Youth crime laid to insular life

Human interaction sacrificed to today's high-tech affluence

by Setsuko Kamiya

Juvenile crimes stem from a society adults created, and changing laws to merely impose a stricter punishment on young offenders will not get to the root of the problem, according to a former family court examiner.

“Criminal actions require a lot of energy, and it’s a pity that some kids had to use that power for such behavior,” said Ayahiko Terao, 60, who retired at the end of March from the Yokohama Family Court’s Odawara branch.

“For most of them, this is the only way they can become the center of attention,” he said.

It is necessary that juvenile delinquents recognize and reflect on what they have done, said Terao, who spent 35 of his 38 years as a court family examiner dealing with youth-related crimes.

“Just blaming them one-sidedly isn’t going to solve anything,” he added.

Examiners like Terao interview juveniles sent to family courts for their alleged misdeeds.

With diverse backgrounds — in psychology, pedagogy, sociology and law — the examiners interview the parents and schoolteachers of young offenders, in addition to carrying out psychological tests on the accused and investigating their upbringing.

The information the examiners glean and their comments regarding the offenders are submitted to family court judges, who determine whether the accused actually committed the crimes and decide on appropriate corrective measures.

With his experience serving on different family courts in Aichi, Shizuoka and prefectures in the Kanto region, Terao said he has also noticed changes in the attitudes of the parents.

In interviews, the parents of juvenile offenders usually told him that they tried to teach their children not to cause trouble to others, using the oft-used phrase “meiwaku wo kakeruna.”

In the old days, Terao said, parents tried to get their children to follow the rules of society and not harm others.

But today’s parents use the same phrase, but the implied meaning is “stay out of other people’s business and do not make commitments to others,” he said, adding, “I think today’s adults have also done this.”

Terao said those who have supported the nation’s economic growth and material affluence are absorbed in their own wealthy lifestyles and fail to make commitments to others.

Technological advancement has also deprived children as well as adults of human relationships, he said.

For example, in the days when each household had only one telephone, Terao said, when kids received calls, their parents were able to know who they were talking with and what they were talking about.

“There was interaction or communication between the kids and the parents with one telephone call,” Terao said.

But today’s society is one in which households have several telephones, and family members, including children, carry cellular phones. Thus many parents have no clue about their children’s phone contacts or what they are up to, he said.

Although such technology cannot be blamed, Terao said parents must ensure that their children engage in meaningful communication with others, something that can easily fall by the wayside in the age of technological convenience.

“What adults can do, for the time being, is try to talk to children and listen to them,” he said. “It’s as simple as that. But what was once considered a matter of course is no longer.”

One thing that needs to be done in the long run, he noted, is to reconsider the role of schools and what they really should be teaching.

“Children these days lack the knowledge to live with others in society. Learning that is much more important than just studying school subjects. It’s too bad such things can no longer be expected to be taught at home and in the community.

“Japanese society has experienced a dramatic change at great speed in the last half-century, and perhaps no one bothered to stop and think what was happening,” Terao said. “The tragic incidents (in Aichi and Saga prefectures) may give us the opportunity to do that.”