Parent and Adolescent Relationships in Japan and the United States - Papers & Essays



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Parent and Adolescent Relationships in Japan and the United States

The success of a society depends upon how well parents perform their role. Mothers and fathers living in technological cultures believe this task becomes more difficult and less satisfying when children reach adolescence. Confusion over ways in which the relationship should change is confirmed by adolescents who report that parents appear unable to understand them. Education for parents should consist of knowledge sequenced to match the development of their child from birth through the years of adolescence. This goal can be attained by determining strengths and learning needs of parents as perceived by themselves and adolescents. Specifically,

(1) How well do parents communicate with children?
(2) How well do parents manage time?
(3) How well do parents teach what is expected of them?
(4) How well do parents cope with frustrations?
(5) How satisfied are parents in their role? and,
(6) How well do parents know the needs of individual children?

Responses to these questions can provide a more accurate portrayal of parent competence and make known how they influence children. This presentation illustrates how 1,200 Japanese mothers and adolescents compare with 2,100 mothers, fathers, and adolescents from the United States in their assessment of parent performance.

*Presented to Waseda University and Ochanomizu University, April, 2001, Tokyo, Japan. Sponsored by the Benesse Corporation. 


My wife and I enjoy the Buddhist Rock Garden in Kyoto. In this garden it is impossible to see every rock from a single location. However, as the visitor moves from place to place, each new outlook reveals more details about the whole picture. In a similar way, the perspective needed for harmony in modern society requires that parents and adolescents go beyond their usual place of viewing to look at some things from each other's position. This presentation reflects how both generations see their relationship and identifies seven areas in which they seek improvement. The conclusions are based upon empirical studies of 3,000 mothers and adolescents in Japan and the United States. In addition, the self-impressions of American fathers and adolescent perceptions of fathers are given consideration (Strom, Amukamara, Strom, Beckert, Strom, & Griswold, 2001; Strom, Beckert, Strom, Strom, & Griswold, 1999; Strom & Strom, 1998; Strom, Strom, Strom, Makino & Morishima, 2000).

(1) Learning from Adolescents and the Authority Inversion
(2) Discussing Concerns on Friendship Formation and Dating
(3) Managing Stressful Situations in a Complex Environment
(4) Accepting and Expressing Family Differences of Opinion
(5) Establishing Conditions to Support Creative Thinking
(6) Changing Family Expectations of Fathers and Sons
(7) Providing Special Education for Bullies and their Parents

(1) Learning from Adolescents and the Authority Inversion

Adolescents recognize that their parents have important lessons to teach them. However, because their experiences are so different from those of adults, adolescents believe that learning should be reciprocal. In their estimate, parents are less willing to learn from them than is reported by parents. Some Japanese find the concept of reciprocal learning unacceptable since it contradicts the customary way of guiding communication and assigning status. Until now values have always been conveyed in one direction, handed down from older to younger people. The recognition that adults can adopt particular values or ways of thinking from adolescents is a point of view never considered in the past. Consequently, society lacks experience in viewing young people as sources of knowledge.

In our studies, one item for parents on the Parent Success Indicator states: "I am good at learning from my child" (Strom & Strom, 1998). Optional responses are 'always', 'often', 'seldom', and 'never'. The corresponding version for adolescents read: 'My parent is good at learning from me'. Significant differences were detected in generational responses for Japan and the United States; adolescents gave unfavorable ratings to their parents while parents credited themselves with greater willingness to learn.

Fortunately, there is also progress to report. The potential of adolescents to teach adult relatives was made evident by a three year study involving 100 middle income families who were given free computers with access to the Internet and electronic mail (Bunn, 2000). All families were newcomers to the World Wide Web. During their orientation, families were told that researchers would remotely monitor computers to determine how often the machines were used, length of time on-line, and the websites visited. At several month intervals the parents and adolescents completed surveys revealing their competence, amount of time spent together on the computer, and frequency in which they tried to help one another solve operating difficulties.

Remote monitoring detected that, on average, adolescents spent three hours a week on-line, six times the amount recorded by parents. They received ten times as much electronic mail as parents and explored the Internet far more often. Another type of data gathering involved videotapes made during home visits to observe how each family used the computer. When the people they were observing encountered technical difficulties. the researchers did not offer help. It appeared that problems were frequent in 89% of families where the reaction of adults revealed an epidemic of helplessness. Parents gave excuses for their inability to solve computer problems. In comparison, the adolescents seldom complained and readily completed their tasks. Everyone was invited to contact the HomeNet phoneline whenever help was needed.

However, when facing difficulty, adults turned mostly to daughters and sons for assistance. If adolescents were not home, adults usually abandoned difficult tasks instead of telling their need for information to the HomeNet. Those who phoned the help desk most often were teenagers, the group who performed best. It seems that people who have the greatest skill recognize what they do not yet know and show greater confidence in challenging themselves to confront more complex operations. In most families knowledge trickled upward as those with least seniority claimed the most authority acting as consultants to mothers and fathers (Bunn, 2000).

One way to reduce the risks which accompany this familiar circumstance while ensuring the greatest benefit is by urging adolescents to adopt certain attributes that characterize good teachers. Possessing a skill does not automatically mean a person is able to effectively convey a skill to others. Besides knowledge, effective teaching also depends upon patience and encouragement. Impatience undermines motivation of students and can cause them to doubt their capacity to learn (Sadker & Sadker, 2000). The HomeNet study shows adults are more inclined than younger learners to give up when placed in an unfamiliar learning environment. For this reason, adolescents who teach parents should realize that emotional support is needed so adults remain willing to try again after they fail. This is a major concern for low-income families where less educated parents often lack confidence about becoming computer literate. Then too, this corresponds with the Japanese model which recognizes effort as a key factor in learning. As people fail, they should try again.

(2) Discussing Concerns on Friendship Formation and Dating

Parents and adolescents can benefit from sharing friendship difficulties and the methods they rely on to sustain relationships. The need for more conversations is underscored by a study of 8,000 American students from ages 10-14 asked to identify their greatest worries and fears. It was found that three of the five most frequent worries involved peer relationships--how other kids like me, how my friends treat me, and how I look to others (Benson, 1997).

Boys and girls usually start asking parents for advice about how to improve and preserve friendships while also establishing a degree of independence. This happens at 9 or 10 years of age when peer pressure becomes strong. Americans who are poorly informed report: "When someone mistreats my child, I suggest that s/he make new friends." This message identifies withdrawal as the best way to handle the insensitivity of peers who, at this age, behave that way quite often. Children want to improve their difficult relationships, strive to make them more satisfying. and try to get along with people who mistreat them. Parents who do not recognize that this is a healthy motivation disqualify themselves as a preferred source of advice.

Peer pressure becomes more intense at ages 11 to 12. At that time some children stop asking parents for advice because they reject simplistic solutions for what are usually complicated and daily dilemmas. Helping adolescents negotiate relationships requires that adults listen, reflect, propose solutions, and admit they are uncertain about the best way to respond. Still, it is always appropriate to recommend, "Let's share our observations, arrive at a plan, try it out, and monitor the progress, keeping in mind that most problems can be solved." Unfortunately, many parents get tired of hearing about conflicts so they stop listening. Later, these same parents may conclude that "My 14-year-old doesn't talk to me much these days because she is going through a stage." Whether a daughter seeks advice again will depend on the parent readiness to listen without judgment, willingness to disclose friendship experiences, and ability to think of constructive alternatives for conflict. In the best of relationships, children continue to share friendship dilemmas with their parents well into their adult life.

Parents should be willing to discuss any issues that concern adolescents. Yet, friendships and dating, the two topics young people care about most, are not talked about in many families. All three of the American parent populations were given unfavorable ratings for their willingness to talk about relationships. For example, in Black families, 45% of the adolescents reported their fathers were seldom or never good at discussing this topic. The same proportion (46%) of fathers agreed their behavior was unfavorable (Strom, Amukamara, Strom, Beckert, Strom, & Griswold, 2000). Similarly, Japanese mothers gave themselves unfavorable ratings for willingness to talk about dating. Japanese adolescents also gave mothers an unfavorable rating for this item. In fact, this was the lowest score among sixty items on the Parent Success Indicator (Strom, Strom, Strom, Makino, & Morishima, 2000).

Why do parents leave out this essential step in socialization of their children? We speculate that the media and peer pressure for sexual relations along with fear of AIDS likely distract adults from giving timely attention and instruction to support the normal sequence of sexual socialization. In the United States television often gives a distorted, fast forward picture of dating by showing situations where couples become sexually involved soon after they meet. Parents are concerned that adolescents will conclude this behavior is normative and adopt it as their own expectation for dating.

Conversations about dating expectations and how to build durable friendships are needed to ensure mutual respect and self restraint in relating to dating partners. Yet, parents seldom talk about how to ask someone for a date, how to treat a date, and what to expect of a partner. That greater civil behavior is needed is confirmed by a growing number of American boys who feel it is acceptable to call girlfriends bad names in the presence of their peers they want to impress. This abuse makes later mistreatment of girls easier to justify (Hird, 2000; Reyes & Fowler, 1999).

For example, 2,000 American girls (ages 11 to 17) were asked to describe how they would like to change their school, things they thought girls their age should know, and how they had been hurt by others. The only group who did not mention feeling pressure to have sexual relationships were 11 year olds. By age 12, it was quite common to report such pressures. Most girls reported that there is not enough opportunity during the school day to have friendly conversations with boys. They are not allowed to talk during instruction and must hurry from one room to another as they change classes. There was consensus about experiencing sexual harassment. Overall, the girls agreed that a better balance of academic and social involvement was needed in school. This perception of problem areas of schooling departs considerably from that of adults whose worries center on drugs, gangs, and violence (Haag, 2000).

Failure to learn the basic attitudes of being a good partner during adolescence is bound to interfere with the quality of later relationships. Couples with long lasting marriages identify friendship as a main factor that has kept them together and made their union more satisfying and safe. Nevertheless, many parents delay talking about dating until their children reach the same age as they themselves started to date. But pediatric studies of 17,000 American girls confirm that such discussions should begin by age 9. This is because girls today show secondary sex characteristics at younger ages (Herman-Giddens, Slora, Wasserman, Bourdony, Bhapkar, Koch, & Hasemeir, 1997; Kadlubar, 2001). This developmental compression means that girls often look more mature for their age and can attract older boys (Lemonick, 2000). Our studies of 10 to 14 year olds indicate that mothers in the United States and Japan and American fathers perform poorly in offering guidance to adolescents about dating.

(3) Managing Stressful Situations in a Complex Environment

American adolescents rate their mothers as ineffective for teaching how to cope with stress. Mothers generally overestimate their influence in this context. It seems that adolescents have less knowledge about how to withstand the pressures they encounter at earlier ages than is recognized by mothers. On the other hand, mothers who interacted with their adolescents for more than five hours per week were rated by both generations as more successful in this task and their parent role than mothers devoting less time. Helping teenagers manage stress seems related to the presence of mother and amount of time she is willing to listen and do things together.

To offer credible advice about stress, mothers must be able to demonstrate this capacity in their own lives. One method is to occasionally withdraw from daily tasks to recover a sense of perspective. It is troubling that one of the lowest self ratings reported by American mothers was their difficulty in arranging leisure time for themselves. Working mothers suffer from the stress of multiple responsibilities which include child supervision, obligations to husband, satisfying an employer, managing a household, and perhaps caring for aging parents (Hesse-Biber & Carter, 2000). Such pressures can cause mothers to pass problems on to children by over-scheduling them so they lack any discretionary time (Gleick, 1999).

American Black and White fathers of adolescents resembled the mothers in reporting that their greatest difficulty involves arranging leisure time for themselves. This lack of ability to schedule free time is bound to impact on parenting. When fathers are stressed or fatigued, the time they are with their children will likely produce more arguments and less mutual satisfaction. Fathers do not accept as much responsibility as mothers for the care and instruction of adolescents. Therefore, it is improbable that a father can effectively teach teenagers how to deal with multiple demands on their time when he is unable to set aside time for his own personal renewal. Living with overchoice, feeling hurried, and sensing a lack of control over events has become an increasingly common complaint. Fathers need assistance in dealing with this problem or they cannot effectively teach their children how to manage time.

The situation is more complicated in Japan where mother have extraordinary responsibilities for adolescent development. Their main task is to motivate students to work hard in school and at the Juku. Besides providing continuous encouragement and monitoring progress, mothers are supposed to recognize whenever the stress of studying becomes too great and respond by providing children the right amount of relief. Reconciling the tasks of pushing adolescents to their limit while also trying to preserve their mental health requires a high degree of awareness and delicate sense of balance. Mothers recognize that, to be successful, they must prevent students from feeling alienated toward their studies. Both generations realize that the examinations taken in adolescence will greatly influence educational opportunities, occupational choices, and perhaps the status of their eventual employer.

Given these circumstances, it is not surprising to find Japanese adolescents identify mothers as one of the main sources of their stress. Consider these kinds of complaints: "She doesn't allow me any free time", " She orders me to study morning until night", and, "I am tired of the examination war." Mothers are discontent as well with their obligation to pressure children. Looking back, one mother recalled: "When I was in junior high school, I was offended by the demands of my mother. Now I seem to be doing the same thing to my child. I am afraid she is offended by me and does not understand me" (Strom, Strom, Strom, Makino, & Morishima, 2000).

(4) Accepting and Expressing Family Differences of Opinion

Differences of opinion with adults become more common during adolescence. Self-disclosure of feelings can be valuable because it helps parents learn how their daughter or son interprets ideas and events. Parents often have the capacity to offer constructive feedback on the thinking process of adolescents which differs from the kind of feedback provided by peers. In Japan, however, it is customary to discourage all forms of conflict and subordinate individuality for the sake of group harmony. More than most other cultures, the Japanese go to great lengths to preserve peaceful relations and are respected around the world for this ability. Nevertheless, accepting and expressing differences of opinion are essential for authentic dialogue today. Adolescents need to practice conflict resolution skills with their parents who were discouraged from expressing differences with adults when they were growing up. Japanese mothers reported unfavorable self-ratings for their performance on giving advice on how to negotiate conflicts.

Similarly, 44% of Black adolescents saw their fathers as seldom or never good at dealing with criticism of their thinking. The mental capacity growth that defines adolescence is usually accompanied by a fascination with finding fault in the logic of others, particularly parents. Fathers should recognize this initial demonstration of critical thinking as favorable evidence of intellectual development rather than as a lack of respect. Further, 76% of Black adolescents reported that fathers seldom or never showed patience with them during family disagreements. Most of the fathers, 78%, agreed their conduct warranted an unfavorable evaluation (Strom, Amukamara, Strom, Beckert, Strom, & Griswold, 2000).

Conversely, fathers were often disappointed by the way adolescents deal with criticism. One -third of White fathers were seldom or never satisfied with how their daughters and sons handled criticism. Learning to process critical examination from others is important since outside evaluation can often identify needs for personal growth. Because criticism can provide insight at every age through life, fathers and mothers should teach adolescents to invite criticism and be able to benefit from the resulting knowledge (Strom, Beckert, Strom, Strom, & Griswold, 1999).

(5) Establishing Conditions to Support Creative Thinking

Creative thinking is becoming an education priority in technological societies. It is recognized that children who retain creative abilities are more able as adults to avoid boredom, resolve disagreements, cope with overchoice, accept situations that are complex or ambiguous, make independent judgments, use leisure time wisely, adjust to changes in environment, adapt to new knowledge, and maintain zest for life. Creative abilities can also enable people to look beyond themselves and respond to the welfare of others. In the transition from childhood to adolescence, a significant loss of imagination frequently occurs. More effective methods are necessary so childhood imagination will transfer to productive adult creativity (Torrance, 2000a, 2000b).

In Japan, both generations reported unfavorable ratings for the performance of mothers in encouraging imagination and creativity. In addition, mothers assigned themselves unfavorable ratings for making sure a child was able to spend time alone engaged in imaginative tasks without the adult demands for productivity. In contrast, highly creative adults typically recall that they were given considerable opportunity during adolescence to spend time by themselves and enjoy the company of their own imagination. No age group seeks privacy more than 10 to 15 year olds. Nevertheless, parents often fail to recognize the potential this condition offers in terms of support for creative behavior. Students living in fast-paced, crowded, and over-scheduled environments need time to participate in creative activities (Barron, Montuori, & Barron, 1997).

The number of students in classes and frequency of interruption means that solitary activities cannot have high priority at school. However, parents should arrange an after-school schedule that allows opportunities for solitude each day. This task is difficult for adults who are unsuccessful in trying to find uninterrupted time for themselves. However, understanding the need for change can help them do so. During solitary pursuits, adolescents use imagination more than in other activities. Yet, even though solitude is the best condition for fantasy practice, adults sometimes look with concern on an adolescent who prefers spending extended time alone. This apprehension is related to the high esteem our two societies attach to extroversion and sociability. Indeed, teachers and parents often ignore evidence suggesting that two-thirds of highly creative people are introverts. A better future is likely when parents recognize the positive correlation between solitude and the development of concentration, task persistence, and self reliance. Adolescents have to acquire social skills but, unless they learn productive use of privacy, they have less to offer when in the company of others (Crevar, 2001; Singer, 1999; Torrance, 2000c).

(6) Changing Family Expectations of Fathers and Sons

A generation ago fathers were characterized as the 'forgotten contributors to child development' (Lamb, 1975). The dominant view then was to consider fathers as responsible for influencing their children in four ways. First, they were expected to be the main source of income. Currently, 80% of American women from two-parent families work and contribute to finances of their household (Hesse-Biber & Carter, 2000). Second, fathers were supposed to give emotional support to wives who assumed the main responsibility for child care. But, in every family constellation, supervision of children is being transferred from parents to surrogates (Jackson & Davis, 2000) Third, fathers were advised to perform some housework chores to ease the workload of their spouse. Nevertheless, surveys consistently show most fathers do not follow this recommendation. Finally, it was the obligation of fathers to contribute to the education of children by continuous interaction with them. Yet, most youth still spend much less time with fathers than with mothers (Lamb, 1997).

Fortunately, new conditions are emerging that allow fathers to better define what is expected of them. One approach which urges acquisition of parenting skills has generated interest in research on father potential. As stereotypes of fathers are left behind, educators will be more able to address previously lost opportunities to help these men increase the benefits they provide children. The Japan Ministry of Health sponsored a National Fatherhood Campaign that recommended men help more at home with child care because 70% of the mothers are employed (Matsuoka, 1999; Makino, 1999). A White Paper by the government reported that, on average, Japanese men spend one fifth the time as their wives do on child care and one tenth the time engaged in household tasks. In contrast, American men, who are unaccustomed to being portrayed as models, do almost as much family shopping as mothers and performing nearly half of the child care and household tasks.

Reaction of Japanese men to the government campaign was mixed with many fathers pointing out that is impossible for them to be in two places at the same time and their job must come first (Kageyama, 1999). It is uncertain whether the lengthy work week in Japan can moderate in the near future. Nevertheless, one way to help is to make parent education available to fathers at work. Our instrument, the Parent Success Indicator, used for studies reported in this presentation, can detect individual learning needs and identify suitable curriculum for Japanese fathers (Strom & Strom, 1998). Fathers are as educable as children and can adjust to changing times. We believe that parent education opportunities at work is a more constructive response than blaming fathers. No data is available about how Japanese fathers perceive themselves or how they are viewed by their adolescent children. We would like to collaborate with a private foundation to pursue this path for improving family harmony and success.

What about boys? Students are now encouraged to develop a greater sense of fairness than when their parents were growing up. At school they are taught that girls and boys are equal, deserve the same education and employment opportunities, and that girls should never be mistreated. Consequently, adolescents with parents who follow the traditional gender roles at home even though mother is employed are recognized as out of date. This means some adolescents must look outside their own family for illustrations to prepare themselves for equitable and mutually satisfying relationships with the opposite gender.

It is pleasing that some fathers and sons have begun to share responsibility for household chores (Hirschfeld & Hirschfeld, 1999). However, it is misleading to suppose most adolescents assume their fair share of responsibility for family life. Black fathers and White fathers were given unfavorable ratings from adolescents and from themselves for the way they dealt with frustrations about how children fail to perform family chores. The same result was found in a study we conducted of 170 families with gifted junior high school children (Strom, Strom, Strom & Collinsworth, 1994). Both generations reported parents were ineffective in requiring adolescents to do the chores assigned them. Adults commonly excused their failure by suggesting that keeping an orderly home was less important now than in the past when women stayed home, busy schedules prevented doing their own chores, and arguments over domestic tasks was not worth undermining a favorable relationship with adolescents.

Most parents concluded it was less troublesome to do all the household chores themselves. This seems a poor decision which contributes to a problem identified by most middle-age women. They feel overburdened with responsibilities for child care, husband care, satisfying their employer, taking care of the home, and caring for an aging parent. Yet, they seldom recognize one way to break the cycle of unfairness is to insist sons behave at home in a way that will enable them to become successful husbands in an egalitarian society. Adolescent boys who lack obligations to relatives except for doing well at school are being poorly prepared for the interdependent relationships society will require of them as adults. Both parents should talk with sons about their responsibility to support fairness. Setting aside the tradition of vertical relationships by creating new traditions supporting horizontal relationships is a challenge for societies like Japan and China.

(7) Providing Special Education for Bullies and their Parents

Six million American children annually report problems with bullies (Centers for Disease Control, 1998). In response there has been a revision of school priorities with safety and support for emotional and social development at the top of the list. It has been common to suppose that bully behavior is normal, a stage that some people go through but will outgrow when they get older (Seligman & Rosenham, 1997). On the contrary, research confirms an opposite conclusion. Bully behavior is abnormal so efforts must be made to rehabilitate bullies while they are still young (Olweus & Limber, 1999).

University of Michigan psychologists conducted a 22-year longitudinal study of 500 children from the time they were 8 years old until age 30 (Marano, 1995). The results revealed bullies had greater problems of adjustment than classmates. About 25% who started fights during elementary school, pushed, shoved, and stole belongings of others had a criminal record by age 30. However, less than 5% of nonbullies had a record. Waiting longer to intervene makes things worse. Boys who were identified as bullies in middle school had a 60% criminal conviction record by age 24 (Olweus & Limber, 1999).

Contrary to popular assumption, most bullies are intelligent, get good grades, and express self-confidence. These assets can cause teachers to underestimate later dangers when such children become adults without empathy. Policymakers want educators to take problems of bullies just as seriously as if the bullies had another disability. When students present problems in reading, tutoring is applied with the expectation that it will lead to improvement. However, teachers do not respond in the way when it comes to bullies. Instead, their learning potential for social development is ignored in favor of reviewing the options for punishment (Hyman & Snook, 2000).

It appears that when a student presents signs of failure in emotional maturity or social skills, educators lack confidence in being able to help. It seems as if the school gives up on these individuals. Yet, special classes are offered to students who take drugs or get pregnant because there is a belief that they can be rehabilitated. This same attitude should apply to students whose emotional or social dysfunction is shown by a lack of self restraint and concern for the feelings of others.

Low self esteem is sometimes suggested as an explanation for why the bullies mistreat others. On the contrary, there is a greater connection between high self-esteem and violence. Researchers have determined that violence is much more often carried out by people who have unrealistically high self-concepts attacking those who dare to challenge their self impression. This troublesome group includes bullies, racists, gang members, persons in organized crime, rapists, and psychopaths. The favorable self-impression of bullies is based on lack of awareness about what peers really think of them until late adolescence or early adulthood. In elementary and junior high school they typically associate with one or two companions who help them carry out their destructive wishes. Bullies suppose their social situation to be normative (Marano, 1995). Owing to a social blind spot that makes them unaware of how they are perceived by peers, bullies characteristically do not show empathy toward others or consideration for the wishes of classmates they victimize.

The need to augment instruction for bullies with education for their parents seems essential because abusive students are themselves often mistreated at home. It has been found that parents of bullies interact much differently than families with nonviolent children (Olweus & Limber, 1999). They do not provide encouragement, praise, or the good humor other parents do in communicating with children. Insults, sarcasm, and criticism are typical reactions bullies experience at home. Studies at Florida International University centered on detecting differences between abused and non-abused children in their incidence of delinquent behavior. A sample of 500 students whose suffering from abuse was verified by court records were compared with 220 children and matched for age, gender, socioeconomic status, and race. It was concluded that abuse and delinquency are closely correlated (Hyman & Snook, 2000).

Bullies influence the social learning of peers. Those who do escape negative feedback about their abusive behavior offer a dysfunctional model which suggests that it is possible to exhibit aggression without fear of consequences. After watching a bully, the bystanders may be more inclined to behave in a similar way themselves. Evidence for peer modeling comes from studies where classmates were observers in over 80% of bully episodes (Craig & Pepler, 1997). In most cases their willingness to remain spectators while others were being mistreated reinforces bully behavior.The conditions necessary to motivate students for intervention on behalf of victims should be identified (Naylor & Cowie, 1999).

Few students challenge bullies but those who do usually have high status. To increase the frequency and effectiveness of peer intervention, student awareness must be raised about individual responsibility to take action and show empathy for anyone who is being mistreated. In addition, students should be taught strategies and encouraged to demonstrate the courage needed to offset a silent majority whose lack of caring deprives the victims of needed support and jeopardizes their own future as compassionate individuals. When bullying is acknowledged as a group phenomenon, the participant role of observers is recognized and training can be given to facilitate change. Besides the victims (who suffer humiliation, and pain), bullies (who harm others and endanger their own social and emotional development), witnesses (who are forming their lifelong response to injustice) deserve consideration (Samivalli, 1999).

Student unwillingness to report incidents can be a dangerous norm. Following cases of school violence, it is often discovered that some students had prior awareness about threats but did not take them seriously or chose not to say anything. One reason for the failure to identify hazards is that, from an early age, children are discouraged by parents and surrogates from tattling about everyday indignities they suffer at the hands of hair pulling siblings or playmates who take their possessions or tease them. Instead, children are urged to become strong and handle such situations themselves without inviting adults to intervene. However, once in school, students need to know there is a distinction between tattling and telling. The purpose of tattling is to get a person in trouble whereas telling on someone is to get them the help that they need.

Trying to cope alone with peer abuse can prevent children from seeking adult help when it is the best solution. This was the case of Yo Hirano, a student at Nakano Junior High School who did not tell parents or teachers about the constant bullying he endured (McNeill, 2001). Finally, unable to take it any longer, the 14 year old committed suicide. Yo's parents sued the school for not assisting him when the faculty had evidence of peer mistreatment. This was the first time that a Japanese school and bullies were prosecuted. In January 2001, Judge Ryoichi Ikeda said that, given the facts presented, he could not conclude anything other than the faculty was negligent. Consequently, the school along with parents of nine children who bullied Yo were held liable for financial damages. Japanese mothers in our study gave themselves an unfavorable rating for being able to help children deal with bullies and gangs. Similarly, Black and Hispanic mothers also assigned themselves unfavorable ratings for being able to help sons and daughters deal with bullies and gangs. A Kaiser Family Foundation study found that 61% of American middle and high school students fail to confide in their parents about peer mistreatment because they do not want to worry them or believe the adults cannot be helpful (Dickinson, 2001).

Schools that design curriculum to rehabilitate bullies make it known they still consider bullies capable of learning the social skills needed to get along with others. Skeptics may doubt whether classes for bullies and their parents is a viable solution. But schools have not had to consider remediation when student problems center on lack of social skills or emotional immaturity. This is because educators lack training for responding to deficits in this realm of development. As bully problems become more common, schools must address them. Expectations of students must broaden to include civil behavior, treating others in a respectful way. Those who mistreat their classmates should be identified as failing to make progress in social development. In turn, bullies should get the same level of assistance currently given to other students recognized as having special needs.


Japan and the United States expect to provide global leadership. To attain this goal, it is essential to recognize how the definition of leadership is changing. Some of the emerging factors given higher priority include:
  • respect for the ideas and values of younger people by adults showing a willingness to engage in reciprocal learning,
  • healthy relationships through gender equity in the home and at the workplace,
  • reasonable expectations that support both productivity and quality of life,
  • acceptance and expression of differences of opinion without suffering a loss of face,
  • nurture of creativity for adjustment to rapid social change,
  • education for fathers so their role becomes more significant and satisfying,
  • recognition of social development as vital to collaboration, and
  • response to bully behavior with educational rehabilitation.
The challenge to fulfill these new conditions will be difficult but the potential benefits should motivate great effort. The readiness of Japan and the United States to pursue this new path will influence the extent to which they are perceived by other nations as world leaders.


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