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In today’s society, families are having fewer children, fathers are working more and mothers are clinging to their children with greater intensity, hampering children’s growth, according to psychologist Yoshiomi Takahashi.

The shrinking nuclear family is giving rise to what Takahashi calls the “mother-child capsule” phenomenon, in which mothers become all accepting of their children and tend to be overprotective or intervene too much in their lives.

“Struggles with parents are part of a child’s growing up, but in that kind of situation, mothers are stealing that opportunity from them,” he said.

Absent fathers, of course, don’t help. This intense focus of women on their children is also due in part to the fact that their husbands are rarely at home. Takahashi said this type of unhealthy parent-child relationship is one factor, along with many others, behind the recent rise in juvenile delinquency.

Takahashi, who runs his own clinic in Tokyo and helps out at other public and private health centers, said the mother-child capsule is especially prevalent in one-child families.

As many fathers are preoccupied with work, they are typically a shadow presence in the family, rarely at home and with little influence over what happens there, he said.

“Left at home with just one child, a mother tends to try to avoid conflict and behaves like a friend rather than a parent to keep ‘a good relationship’ with her child.”

When children reach adolescence and enter the stage of defiance, mothers often try to flatter their children more because they are afraid they may become violent, especially if they are boys, said Takahashi, who bases his views on nearly 30 years’ experience working with troubled youths.

“It’s too late for fathers to enter the picture after their children do become violent, because their children don’t take them seriously,” he postulated.

The influence of fathers in such families is diminished not only because they do not talk to their children, but also because mothers do not talk to their children about their fathers, Takahashi said.

Shut out of the mother-child capsule, fathers feel uncomfortable at home and “stay late at work even when they don’t have much work to do,” he said.

Since children raised under these circumstances are not taught how to handle things on their own, they are unable to deal with stressful situations such as taking school entrance exams or finding a job, Takahashi said.

Boys at the ages of 14 and 17, when they are in their final years of junior high and high school, in particular show signs of inability to cope with such challenges, he said.

A study on delinquency he conducted 20 years ago found many youths become abusive to their parents at those ages. He attributed the aggressive tendency to the tremendous hormonal changes boys those ages undergo. Therefore, he believes the ages of 14 and 17 are critical for today’s youth as well.

“What I was worried about 20 years ago is becoming more prevalent today,” he said.

When they fail at something or cannot understand their role in society, some frustrated youths — like the 17-year-old from Saga Prefecture responsible for the fatal bus hijacking earlier this month — become extremely violent, Takahashi said.

“They don’t know what they want to do with their lives because all they’ve been told is just to study hard,” Takahashi said.

Takahashi said he believes it is important that parents are educated about rearing children.

“Today’s parents just don’t know what to do with their kids,” he said. “They also grew up being told to concentrate on studying hard to enter a good school and a good company, while not learning about raising children.”

Local nursery schools and community centers should be used as venues for parents to get practical training on how to raise children, he said.

“And the very important thing is for fathers to take part in that process from the very beginning,” Takahashi said.