Parents should warn their children not to go out or stay out late at night, rather than believe their children are safe because they can be contacted by mobile phones, according to specialists.
In August, the bodies of a boy and girl from Neyagawa, Osaka Prefecture, both in their first year of middle school, were discovered after they were apparently targeted after going out late at night.
Many parents have a hard time discouraging their children from staying out at all hours of the night. The Support Center for Overcoming Juvenile Delinquency, an incorporated nonprofit organisation that provides advice on dealing with delinquent behaviour, receives about 300 inquiries a year from parents on how to deal with this problem. Of these requests, 90 per cent are from parents of middle school students, according to the centre.
Sumire Haruno, deputy director of the centre, said: "In many cases, children who go out at night feel they have no place in the family, in school and in the community."
"When children become middle school students, they tend to compare academic results or parents' income with those of their friends and feel uneasy about their future," Haruno said. She advises parents and guardians to tell their children to stay at home.
Specifically, she advises parents to convey their feelings of concern. She recommends not merely scolding children, but also saying such things as, "Please come home because I worry about you" or "I trust you." If children feel loved by their parents, they are more likely to return home promptly, according to Haruno.
"It has become noticeable that children who appear quite ordinary go out at night," said Fumie Harada, a social worker in Tachikawa, western Tokyo, who has been going on night patrols for about 15 years. "In recent years, many children who go out at night gather in groups. Their clothes and hairstyles do not stand out at all. The ages of children staying out late are getting lower, too - upper-grade primary school students have become conspicuous."
Harada also worries about the increase in both double-income and single-parent households, in which some parents work until late at night. "They might become less strict about their children going out at night," she says.
Many local governments have set regulations such as calling on parents not to allow minors under the age of 18 to leave the home after 11 p.m. and to forbid them to enter late-night facilities such as game centres.
According to Meiji University Prof. Yoshihiko Morotomi, who is also an education counselor, it is not acceptable for middle school students to go out after 9 p.m. without an accompanying adult. "In cases when they come home late due to such reasons as club activities and cram schools, it's better for parents to pick them up," he said.
Some observers point out that the parental sense of resistance against children going out at night is weakening because their children carry mobile phones, which foster a sense of security because children are contactable at any time.
However, Mieko Miyata, director of the Japan Research Institute of Safer Child Education, an incorporated nonprofit organisation based in Tokyo, warns that this is not necessarily the case. "Even if your children carry smartphones, it does not mean you are with them. Don't put too much faith in smartphones in presuming your children will be safe," she said.
"The range of interests and activities of middle school students' are greater than those of primary school students, and it becomes difficult for parents or communities to watch over them," Miyata said. "Because there is the possibility they will be involved in an accident, it is important for parents to discuss with their children to avoid or anticipate danger."
Adults also need to pay attention to their communities. "If you come across children alone at night, please ask them, 'What are you doing?' If this is difficult, it's also OK to contact the police and other authorities," Miyata said.
What to regularly tell children
- It is possible to become the target of criminals
- Avoid deserted or blind spots when returning home from school clubs and other activities
- Pay attention to whether they are being watched by someone, even when other people are present
- Avoid being alone and try to stay with friends
- If someone in a vehicle asks for directions, don't get too close because there is a risk of being abducted
- Inform parents where they are going and what time they are expected home. If the situation changes, immediately inform parents
How to treat children who go out at night without permission or do not stick to agreed times
- Make them report where they went and when, the reasons, and their relationship with any other person they were with. Don't scold them without giving them the chance to explain, and talk with them face to face
- Point out any dangers related to where they went and at what time. Make them aware that their own safety is not just their concern
- Tell them to return home earlier next time