Child rearing, Japanese style
I have, of course, hatched a theory, which I shall introduce with a fireworks anecdote. It is, as everyone knows, the curse of parents that they have to occasionally take their children to completely age-inappropriate events which they know their children are going to make difficult, and the classic example is fireworks. Children panic at loud bangs, and start to cry. So last night while I was sitting watching fireworks with the Delightful Miss E and the Stunningly Handsome Mr. H, two children nearby in the crowd were screaming their little lungs out. One was being comforted by an Englishman, one by a Japanese woman. I swear the Englishman made as much noise as his child, trying alternately to shush it, talk to it, calm it down or generally just give it as much attention as possible; but the Japanese woman, while cradling her child close to her breast (as he was doing) completely ignored the crying. She was completely ignorant of her child`s cries, except for occasional amused chuckles with the other adults, and was intent on the fireworks she had come to see.
One sees a similar kind of phenomenon in supermarkets and other public places. When children under maybe 5 years old decide to get overactive in public here, their parents ignore them. Where western parents would attempt to reason, cajole, curse, coerce or spank their children into silence, Japanese parents seem to prefer looking the other way and ignoring the whole thing.
I think this goes against all our notions of children as needing a disciplined world. I have a suspicion that the Japanese see children under 5 as incapable of reason, and therefore beyond reasoning with. Perhaps they are just cute machines, and their behaviour is not amenable to interference. I don`t know, but I see this happening and think of the social interactions and strong sense of social responsibility of Japanese adults, and I wonder. Perhaps there is something to this method. After all, the child at the fireworks has learnt from the moment he or she was old enough to scream that begging for needless attention is not going to help. By the time this child is old enough to bother making a fuss at the supermarket, he or she will already have given up the distinction between negative attention and no attention because it is simply not relevant. And frequently I think that the difference between the world of the individualist west and the collectivist east really just lies in the amount of negative attention being demanded and given. Maybe our much-vaunted individualism is really just a bunch of children crying out for attention, because we learnt from the moment we were born that yes, if you scream loud enough, attention is what you will get...