Child-rearing and Parental Awareness in a Rapidly Changing Japanese Society
Masafumi Harada, M.D., D.S., Professor of Osaka University of Human Sciences, Japan
Today I would like to explain how child-rearing and parental awareness are being affected by the rapid changes taking place within Japanese society.
For more than twenty years I have been in charge of a special outpatient psychiatric department caring for children and adolescents. During this period of time I have often asked myself "Why couldnít parents identify the problem they should have addressed while the children were still small?" I recognize that the patients who come to us do need our counseling, but I believe that if these problems were identified earlier in life, the situation would be better for all concerned.
Starting in the late 1980's, a lot of child-rearing groups became active in Japanese society, and I see these groups and their activities as a sign of hope. With my co-workers and parents who organize such group activities locally, I established and operated a volunteer group known as the "Hearty Child-Rearing Internet Support in Kansai" in 1995. In that same year the Japanese government devised a countermeasure named the "Angel Plan" to help address the falling birthrate. As a consequence, I have observed official child-rearing support and countermeasures in relation to the falling birthrate from the viewpoint of parenthood.
Child-rearing support has two objectives. The first is to build a society in which parents can enjoy being active in society and bringing up children. The second is to raise children to be healthy in mind and body. Although the reason I set up the volunteer group arose from the second objective, I now realize that to bring up children healthy in mind and body, we must support parents. That is why we need to develop child-rearing support with a clear understanding of both objectives.
II. Results of two surveys on child-rearing: The importance of considering the condition of child rearing based on survey data
I would like to introduce the data from two surveys, including the clinical results from my psychiatric work with adolescents and my experience of being involved in volunteer activities that support child rearing. Recently I completed the "Hyogo Report," having used the same wide-scale survey and questionnaires as those of the "Osaka Report." The target group for the Osaka Report was mothers who bore children during 1980 and for the Hyogo Report child bearing mothers during 2003. <Figure 1, 2, 3, 4>
The result of the Hyogo Report showed significant changes when compared with the Osaka Report. However, some results remained unchanged, in particular, those related to "the development of the children affected by the environment."
A cross tabulation of <Figure 5> shows the statistical results of the baby's mind and body development. It also indicates responses to the question at the baby's 4-month checkup "Do you ever give your baby something to hold?"
These figures indicate that the majority of babies given something to hold almost everyday can be placed in the category of "good development." On the other hand, the majority of babies who are rarely given something to hold fall under the category of "poor development." In this manner, environmental factors such as the involvement of mother with her child affect the child's development, even at the early stage of four months. This proves that the environment in which a child grows up affects the development of the mind and body of the child. Parental stimulation has a positive effect on child development, a belief traditionally acknowledged by those working in pediatrics and psychology.
Given the powerful effect of the infant environment on child development, and the deterioration of childhood environments, I believe we need to take steps to prevent further deterioration of the child's early surroundings. Adults need to be reminded, and to take on the challenge of initiating an upward trend towards creating environments more favorable to child rearing.
Another result in the Hyogo Report that has remained unchanged since the Osaka Report is related to working mothers. In Japan, we have the "Myth of the First Three Years." This myth holds to the belief that if a mother does not stay at home to raise her child during the first three years of life, this will have a negative effect on the child's development. This myth is an unnecessary mental burden for Japanese mothers, since both surveys prove that this idea to be untrue. <Figure 6>
III. How urbanization and the falling birthrate in Japan affect children and child-rearing practices
Everyday life for children such as day-to-day meal times and bedtimes has changed drastically. A major concern stemming from the results of the Osaka Report was that the parentsí late bedtime was causing children to go to bed later. Consequent to this, the Hyogo Report showed that an increasing number of children are going to bed later and later. The data implies that some parents may not even know the time their children go to bed. <Figure 7> <Figure 8> It is not surprising, therefore, that children get up late if they go to bed late. We also identified that the number of children who sleep during the daytime for 4-5 hours is increasing. In the Osaka Report, more than 90% of children had a regular bedtime hour; however, this decreased to about 80% of children in the Hyogo Report. Thus, the survey results proved that an appropriate child rearing environment is disappearing along with the rapid change of Japanese society. We consider this a serious problem.
Mothers who grew up in an era of low birthrates and have been living in an urbanized Japanese society are likely to have almost no experience or contact with babies. As a result, most of them become mothers without being ready to give birth or to raise children. This fact is one of the biggest problems relating to child-rearing in Japan.
Experience is the best teacher for a human being and is likely to dominate his/her thinking and emotions throughout a lifetime. I have become strongly aware of this principle while working for the special outpatient psychiatric department caring for "infants and adolescents."
<Figure 9> shows the answers to the question "Have you ever helped other mothers feed their babies or change diapers?" In the survey of 1980, only 41% of mothers had "no experience" of this. However, in the survey of 2003, the figure had increased by 15% to 56%, with the result that more than half of mothers have "no experience." Conversely, the percentage of mothers who answered "many times" was 22% in 1980 but this figure had decreased to 17% in 2003. Through my experience as a volunteer in child rearing, I have become increasingly convinced that "parents are ignorant of what infants are like" and this is responsible for making child-rearing difficult in Japanese society. These results mentioned above verify my conclusions.
In the case of the Osaka Report, we could not quantify the data in terms of high or low percentages, having no basis for comparison. However, since we conducted the Hyogo Report 23 years after the Osaka Report, using the identical questionnaire, we were able to compare the survey results. Accordingly, we could also draw concrete conclusions, about the direction and scale of change in child-rearing during the 23 years. We gained insight into the direction in which Japanese society is changing, and to what degree change is taking place. For example, from the data mentioned above, we could conclude that the number of "mothers who have never cared for infants before giving birth is increasing rapidly." This was already a social issue when we conducted the survey of the Osaka Report. Now we can say that this phenomenon has intensified, since we have been able to validate our findings by making comparisons between the Osaka and Hyogo Report.
IV. Mothers feel increased psychological stress from child-rearing
Most mothers are mentally healthy <Figure 10>
As a matter of course, most mothers are mentally healthy. In the survey, 97-99% of mothers answered "Yes" to the question "Do you think your baby is adorable?" although the percentage decreases as the baby's age in months increases. Also, 87-95% of mothers answered "Yes" to the question "Do you feel happy staying with your baby?" although the rate decreases as the baby's age in months increases. As this data shows, mothers have a positive attitude towards their babies, therefore, it can be said that most mothers are mentally healthy.
Increasing pressures of child-rearing <Figure 11>
On the other hand, two out of three mothers answered "Yes" to the question "Do you feel pressure in bringing up your baby?" Thus, the pressure of child-rearing is enormous for many mothers. This pressure is more obvious when mothers are questioned at checkups, consequent to the 4-month checkup. As the baby begins to awaken to its sense of self as an independent being, it becomes more difficult for a mother to handle the baby, especially for a mother who has no experience of helping with child rearing. This situation can create a mental burden for the mother. Furthermore, the current condition of Japanese society is not as conducive to child-rearing as previously, therefore, this might create further mental stress. Unfortunately, this question was not included in the Osaka Report, so we cannot compare the results.
For everyone, isolation can cause the most mental stress. For a mother, especially one who did not know or come into contact with babies before they became mothers, friends or neighbors with whom they can talk about the everyday events of child rearing are absolutely essential.
<Figure 12> shows the answers to the question "Do you have a friend in your neighborhood you can chat with about everyday events and your baby?" Compared to the results of the Osaka Report in 1980, the Hyogo report implies that an increasing number of mothers with young babies are isolated in society. In the survey conducted at the 4-month checkup in 2003, 32% of mothers answered "None" to this question and showed that they were completely isolated. The number has doubled from 16% recorded in the data in 1980. This means that isolation is experienced by one mother out of every three, these mothers having no friend to chat with in their neighborhood. To the question "Do you have a friend with whom you can share the experience of bringing up your baby?" one out of three mothers answered "None" at every checkup. Therefore, it is of utmost urgency that we find solutions to prevent mothers with young babies, from becoming isolated within our society.
Mothersí feel growing anxiety about child-rearing <Figure 13>
To the questionnaire in the Hyogo Report "Have you ever worried about bringing up your baby?", approx. 14% of mothers answered at checkups "Yes, very often." This was twice as high as 6-7% in the Osaka Report. On the other hand, 25-27% of mothers answered "No, not much" in 2003, a large decreased from 34-40% in 1980. These results show that mothers' anxiety and worry about child-rearing have intensified since 1980.
Mother's frustration increases along with baby's age in months
In the Hyogo Report, we found that most mothers are struggling with the feeling that they are left with a heavy burden of child-rearing, even though they think of their babies as adorable.
<Figure 14> shows the answers to the question "Do you often feel frustrated while bringing up your baby?" This question is asked from the 4-month checkup to the 3-year checkup. This allows us to trace the rise in the mother's frustration by the child's age in months. At the 4-month checkup, 10.7% of the mothers answer "yes", but this percentage increases fourfold to 43.6% at the 3-year checkup.
Furthermore, compared with the Osaka Report 1980, the rate of the mother's frustration in the Hyogo Report 2003 has increased exponentially. At the 1.5-year checkup, 32.1% of mothers answered "yes" in 2003, increased by three times compared with 10.9% of "yes" in 1980. Also at the 3-year checkup, 43.6% of mothers answered "yes" in 2003, and doubled compared with 16.5% of "yes" in 1980. This rapid increase of frustration is strongly related to the issue of child abuse.
V. Physical punishment and the reason for child abuse
Frequent use of physical punishment --- Present state of physical punishment
<Figure 15> shows responses to the question "Do you physically punish your child when scolding him/her, such as smacking, pinching or kicking?" (In the Osaka report, we used the slightly different terms: slapping, pinching, or restraining). I was so surprised at the frequency of physical punishment in the result of Osaka Report. For example, nearly 70% of mothers with children 3-years old admitted that they slap, pinch, restrain or otherwise physically punish their children.
In the Hyogo Report, to the question asked at the 1.5-year and 3-year checkups, still the majority of mothers admitted they smack, pinch, or kick as punishment. Nowadays, child abuse is one of the biggest social problems in Japan. Although recognition that "smacking a child is bad" has become more widespread in Japanese society since the early 1980s when we announced the results of the Osaka Report, the usage of physical punishment remained unchanged up to now. From this we have to acknowledge the harsh reality that some mothers are compelled to hit their children as part of child-rearing, and once they start this behavior they cannot stop. This also indicates that there is a strongly rooted tradition within Japanese society to affirm the necessity of physical punishment.
Why does a mother use physical punishment?
The main reason for mothers resorting to physical punishment is that she herself is not ready to become a mother. As she herself is growing up in a rapidly changing Japanese society, she has no experience handling babies or taking care of babies, and therefore, no idea how to take care of her baby. This lack of experience leads to child abuse. To be more precise, such a mother (1) is bewildered by a wide gap between the image of child-rearing before she has her own baby and the real-life child-rearing, (2) cannot understand what the baby wants her to do, (3) is at a loss how to interact with her baby, or (4) often feels no confidence in her child-rearing.
The second reason is that she is uneasy and full of anxiety about her child rearing, which in turn increases her frustration and the sense of carrying a heavy burden. This is more directly linked to physical punishment than the causes (1)-(4) mentioned above. To be specific, stronger factors causing frequent physical punishment are when a mother, while child-rearing, (5) feels very uneasy and is worried sick, (6) feels strong frustration, (7) feels she has a big burden, (8) cannot get her husband's help, or (9) has financial difficulties.
The cross tabulation of <Figure 16> shows the answers to the questions at the 1.5-year checkup "Do you feel frustration with your child-rearing?" and "Do you use physical punishment on your child when scolding him/her, such as smacking, pinching, or kicking?" The result indicated a strong correlation between the two questions; all the data showed a significant difference below 0.0% by the X squared test.
VI. Distressed mothers torn between self-fulfillment and the role of parenthood
In the process of analysis of the Hyogo Report, an unexpected factor became evident. The source of mental stress for mothers during the years of child-rearing has changed significantly. In the Osaka Report, the mental condition of the mother was quite stable with the husband's help and the opportunity to chat with friends who have children. However, things have changed in the Hyogo Report. The report revealed that, in the present day, a mother is torn between self-fulfillment and her role as a parent. This conflict is so serious, that it shakes the foundations of her understanding and expectations of life, and her husband's meager help and her chats with friends are far from solving this problem. <Figure 17, 18, 19>
It is, therefore, essential that we find ways to foster child-rearing support in our society for the sake of the motherís quality of life and the healthy growth in mind and body of the next generation of Japanese children.