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Japan’s primary-school children appear to have become more violent, according to statistics from a recent report by the Education and Science Ministry. To use a contemporary Japanese expression, they have become “kire-yasui.” This expression, which literally means their “nerves tend to snap easily,” describes their tendency to easily lose control of their emotions and resort to violence. It is impossible to blame this tendency among children to one factor or even a set of several factors. The complexity of contemporary Japanese society also plays a role.

For the academic year that ended on March 31, 1,890 violent acts by children were reported at public primary schools — an increase of 18.1 percent from the previous year. This marked a record high for two consecutive years since the first survey was taken in 1997. In contrast, the number of violent acts at junior and senior high schools went down by 5.5 percent to 23,110, and by 3.7 percent to 5,022, respectively.

Among primary-school children, violent acts between children increased by 16.1 percent to 992; while the destruction of, or damage to, objects and the ill treatment of animals by children rose by 14 percent to 544. Conspicuously, the number of violent acts by children toward teachers rose by 32.8 percent to 336.

When primary, junior and senior high schools’ statistics are put together, violent acts inside schools dropped by 4 percent to 30,022; overall violent acts outside schools went down for four consecutive years to 4,000, but such acts by primary-school children increased by 18.6 percent to 210. Twenty-six of the nation’s prefectures saw an increase in the number of violent acts by primary-school children both inside and outside schools.

A big problem with classroom violence is that just one violent child can throw an entire class into total confusion. A teacher’s complete attention and energy may be required to deal with one disorderly child, making it impossible to maintain control of the class.

Why has violence increased among children? A decline in the nation’s number of children and nuclear families apparently has reduced the chances of children socializing with siblings, friends and older generations, hindering their ability to learn how to build positive relationships. Many children who have not experienced conflicts with others while playing and quarreling are unprepared to handle difficult situations. This lack of preparation may result in violent reactions in certain situations.

Parental domestic violence, both physical and psychological, also affects children. Victims of such abuse may release their stress in the form of violence in the classroom.

Children who feel that they are not loved enough by their parents may express their dissatisfaction through violence. Fathers who are too busy with their work to spend time with their children and the ambivalence concerning the role of women in Japanese society may help create an unstable psychological state in some children. A working mother, for example, may be resented by her children if they think she is failing to dedicate herself to them. Other children may feel that their mothers lack the ability to work full time outside the home, making them feel uneasy. When a child becomes violent in school, however, teachers often find it difficult to frankly present the problem to the parents, fearing that the parents will insist that their children have no problems.

The recent reduction of school hours may have had an effect contrary to the Education and Science Ministry’s expectations. Although school hours have decreased, high school entrance-exam hell continues to exist. The pressure to study for such exams at after-school cram schools to make up for the loss of academic hours at school may have increased, thus extra stress could be being imposed on the children.

Simply scolding unruly children will not solve the problem. Parents and teachers should work together to deal with specific instances of violence, and children should join these discussions when appropriate. Progress achieved by such efforts may be slow, but perseverance and imagination are needed on the part of adults to find a solution. The Education and Science Ministry, boards of education and principals, vice principals and outside experts should help teachers who face this problem.

A committee in the education ministry recently issued a report stressing the importance of education for children from their infancy to the age of 5. Since a person’s emotional base is formed during that period, the report said that very young children need interaction with other people to develop stable personalities, and highlighted the vital role that parents must play in this process. The importance of a structured lifestyle and proper diet for children was also emphasized. This report provides useful advice in solving in the long-term the issue of violent children.

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