Wednesday, November 23, 2005

Personal space vs growing children?

I just had the most interesting conversation with one of my students.

I consider Mr.S to be one of the more human guys in my lab. He is a father of four, a chief manager and an interesting person. He never looks stressed and is always well organized; he also never works very late and spends tons of time with his kids.
His wife also works full time and together I think they have created one of the best family homes that I have been in contact with here in Japan.

His weekend stories sound so normal and real to me.
He spends his time carpooling between study school and karate classes. The daughter and the two older boys are really into karate and all hold black belts. {^0^} The younger son is into acting and music, so if he isn’t at watching a karate tournament he is at a play or concert. The oldest is entering University next year and the youngest is only 6. His wife is a hawk when it comes to spending and they have been able to provide everything these kids need including their time and a lot of love.

He and his wife work hard for their money and have been able to provide their large family with a HUGE house. In Japan, the land of little space and tiny rooms, he and his wife made sure that every one of their children had their own room when they were ready for it.

For that I give him even higher marks.

He told me that his 10-year-old son asked for his own room last weekend because he could no longer handle his little brother not cleaning up after himself. They spent the weekend rearranging everything and now all the kids have their own rooms. Before this the kids slept in one room until they were mentally ready to move into their own. The empty bedrooms were used as playing rooms, karate rooms and study rooms. Now they all have their own.

This led to us discussing the issue of personal space and its effect on growing children.

I have seen his kids a few times when we have run into each other in the supermarkets: they are expressive, open and totally normal. At least I think so.
Unfortunately, a child being expressive and open is not quite so normal in Japan these days. Far too many children are becoming introverted and are starting to act out quite violently. There are a million different reasons for this but I believe, that one of these reasons is the lack of personal space and the inability to develop ones own personality.

For far too many families in Japan everyone sleeps in the same room and the one other room is full of study desks and clothes. There is no place for a child to sit and comfortably play alone, explore and grow into ones own personal self.

Take for example my neighbours.
The lady is a very nice woman, although she does show some signs of a compulsive disorder (she does all her physical actions three times), and the husband is very friendly. Both are quiet. In fact they all are very quiet. We have been living next to them for over a year and I have never heard a single noise come through the thin walls (they probably hate us). Their apartment is exactly the same size as ours and I cannot imagine us living in anything smaller with a baby.

We have a baby who shares our bedroom: they have two grown sons!

The 23 year old is a friendly but obviously lonely boy who is hard to shake off if he starts talking. The other boy, maybe 18, NEVER speaks. According to his brother he has not spoken to his own parents or to him in years. If you see him on the stairs and say good morning he acts like he never heard you and NEVER makes any attempts at eye contact.
(A few weeks back JiXiang made him smile and I was soooo shocked.)
They have been living in that apartment for 11 years. There is no room for two growing boys to grow mentally in any way. I have no idea what their sleeping arrangements are but I am pretty sure their apartment resembles a complex maze of storage boxes and towers. Needless to say, I have never seen a single person go past the front door other than family and the gas repairman.

Mr. S and I discussed the growing of children and the effects on ones mental development when you have your own physical space and we agreed on everything. It was so nice to have this conversation with someone who did not say:

-I understand but that is the Japanese custom.

Just because something is a custom does not always mean that it works or is right. The world is changing so rapidly and with kids having access to world TV and the Internet they need a space that allows them to sort through all that they now have to register. The input that a child has these days is a gazillion times more than our own parents had.
Sometimes these children do not always develop into the perfect child but at least they were allowed to become who they really are.

When I see my daughter playing by herself in our tatami/playroom I try very hard to nit disturb her until she pops her head around the corner looking for someone. It is a great joy to me to see my child exploring with her toys by herself and understanding them by herself. I have not shown her, she has done it on her own. I love seeing her talking to herself and talking to her toys. It makes my heart swell when I see her talking to books. If I was in there, in her face, she would not be doing this and I really believe that she needs that personal time to develop mentally. She tells me when she wants companionship and I am willing to give it to her.

Now I am not saying parents should not control their child’s input, because we all know that that is just not true. TV viewing and time has to be monitored as well as Internet. What I am saying, is that I believe children also need to be allowed to express themselves whether through sports, art, music or basic playing. Kids need to develop into people with out the restraints of customs and they need to do this alone: to play in private, away from our direct eye contact and physical help. If you are attempting to develop your personality inside your head you stay inside, and many never learn to get out.

Customs are important, very important, but they should not be seen as a restraint.

I am probably opening myself up to a world of criticism, but it would be interesting to hear what the world has to say.

Note: After Mr. S’s ten year old moved into his own room; the six year old realized that he had his own room and his own space. He is now proudly showing off his room to his older siblings and is pointing out, with even more pride, that his room is now the cleanest and best organized.

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Posted by (Top)Andrea::11/23/2005 :: 9 Comments:

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