and Discussion

"The Declining Birthrate as a Social Phenomenon Affecting Children:
Research in Japan, China, and South Korea"


Coordinator:
Sakakihara Yoichi
Lee Keun
Panelist:
Park Jung Han
Zhou Nianli
Harada Masafumi

Sakakihara: Then, let's begin the Panel Discussion of Session II. During the break, we received a lot of questions from the audience. Thank you very much. We have read all of them. I will select two and ask each of the panelists.

<What is the biggest problem for children living in the society with a low birthrate?>

Sakakihara:

We live in the declining birthrate world, so what is the most important problem or challenge that we face? I’d like to pose this first question to the three panelists. Can you start, Professor Park?

Park:

To comment on the first issue of population decline, there are advantages and disadvantages to a decreasing population. Like Korea and Japan, where population density is very high, a population decrease may be good because it results in a lower density of pollution, and thus fewer traffic jams, and other things.

But the economic growth rate is what the policymakers are most concerned about. Because of the falling birth rate, the labor force will decline. At the same time, the rapid aging of the population requires more economic resources to support their longer lives. This kind of imbalance will result in social instability, and we will have to negotiate between these.

Then the question is: What is the optimum population size? Nobody can answer that. But when we talk about population, we have to consider both quality and quantity. Although we don’t know what is the optimum population size for Japan and for Korea, we do know how to improve the quality of the population.

The quality of population rests on two foundations: health and education.

The health of the population starts from conception and the life of fetus. So that’s why I emphasize the optimum age of pregnancy and childbirth.

And also education does not just start in school, but begins in infancy. According to Dr. Harada’s data, young mothers nowadays lack child-raising skills. We need some kind of education for these young mothers to become effective and efficient mothers. This is a kind of parenting education. When you want to drive a car, you need a license. Likewise, when you want to have a baby, you need to know how to take care of a baby. We need to develop a system that will provide young men and women with the skills to raise children.

Sakakihara:

Thank you very much. So Dr. Zhou, please.

Zhou:

I would like to stress the concept of having the power or ability to live. I think the children’s ability to survive, or the power to persist and keep on living, is lacking and very weak in Japan or in China. I have been in Japan for seven months as a fellow of Japan Foundation.  Almost every day and every time when I turn on television, I hear about children being killed or children committing suicide. Every day this sad news can be heard on television. In China, there are problems with Only Child. Some children committed suicide just because they got a score of 85 out of 100 on a test. So, children do not value their lives. They cannot control their emotion very well and do not know how to regulate their emotion. On the other hand, they are very weak in spirit. Most of them never have chance to experience frustration or failure; therefore, they are not strong enough to cope with their stress. And so, in this society the decline in the birthrate is the issue that we have to study how to reinforce children’s power to go on and keep on surviving.

Sakakihara:

Thank you very much, Dr. Zhou. What are other problems and challenges for children living in this society of the declining birthrate? Professor Harada, what are your thoughts?

Harada:

Dr. Zhou talked about ability to do this. From the perspective of children, they need to acquire the ability to live confidently with dreams for the future and a certain sense of future direction. Can they communicate with friends? These are the capacities and abilities needed for life.

I treat adolescents, and I have seen many of them. And I always say “If you raise your children in the usual way, they grow up in the usual. That is my general sense. But then people usually respond by asking, “What do you mean by “usual”? What is ‘usual’?”

The practices that have been proved in the past are good practices. And I have often been asked what those practices are. Well, the problem here in Japan today is that people have lost the sense of what is usual or normal and ordinary in raising children. Each parent is trying very hard to raise their children. Some mothers who have killed their children as the result of abuse claim that they were trying to discipline them. They had good intentions, but they had lost the sense of what is the usual way to raise their children. They have no longer any idea what is usual.

The influence of parents is very strong until children start going to junior high school or until children are in elementary school. You have to think about the “environment for children”. I have seen many cases in psychiatric department. In Japan, the threshold is very high. It’s not so easy for families who have tried very hard to raise their children properly. In other words, children with a solid family background tend to come to psychiatrist. Usually, the parents have tried very hard to raise their children in right way. These children are considered model students by teachers in elementary school and this is what the parents are told, but the children are at a loss when they reach puberty and then need to seek counseling.

For a long time I have been having study sessions with teachers. We have observed that even amid today’s affluence, a number of elementary school and junior high school students are not even receiving proper daily care in terms of clothing, housing, and food. How can we ensure a good environment for children? The theme of this symposium is “How we can protect the environment for raising children and for them to grow?” From the perspective of children, this is a question for adults, “How will adults ensure that we have the necessary environment that will enable us to grow?”

When talking about the child-raising environment, people often talk about good old days but we cannot go back in time, so we have to seek a good solution that suits the times we live in. We live in a contemporary world with specific demands and requirements. We need to ensure the right environment that is suited to our contemporary time. This is one big challenge for adults today.

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<What can adults do in the society of the declining birthrate?>

Sakakihara:

Thank you very much. Now, we will go on to the second set of questions.
To begin, please let me introduce some questions from the audience.

First, self-realization and one’s role as a mother, how do you reconcile the two? Do the social system and structure have to be changed?

In this society with low fertility, what can we do for children who are the successors of the current culture?

Professor Harada pointed out that there are so many mothers who lost the parenting capability. So, there is a need for networking with relevant organizations such as preschools or child-care centers. What are your views on this?

In such declining-birthrate societies, is there any common element running through East Asian society? If there is, I want the panelists to give concrete suggestions or advice, considering the common situations.

For children living in this society of low fertility, is there anything concrete that we can do by way of providing solutions or any advice, any suggestion for a possible solution? This is the second question that I would like to ask each panelist.

Professor Park, I know it’s a difficult question. It’s a global kind of question, but can you give us your view?

Park:

If I understood your points clearly, one of the comments by Professor Zhou and Professor Harada focused on the weakening power of children to live or the parenting capabilities of parents. We have experienced a change of family function in recent decades.

There are basic functions of families, such as living together and reproduction. Another function of the family is to raise children, nurturing children physically and emotionally and educating children within the family until they reach school age. And economic support is also one of very important family functions. But these have been changed in most industrialized countries.

Taking child care for example, parents want to put their children in nursery schools or nursery care. Also child education receives less attention within the family, and all the responsibility is left to the school. What about the economic support among family members? In the past, in Korea, China, and Japan, it was the responsibility of children to support their parents in their old age. But now, this is considered to be the responsibility of the society and government. So everything that was taken care of within the family is now left to outsiders, other people, the social system, or the government.

I wonder whether this is right. Why did parents give up such responsibility and abandon their parental role of educating children or their role as a son or daughter to take care of parents? It’s a kind of shift in value that takes place in accordance with changes in industrialized society.

I cannot make a qualitative judgment about whether this is good or bad. But certainly, I can suggest this is a very serious problem, a matter of concern for the quality of life including child-rearing, which will affect the issue whether children grow up to be good citizens or not.

Sakakihara:

Thank you. Then, Professor Zhou, regarding the same question, can you give some concrete advices from the standpoint of a researcher of the One-Child Policy in China?

Zhou:

I think some of what I have to say may overlap with what Professor Park has said. My personal view is that children, especially “only-child” children, are very weak. They are very weak in terms of self-realization. How could we supplement of this weakness? There are big differences among children. So, according to this feature, we should construct a structure with three layers to support children.

The first layer would be society in a broad sense: the society in which we live, at the national, regional and cultural level. We should improve economic policies in such a broad perspective.

The second layer is probably family and school. As Professor Park mentioned, family and preschool, nursery schools, primary school or junior high school, or the environments of families, schools, and kindergartens need to be improved.

And the third layer would be the individual, children themselves. Each individual is different. We should consider how and the appropriate way to link physical development with differences of psychological development.

In particular in China, one issue under the One-Child Policy is that children tend to become self-centered since they have no siblings and they don’t learn how to share with others. This aspect is quite considerable. Professor Wei mentioned that how we can develop children’s social emotions which I am very interested in.

Professor Park mentioned earlier the physical and physiological aspects of the environment. In terms of the psychological and physiological environments, the school and family environments, and the broader social environment, these three structures need to be improved in order to create a good environment for children. That is my personal opinion. Thank you very much.

Sakakihara:

Thank you very much. Professor Harada, what are your views on the same question?

Harada:

That is a very broad question. I don’t know if I will be able to sufficiently answer that question. In Japan today, many people, full time mothers, look after their children at home. This is, however, rather extraordinary or unusual because until about the 1950’s, mothers and fathers worked outside of the home and children were raised in the community. It was rare for parents to spend 24 hours a day with their children.

Today we assume that mothers are supposed to be fully engaged in raising children. This is putting a strain on the mothers, because the value of child-raising is hardly recognized by society. It is taken for granted that mothers look after children. So mothers cannot find fulfillment in raising children. The social value of child-raising needs to be recognized from the viewpoint that it is a very important and essential activity.

In the past, people gave birth to children so that children would eventually look after them in old age, or parents needed children to help with the family business, or they needed a successor for the family or for the village. But in today’s society, we don’t need children to look after the old parents, and we don’t need workers for family businesses. Many people are company employees so they don’t need heirs or successors in business. But the society still needs children, and as I mentioned, as a people, it is quite unhealthy not to leave any descendants. So the society needs children. It’s not parents who need the children, it’s the society that needs the children. That’s the message that we have to take to the heart.

We are talking about the need to ensure three types of spaces for children to play: friends, place and time. To play, they need place to play safely, friends to play with, and then time. We are keeping our children too busy nowadays, but we need to allow children to have leisure time.

It’s up to the parents to decide whether they want to raise children while working outside the home or if they stay at home fulltime. A question in the Osaka Report which was included in this report asked who mainly looks after the children, and 5% of the people have said it was the “father.” So, the first-three-years myth that dictates that the mother should raise children full-time at home should be abolished so that the women will have options and choices regarding how to raise their children.

Sakakihara:

Thank you very much. I would like to ask Professor Lee, too. What are your views regarding the questions?

Lee:

As a pediatrician, I want to emphasize two points here.
First, we have to teach young people how to bring up children. Parenting is not something natural. In the United States, they have classes in effective parenting. There are hundreds of books on how to raise children and work as parents. And I think in Japan, China, and Korea, we have to set up this concept of teaching young people to understand children depending on their age. You know, teaching them what three-month old babies are like, what two-year-olds are like, and so on. We have to teach children this kind of understanding.

Personally, the basic element of effective parenting is “love.” There is nothing like too much love. So we have to teach young couples to love children and understand children.

The second point I want to emphasize is that mothers need help. Whether they have only child or more than one child, young mothers need help and a lot of help. To do that, I want more fathers, husbands, to get involved.

A recent survey in Korea found out that two-thirds of Korean men want their wives to have an income, to have a job. Two-thirds of men believe that raising children and doing housework are their wives’ responsibility. They don’t want anything to do with it. Do you think Japanese men are better than that? No. Raise your hand. So, to help mothers we need more involvement from husbands, not only husbands, neighbors, too. Early retirement is on the rise these days in Korea. And I tell young mothers to seek help from neighbors, middle-aged or elderly men or women, maybe as baby-sitters, or maybe helpers in an emergency.

So we have to change our attitudes and thinking that children are the entire responsibility of the mother. This means not only fathers and grandparents, but all of us in society. We share responsibility for raising children because children are our future, as we heard this morning. We have to help young mothers so that they can raise children properly and happily. Thank you.

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<Conclusion>

Sakakihara:

Thank you. Well, time is running short. But at the very end, I will return to the three panelists for any conclusions, remarks or anything you would like to add. Professor Park?

Park:

I didn’t have a chance to answer one of the questions raised by the audience. I would like to comment on this. In Japan, it is said that education is necessary even before a baby is born, which means education during pregnancy, about the baby in the womb. Education about the yet-to-be-born is the key to better education that will continue after birth. In English, I would call it maternal-child bonding or attachment that is the same as maternal-child bonding after birth. The bonding is a psychologically attachment.

What we have discussed here is how important the role of parenting is. In Korea, more than eighty percent of high school graduates go on to college. The high school and university curricula do not deal much with parenting, but rather English, computer science or these kinds of subjects.

What high school or university curricula would be the best for the next generation, to make them better citizens so that they can enjoy a happy life? We have to consider that again.

Zhou:

Up until now, China, Japan, and Korea have been societies with a lower birth rate. The researchers of our three countries maybe need to go beyond the cultures and culture differences in child care and do co-research to share what is best in each of these countries.

I have lived in Japan for ten years in total and find that recently in Japan parents emphasize self-confidence and encourage children to become independent, to develop social skills, have a good interpersonal relationship and be able to understand others very well. I think Japanese parents value these attributes very much.

In China, there are not so many parents paying attention to these social emotions, so perhaps the parents in China should learn from Japan and to try to leverage and introduce into the parent-child relationship in China.

As for Korea, today I learned that the fertility rate is 1.08. It seems that the child-care environment is becoming pretty much the same in three countries.

So we should try to share what is good, and if there are things which need to be improved, maybe we should get together and think about it. I’m Chinese, which does not mean I only think about China. Koreans should not think only about Korea. The symbol of this symposium is crossing borders. In the same way, children and adults in China, Japan and Korea should cooperate hand in hand. I think that is we should do. Thank you.

Sakakihara:

Thank you very much. Those were very good concluding remarks. I don’t think I could say anything further.
Professor Harada?

Harada:

Yes. The phrase “providing support for child-rearing,” was first used in 1995. People tend to think this is something easily done. I don’t think it is easy. The more you do it, the more challenging you realize it is. It is something humankind has not taken up before. This is a new challenge for us and it involves trial and error.

In Japan, we see examples of providing support for parenting and child-raising introduced from the West and there is much we can learn, but in terms of nations with whom we have much in common, we have to more to learn from Chinese and Korean cases.

So you can not assume that this is a simple and easy task. This is a big endeavor that the nation as a whole will have to tackle. I hope that all of you here would join in.

Sakakihara:

Thank you very much.

Considering the presentations and discussions, although we started to think about what kind of environment we should ensure for our children in the future, it seems that our problems are not really that great.

But thinking about a theme for the future, perhaps we could think about how to create opportunities for children and something positive from this situation of a decline birthrate. We should think of the declining birthrate as an opportunity to think about the future of children in China, Korea and Japan.

We didn’t have much time, but it would be good to have an occasion to discuss how low fertility will affect Japanese society.

Professor Lee? Can you make a closing remark?

Lee:

First, I was really surprised to see all the questionnaires, which show that audience and panelists have achieved high level of communication. And second thing that surprised me was to find out that we have exactly the same problems in our three countries. We can find a solution much better if we cooperate among Korea, Japan and China.

Sakakihara: Thank you very much.

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