Have Children Changed?

This article is a translation of "Chapter 1 - Monographs on Elementary School Children, Special Issue 2005" published by Benesse Educational Research Institute, Benesse Corporation.

1. Time Series Analysis

1) No Regional Differences in Upbringing
It is said that children have changed. Children may have changed, but the aspects and the degree of the said changes are difficult to detect. In particular, regional differences in the environment of children have disappeared and all children now follow a similar trajectory of growth regardless of where they are raised.

In Tokyo, for example, children used to be raised differently in the so-called uptown and downtown areas. Even in downtown neighborhoods, people in Asakusa, Nihonbashi, or Tsukuda were brought up in different ways. I was brought up in Ueno, Tokyo. My parents did not discipline me very much because they were busy working in the family business. Whenever I got some pocket money from my parents, I hung out with my friends and the adults I related to most of the time were penny candy store owners and picture story tellers. In contemporary parlance, it was the era when children grew up in the community. The strict grandmother next door disciplined both her own grandchildren and other kids like me indiscriminately.

If children's upbringing is determined by regions, differences are easy to detect by simply comparing children in Asakusa to those in Fukagawa or Nihonbashi. However, such community-based upbringing no longer exists.

In fact, it is natural that the differences in region have been disappearing. Everyone watches the same TV programs all over Japan, and CDs are released on the same day regardless of region. Video game software is sold simultaneously nationwide, and snacks hit the store shelves at the same time. In this sense, children are caught up in the same whirl of nationwide commercial distribution. For these reasons, all children tend to have a similar lifestyle, and this makes it hard to detect if children's growth is distorted.

2) Two Measurement Methods

Given the circumstances mentioned above, we need a standard of measurement to understand and compare children's current issues. Distortions or advantages can be examined by comparison with a certain standard. The question here is which standard we should choose to implement.

There are two ways of measurement. One is the cross-sectional approach, which compares domestic data on children with data from overseas. Comparing data on children in Tokyo with those in Milwaukee, Beijing, or Seoul yields differences in children's respective lifestyles. Such a study allows us to understand the growth process of children in Tokyo with reference to those in other societies. Chapter 15 of this book, entitled "International Comparison," indicates the partial results of such a study.

The other way of measurement is the longitudinal approach, which enables us to understand children's current situation by comparing it with data from the past. In this case, however, the appropriate past data is difficult to obtain, because not many studies on children were conducted thirty years ago or so. In addition, unlike today, research was simply designed, because data processing by computer was not available at that time. Moreover, the theme of study tends to rely on the trend of the particular time. For these various reasons, the time series comparative research approach has the difficulty of finding an appropriate study as a reference.

The study that appeared in Vol.19-3 entitled "Have Children Changed?" was conducted in 1999. Since we needed about a 20-year-interval for comparison, we decided to refer to the data from the time when "Monograph" was first published. In particular, we reviewed 22 reports in Vol.1 and 2, and selected items applicable to the current study. However, it was difficult to grasp the whole picture from only one study series. Therefore, we decided to choose nine series conducted from 1979 to 1982 to create an study chart.

3) 1980 - 1981

To understand what this time period was like, let's consider popular songs and TV programs in years 1980-1981. Take music, for instance, "Subaru (The Pleiades)" by Shinji Tanimura (1980), "Run Away" by Chanels (1980), and "Ruby-no-Yubiwa (Ruby Ring) by Akira Terao (1981) were huge hits. TV programs such as "Waratteru-Baai-Desuyo (Time to Laugh)" (1980), and "Oretachi-Hyo-kin-zoku (We are Harlequins)" (1981) were the most popular. Momoe Yamaguchi, the singer, retired from show business, and Shigeo Nagashima, the baseball manager of Giants resigned in October 1980. In March 1981, Pink Lady, the famous duo, performed their farewell concert.

Given these examples, the years 1980-1981 do not seem to be so far in the past for people in their forties or older, but the period is certainly not the present. This period is the most recent past that can be described in nostalgic terms. Considering that video games had not been sold and mobile phones were not available, it is most definitely a part of the past. The most problematic behavior of students around that time was violence at school, and bullying was to become a serious problem several years later.

2. How Have Children Changed?

1) Children are no longer childlike

i) Decreasing Appetite
Figure 1-1 shows the particular food that children replied they liked. As indicated, the percentage of children who like each food very much decreased during the period from 1980 to 1999. For example, the percentages have been decreased by 7.4 percentage points from 77.3% to 69.9% for sushi; and by 7.0 percentage points from 76.0% to 69.0% for grilled meat. Although the data was omitted here, the percentages have also decreased from 64.8% to 48.8% for fried prawns; and from 50.1% to 35.3% for Japanese hotchpotch.

ii) Declining Life Experience
From 1980 to 1999, the percentage of children who had rarely touched frogs increased by 9.3 percentage points from 33.0% to 42.3%. The proportion of children who had rarely experienced such strong wind and rain that their umbrella turned inside out also increased by 15.6% percentage points from 39.3% to 54.9%. In addition to these nature-based experiences, certain everyday life experiences also declined. The percentage of children who had almost never peeled an apple or pear increased from 22.1% to 35.3%; and those who had not carried a baby piggyback increased from 26.9% to 45.2%. (Figure 1-2)

Being childlike can be considered to include having a good appetite and moving about energetically. However, children have less appetite and have less experience in actual life. It seems that more and more children are withdrawn, preferring to stay at home, and children who not seem childlike seem to be increasing.

2) Lower Motivation for Accomplishment

i) Disappearing Gender Stereotypes
Table 1-1 shows the change in gender difference seen in the classroom. The percentage of children who think that boys are very much or somewhat well suited to be chairperson of the class meeting decreased from 54.8% to 40.6%. The percentage also decreased from 35.9% to 16.3% for boys producing the class newspaper. Adherence to girl's stereotypes diminished as well: from 60.9% to 50.6% for the percentage who thought that girls were very much or somewhat well suited to serving as class secretary; and from 38.0% to 22.9% for providing printouts. As these results indicate, views based on gender stereotypes, such as thinking that boys would be better at serving as the chairperson and girls as the secretary, have declined. This indicates that gender stereotypes are fading from the children's world.

ii) Given Up on Occupational Achievement
Figure 1-3 shows the percentage of children who think they could never achieve the major goals listed. As indicated, the percentage of children who think they could never be a doctor who cures intractable diseases has increased from 44.7% in 1980 to 50.0% in 1999. The percentage who replied they could never be a pilot of a jumbo jet has also increased from 55.2% to 61.1%. The number of children who have given up achieving their goals has increased in the past twenty years.

iii) Lower Sense of Happiness
As Table 1-2 shows, the percentage of children who think they are extremely/very happy declined from 58.1% in 1980 to 43.6% in 1999. At the same time, the percentage who replied that they feel relatively/very/extremely unhappy increased from 5.1% to 11.1%.

3) Summary
In the past twenty years, children seem to have become less childlike; they have less experience with nature and in daily life. Concurrently, children's sense of happiness has declined and their motivation for social accomplishment has deteriorated. Although most of them seem to be obedient and well-disciplined, more and more children have lost their vitality and seem to be withdrawn, preferring to stay at home. In terms of children's growth, the past twenty years cannot be considered a happy period for children.

<Past issues referred in this chapter>
"Have Children Changed?", Vol.19-3, 2000
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