Sunday, January 15, 2006

Japanese boys go to their rooms -- and don't come out

There's a new trend among Japanese teenage boys: They drop out of life. Like the scary trend of anorexia among young girls in this country, in Japan it's high school boys who are retreating from the world, dropping out of life and staying in their bedrooms, sometimes for decades. It's all in today's NYT magazine story.

Utterly fascinating.

What do you think are some syndromes or unhealthy trends going on among American teens that aren't being recognized--by parents, teachers or the media?

30 Comments:

Anonymous Anonymous said...

I think another one that not enough is done about is obesity. In this area at least, it's becoming pretty prevalent: fast food, sweets, cokes, all the time.

A lot of the kids I've grown up with have gotten into bad eating habits after being daycare kids. Both parents work, and the kids head to daycare after school. Parents come by and pick them up around 6 or so -- when everybody is tired after a long day -- and the family stops to get fast food on the way home. Every night. Then at school the next day, the kids often just have lunch money, and there are always hamburgers, nachos, or pizza at the cafeteria.

Kids get used to that, and the habit can be hard to break -- especially once they're old enough to take themselves to the drive-thru. My sister, who's in high school now, has friends who eat out five nights a week. (It's to the point where they have eater's amnesia: they do it so often, they can't even remember where they ate two nights ago.) I have a six-year-old cousin who has probably been to more restaurants than I have.

At this pace, diabetes -- and the health care costs it requires -- is going to be a nightmare in the coming decades. It's already started in some segments of society, which the Times covered last week.

6:37 PM  
Blogger SuperHolmie said...

I wish parents could see how dependent their kids are on quick, shortened, coded forms of communication. Abbreviations, stupid little emoticons...and people wonder why teenagers are so devoid of personality sometimes and ill-equipped to do anything but shop and talk on the phone or play video games. Their world doesn't include complete sentences and thoughts.

These kids can barely make it through To Kill a Mockingbird in their English classes, much less read things for pleasure. They pay NO, I mean NO, attention to detail. They pronounce "Catarina" as "Katrina". And they don't see what the big deal is.

As a teacher, I've seen the intelligence get sucked right out of kids in the past decade. I wish parents would really embrace the weight of this: these fragmented kids are going to be the ones providing nursing care, salon services, bank services... to us in a few years. Just wait.

9:11 PM  
Blogger Terminaldegree said...

The unhealthy trend I see in my students is over-programming -- they try to "do it all." (I teach music privately and at a university, so my students are from age 8 to adult.) Parents will call to ask about lessons and then tell me their kids are taking soccer, ballet, karate, French lessons, and in Girl Scouts, and they now want to add music lessons to the mix. (I don't take those kids as students -- it's not fair to them to expect them to be Superkids.)

By the time they reach university, they're either burned out, OR they're so overprogrammed that they try to take 18 credits, work a part-time job, do an internship, and join three clubs, all in the same semester. Some get by on four hours of sleep.

By their junior year, they start to go a little nuts as a result.

But the irony is that by this point they are used to juggling so many things that it's hard to concentrate on just one or two priorities--because their attention spans haven't been developing all along.

I'm not really critical of my students, who don't know any better. It's their parents, who let them do so many activities when they're younger, who get my criticism. And the irony is that the parents are doing this (usually) because they want the BEST for their kids.

Luckily, some of my students' parents are resisting this trend. In one family, for example, each kid can pick one art activity (such as music) and one sport. No more. I think it's a very healthy way to live, and those kids seem to be a lot happier -- and a lot more like KIDS.

9:51 PM  
Blogger Morgaine said...

Obesity isn't a trend, it's the natural result of eating animal foods full of growth hormones. The meat and dairy industries pay a lot of money to keep people from figuring that out.

The trends that scare me most with kids are cutting and bullying. I meet an extraordinary number of younger people who cut themselves to the point that they become addicted to it.

Bullying is a huge problem, and kids have never had more access to each other. It isn't just limited to the school day if they get ahold of a kid's cell number or email. There's a particularly nasty trend for Christian students to harrass non-Christians. It can get really ugly.

3:17 AM  
Blogger Morgaine said...

Sorry to post again so quickly, but I just read the article. I've been living that way for over a decade. It got so bad, I can't live on my own. I stay with family, but they'll go days without seeing me sometimes because of my sleep schedule. I've been living here since 1999 and don't have one friend in the area. I like the word Hikikomori - so much more elegant than manic depression.

3:40 AM  
Blogger Kevin said...

At the risk of being labeled a June Cleaver throwback from the '50's, the unhealthiest trend I see in today's teenagers is the fact that they typically aren't able to sit down to dinner with their folks (or single parent) every night.

Let me explain.

Our (government) schools today typically teach neither critical thinking skills nor how to effectively question authority. Both concepts seem an anathema to them. They are only rewarded by "teaching to the test."

With the occasional exception of an outstanding progressive/liberal teacher here or there, our girls were taught what I call the standard American party line in the public schools in Houston.

But our dinner table is the place wherein they and their friends are encouraged to speak their minds, ask difficult questions, explore other viewpoints, and look behind the facade of today's advertising, marketing, PR (sorry, prof) and government spin-cycle industries.

It's not the government's job (via public schools and teachers) to raise our children up right. It is the parents' job.

Problem is ... most parents today have to go to an outside job in order to get the paycheck(s) that will make ends meet. Then they're too exhausted at the end of the day to fix a family meal and relax and communicate effectively with their children.

Nobody pays us parents for the most important job of all -- to raise our children, the next generation, to become powerful, effective, creative, questioning, intelligent adult human beings.

Methinks the current Administration is afraid of such a spectre.

9:12 AM  
Blogger Koru's Daughter said...

The Japanese culture continues to change quickly. There is also great pressure for the kids to excel in an outmoded definition of success (no more lifetime jobs or clear career paths).

These Japanese kids are our kids - we just have not identified the trend in the same way in the US.

In the US, we have a trend of kids staying in the nest longer and longer. Anti-depression medication prescriptions are skyrocketing. Our literacy rate is skydiving.

What is going on? Is our global first-world society going bonkers?

How can we help these kids (in the US, Japan and other nations)?

The description of how the surrogate big sisters and brothers coax the kids out of the rooms is fascinating.

I wonder how too much access to the media feeds into all of this.

9:37 AM  
Blogger theprofessor said...

Your comments are brilliant. All of them. Thanks for your thoughtfulness. And Morgaine: We're with you, kiddo. And I'll bet your community needs you.

10:58 AM  
Blogger Superdestroyer said...

I would think that American kids have the opposite problem than Japanese kids. American kids are taught early to only do things that come to them easily. They go out for little league, little dribblers, soccers, band, etc. Yet, when those activites require practice and work, too many American kids quickly quit such activities because they are not a natural or a ringer.

The attitude may not cause much harm when it is baseball but it really hurts the kids to quit trying at math, writing, reading, art, music, or other academic pursuits.

1:10 PM  
Anonymous E. said...

I'm back after a long while and glad to see the blog is alive and as stimulating as ever. (I'm the farther-further E., not the one that has frequented these comments lately. :))

Now, I don't have a first-hand opionion on American youth, but the Finnish kids these days seem to lack a personality more than ever. They are all part of the herd and seem to be downright afraid of making a move alone.

They also seem to be unable to approach all the information flying at their direction with a critical perspective. It is as though Mum or Dad hadn't ever told them that all that you read may not, in fact, be truth handed down from a surpreme being of your choice. I see a trend of these kids being easily and outrageously manipulated before they hear the clue phone ring.

Another phenomenon that seems to increase rapidly is that they seem to be in the passenger seat of their lives. They're mostly self-proclaimed victims with little desire to help themselves out of a rut. If they do not know something, they will not try to find out lest someone orders them to do so. They seem to lack an inner spark to get their mental motor running.

I am generalising, of course, perhaps even ranting. But there might just be a reason for it... Now, if you excuse me, I have to get off my butt and go live my life. :)

1:20 PM  
Anonymous highschoolkid07 said...

Yes, I notice trends!

As a teenager I can tell you that a trend that happens is teenagers cutting themselves and becoming addicted to it! It makes me angry that this problem is not recognized because you WILL get ridiculed for it! People are unaware of what it really is.

Also, obsession with sex. I don't have a problem with having protected sex. I have a problem with girls wanting to be sexy for no particular reason. Girls who SAY they are against sex, but then they go and act differently. I mean a lot of these girls think irrationally. They want friends just to have friends and get them in the wrong ways. A boyfriend just to have a boyfriend. They feel like they are the only ones who feel the way they do. Its terrible that a teenager should feel something and think he or she is alone.

There are many teenage problems that are not recognized!

In my personal world, I am surrounded by a bunch of immigrants and very bright, hard working students. I have found that my parents and theirs are extremely pushy. These parents push their children to do everything. I've already dismissed my parents (and now they think I'm a stupid lazy girl, but I don't really care because I'm pleased) but these other kids haven't. I talk to them and they tell me how stressed they feel and they are always anxious. I wonder if they ever have a day where they do things without having a panic attack. I don't know why parents thing its good to load your kid up! Not only that, but parents feed their children with lies to scare them into loading up and burning out. I don't know what regular kids' life is like as I'm not around them. This is just something I noticed in the lives of some of the IB and AP student at my school.

Meh, incase someone yells at me for saying "immigrants" I find its mostly immigrant parents who do this. You could call it a stereotype but its true in this case.

4:41 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Read from a prominent child psychologist, "the most insidious form of child abuse is overindulgence". I believe that because I have witnessed it first hand.

5:51 PM  
Blogger Koru's Daughter said...

Morgaine: TheProfessor is right. We are there for you. Are you OK? What would help you?

7:23 PM  
Blogger Morgaine said...

Thanks, Professor, and Koru's daughter-

Actually, right now, not much can help. I'm in a very isolated area and the people here are very conservative. My family doesn't want people to know about my political or religious beliefs, so I'm not really encouraged to go out. I have no energy, largely because of medications I take, and I stay in my room because I irritate people, so I spend most of my time in bed.

I only get dressed a few times a month at most. I will occasionally go to a drugstore in a small town nearby, but that's all I do. When I lived in Philadelphia, on my better days I could shop at 24 hour grocery stores and there was a 24 hour post office. I got too sick to be able to shop reliably and keep up with my house, so I ended up losing most of my furniture and stuff when I had to move.

Blogging is my main outlet. It takes less attention than trying to read, and I feel productive if I'm writing. I'm in a safe space, though, and I see a doctor regularly.

It's not a choice, though - people like me simply can't do anything else. There are things I want to do, like painting or cleaning my room, but most of the time I just can't. Being creative seems impossible sometimes.

I think the rental sisters in the article were successful because it gives hikikomori the illusion that someone cares, and they're non-judgemental. A social network is absolutely essential, and most aren't able to maintain one. I have friends who want to hear from me, but sometimes just calling and talking is too much. Most people aren't that understanding.

Also, I have a younger cousin who is like this, but he has a girlfriend that works around his refusal to go out most of the time. He got lucky. I think they met before he became very reclusive. Once this starts, the odds of meeting someone are slim. It's the one thing you need and the last thing you want.

It's not perceived as a trend here because we slice it up. It's called OCD sometimes, manic depression or major depression, agoraphobia, social anxiety, etc. If you add all that up as the Japanese doctors do, then you see a trend. It's more prevalent than people in this culture realize, and most people have no understanding or tolerance for it. They just think we're lazy.

Thanks for the support - it helps. :-)

8:52 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

This was a good story on ABC TV in Australia
Japan - Generation Z
http://www.abc.net.au/foreign/content/2005/s1491707.htm

10:52 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I really can't agree with that first anonymous poster. All I see are news stories and articles and advertisements about the obesity epidemic in kids.

Around here teachers are required to weigh in with their kids in public schools, because fat teachers encourage fat children (we picked it up from another state, but it still sucks).

Children are taught about eating and how evil fat is in school.

And I just found out that there's a tax break for losing weight if you have the receipts to prove it.

And yet only about 4-8% of the youngsters I see around are obese. While I'd put 60% of high school age girls as underweight if not truly anorexic.

The problem with talking about obesity endlessly is that the people who NEED to listen DON'T, and that the kids (and adults) who are already freaked out about weight listen too well.

10:57 PM  
Anonymous highschoolkid07 said...

Okay, I read (almost) everything in the comments. Firstly, Morgaine that is interesting to me! I've never actually seen or met or talked to a person like you, but (in a behaviourist approach to this) I'd bet if you lived in a different area, you wouldn't be as reclusive as you are. I'm sorry! It is a shame your primary supporters seem like they are supressing your very being!

Grr, this is one of the reasons why sometimes I really dislike Western medication and philosophy!!

Secondly, the obesity things. Not surprising that this is the first thing that would be posted! THere are more serious problems that are more common!

12:36 AM  
Anonymous Hillary said...

I've seem some pretty pessimistic views from above comments. So here is my unhealthy trend -
Poor kids these days are not allowed to go outside and play because of danger therefore must pretend in the fantasy world of video games which does not incorporate communication or physical activity.
The problem is the parents letting it happen. It's called the Ancedote Theory - people hear of one kid getting kidnapped and killed and they will never let their kids outside. However, it's one incident. How many car wrecks or drug related deaths are there every year? They won't stop driving their kid to school...

I have hope though. Everyone always underestimates the young generation. We act like we are perfect and our own parents / teachers didn't complain about our conduct when growing up. Can someone say Elvis?

8:05 AM  
Blogger Red River said...

Television is the first problem. When I was a foster parent, the hardest task was to wean the kids off TV. I could always tell when the kids saw TV at neighbors' houses as their attention span decreased and acting out increased. Violence and abusive relationships are the norm on many TV shows as is the quick, painless fix.

The next is that kids do not play with each other on an interactive basis anymore. When I was growing up pickup games of sports were common - now you cannot find any of these in any neighborhood - they are so rare. Kids do not learn how to negotiate, deal with problems, organize to get things done, or meet new friends.

The next one is the blame game. When things get tough and failure occurs, the first thing kids do is blame something other than their own lack of preparation or lack of grit. A lot of this comes from TV.

Fourth is overprogramming and overbearing parents ( as the prof has noted.) who don't let their kids deal with the real world. I've seen this up close and it takes kids ( mostly daughters ) into their late 20s to shed their mommy dearests.

Fifth - the increasing atomic nature of child rearing. Single parent familes and two-parent familes without grandparents daily assistance. I see a big difference in kids with lots of adults around vs those without. It very tough for two people to raise a kid without some help. Couples need to live by their folks or their parents need to move close to them.

Sixth - very high tax rates force many women to work during the first five years of a child's life. if a family makes $30,000 a year - 13% goes to social security, and then another 20% goes for Federal Taxes. On top of this they pay 8% local sales tax plus 30 or more cents per gallon of gas. Its stunning how much money flows out of a family's budget to pay for government. Its the biggest item in the budget.

Obesity is a symptom not a first cause. Its related to many factors.

2:26 PM  
Blogger Koru's Daughter said...

Morgaine: Your situation sounds very frustrating. I just read some of your blogs and I would like to say that you are very articulate. Your literacy and current events/cultural knowledge are exceptional. It appears that you have not completely shut down like the Japanese boys in the story. It looks like you have and use the ability to grow and change. Good luck.

7:40 PM  
Blogger Morgaine said...

Hi, Koru's daughter -

Thanks for the kind words. It's not so bad right now. What's really disappointing is when I visit friends on the East Coast and can't participate in anything.

I wonder if any of the hikikomori blog? It helps me a lot.

11:07 PM  
Blogger Kevin said...

red river -- you've made some very cogent points. I'll further comment on #2 and #5.

Kids do not just "go play outside" with one another any more. The soccer mom of the '90's was bad enough, but she has been replaced by the security mom since 9/11. Most young parents I see today are absolutely petrified at the thought of letting their kids go outside and play in the neighborhood. Everything has to be scheduled, supervised and micro-managed out the wazoo, with special attention given to the "proper" types of children their kids will be allowed to play with.

We raised our 3 girls 1200 miles away from home, grandparents, and all other relatives. We just couldn't handle the boredom of rural Michigan life any more. But we DID have the incredible gift of living in a neighborhood where our next door neighbors were also stay-at-home moms with 3 kids each. I would have committed hari-kari had I not had those two other awesome women in my life during those times. It absolutely DOES take more than 2 people to raise a family.

We're doing our best to help out the young couple across the street here, now. Their baby is 10 months old, they both work, and they've had hell to pay with trying to get a reliable nanny. I do lots of free babysitting and share my hard-gained wisdom best I can, whenever they ask.

But the atomic nuclear family of today is, indeed, a huge problem.

10:30 AM  
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10:30 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I haven't left my house since the end of 2007. Hikikomori isn't a trend, it is a bloody sickness.

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