What Japanese Schools Can Teach Us About Raising Competent Kids

Most Western kids nowadays are a mollycoddled bunch. Their parents do their school projects, petition better grades from their teachers and absolve them of household chores. Their food is made for them, their clothes laundered and their bedrooms tidied.

This style of helicopter parenting has consequences later on though, as Simon Sinek points out in his talk on millennials in the workplace. Because now managers and older colleagues have found themselves in the not-so-enviable position of having to equip these youngsters with the life skills they should have learnt in school and at home.

Former Dean of Freshmen at Stanford Julie Lythcott-Haims agrees, “By loading kids with high expectations and micromanaging their lives at every turn, parents aren’t actually helping.” Her TEDx talk: How to Raise Successful Kids – Without Over-Parenting is a must watch for parents and teachers alike.

Lenore Skenazy —author of Free-Range Kids— is of a similar opinion. In her aptly titled article The Fragile Generation, Skenazy asks a pertinent question: How did we come to think a generation of kids can’t handle the basic challenges of growing up?

What Are Schools Doing Differently in Japan?

In sharp contrast, Japanese children are taught from a young age to be independent and take care of themselves. While in theory this may sound like boot camp for babies, you only have to watch the below videos to see how genuinely happy these children are and how proud they are of their efforts.

School Lunch in Japan Is About More Than Just Eating

In Japan, the school lunch period is considered an educational period, same as math or reading. The children end off their morning lessons by thanking their teacher for teaching them. Next, it’s time to prepare for lunch.

They set up their desks, don their aprons and ensure everyone has washed their hands. Then it’s off to the kitchen, where they thank the cooks in unison for making them delicious food.

The simple meal of fish, mashed potatoes, veggie soup, bread and milk is well received by all the kids. They all take turns to serve and afterwards they clean up as a group. It’s a way of life for them and as such, they’re all very happy to play their part.

Japanese Students Clean Classrooms To Learn Life Skills

In Japan the students clean the school themselves. This daily practice of o-soji teaches them to respect their environment. And you only have to watch them in action to see it’s not a chore, either. They’re clearly enjoying themselves.

“It’s just better to clean up after ourselves because it’s our space,” says one second-grader at the Azabu Elementary School in Tokyo. Her teacher, Kyoko Takishima, agrees, “All this helps build their self-confidence so it’s a practice we like to carry on.”

Japan’s Independent Kids

The learning doesn’t begin and end in the classroom, either. Japanese culture emphasises independence and self-reliance from an extraordinarily young age. Seven-year-old Noe Ando bathes, shampoos her hair and brushes her teeth, all without the need for adult supervision.

She packs her bag, gets herself dressed and makes her way to her school —which is a walk and a train ride away— on her own. Noe Ando’s mother is confident in her daughter’s ability to navigate the journey alone.

What Can We Learn From This Style of Parenting?

Most Western parents will balk at the idea of allowing their child to take public transport alone, especially at such a young age. However, it’s important to note just how easily young Noe Ando manages the trip to school.

Children are smarter and more capable than we give them credit for, but as Lenore Skenazy says, a combination of bad policy and paranoid parenting are making kids too safe to succeed. We need to allow them the space to grow, even if it means falling down occasionally.

Getting children to do chores is one of many ways to ensure they’ll grow up into competent adults. We also need to teach them to take responsibility for themselves, which means letting them do their own school projects and deal with the consequences if they forget to turn their schoolwork in on time.

These life lessons will stand them in good stead when they enter the workplace. Not only will they feel more confident in their ability to succeed, they won’t place an unnecessary burden on the people who hire them either.

“When we raise kids unaccustomed to facing anything on their own, including risk, failure, and hurt feelings, our society and even our economy are threatened.” —Lenore Skenazy

Related at Care2

Photo Credit: Thinkstock

48 comments

HEIKKI R
HEIKKI Rabout a year ago

THANK YOU

SEND
Kathryn I
Kathryn Iabout a year ago

Bratty American kids would do well for themselves to follow the Japanese model!

SEND
Stephanie s
Stephanie Y1 years ago

Thank you

SEND
Stephanie s
Stephanie Y1 years ago

Thank you

SEND
Virgene L
Virgene L1 years ago

So true. We're raising generations of incompetent young people, who don't know how to do anything, and expect everything to be done for them. They are taught to avoid work and responsibility. So sad. We certainly had chores and freedom to be in the world without supervision in the fifties and sixties. Thanks for the article.

SEND
Kathryn I
Kathryn I1 years ago

I love the concept of teaching their kids to be independent at an early age, as well as good manners! More than likely, there's no such of a thing as a spoiled-rotten Japanese child as a result. Too many American kids seem to have this feeling of entitlement as a result of lax parents, in addition to getting too much of what they want whenever they want it.

SEND
Ruth S
Ruth S1 years ago

Thanks.

SEND
Janet B
Janet B1 years ago

Thanks

SEND
HEIKKI R
HEIKKI R1 years ago

thank you

SEND