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Kids In Foreign Countries — Clearly We're Raising Them Differently Here

Posted on:  February 17th, 2010  by  Ramona |  8 Comments

Matt and I recently traveled to Tokyo, where we visited a number of venues normally swarming with out-of-control children. I love my zoos and amusement parks, but dread dealing with the hoardes of screaming rugrats, pushing and shoving and acting like fools. However, I have to say that Japanese children are an absolute delight — polite, mannered, and well-behaved. Makes me wonder what the heck we're doing so wrong with kids in this country!

A Refreshing Surprise

Our first encounter with a group of Japanese field-trippers occurred at the Tokyo SeaLife Aquarium. I can usually hear American school kids from a mile away (what happened to using your “inside voice?”) — but I had no idea these children were even in the same room until I got right up to them. They were so calm and quiet that I wondered if  it's standard procedure for Japanese teachers to drug their students before an outing (I personally know a several kids who could benefit from the occasional shot of Thorazine!) Wink Nope — they were simply well-behaved. They still got excited when a penguin splashed by, and there was much chatter at the touch tank — but it wasn't that shrill spike-through-your-skull noise so often heard from western school groups.

This scene was repeated wherever we went — children lined up in pairs, holding hands, enjoying the exhibits without disrupting the peace or inconveniencing anyone else. Even in places where kids were allowed to roam free (mostly the hands-on science museums), they were respectful and courteous. I was taking a photo of a sliced-up head (who I named Fred) at the Museum Of Emerging Science, when a couple of kids appeared at my elbow. wanting to see what it was all about. In the U.S., I would have expected them to shove right in front of me (because, you know, anyone under 4-foot tall inherently has more rights than an adult!) But no — even without an adult telling them to wait their turn, these kids hung back until I was done, then took their place at the table to examine Fred's brain. And it's not because I was a foreigner or bigger than them or that they knew that I could inflict pain if they pushed me too far — these kids acted like that with everyone, including other kids! I saw no bullying, none of that “it's-mine-and-you-can't-have it” garbage, and zero crying or whining because so-and-so is mean. Just children learning, exploring, and having a good time with each other. Wonderful! We even sat next to a pile of grade-schoolers at a Cirque du Soleil show, and they were model citizens — no fidgeting, no climbing over the seats, no talking during the performance. You can't even get teenagers to behave that well in the states!

Contrast that with a recent stop-off at the Key West Aquarium. All it took was one family (not even a whole class-full) to drive me out of that place — fortunately, I was mostly done looking at fish anyway. A toddler shrieking at the top of his lungs (while a decreasingly patient curator was trying to give a lecture on the sea cucumber), his brother mercilessly slapping the water in the touch tank with his palm (splashing the elderly couple nearby and keeping at least 10 other people from being able to fondle a horseshoe crab), and an older sister running up and down the aisles (begging for a ride to the hospital with a skull fracture, as far as I could tell.) And the parents just stood there, immobile, irresponsible, and completely oblivious to the effect their kids might be having on others. If 30 Japanese children can manage to behave in public with a single teacher in charge, why is it so hard for this one American family (especially with an adult-to-kid ratio of 2:3?)

Maybe It's The Clothing?

You may think that I'm just a crabby no-kidder — but I'm not alone in my distaste for obnoxious children in public places. Matt's firm developed the Georgia Aquarium, and they designed the building to intentionally keep school groups segregated from other visitors (all because Home Depot founder and patron Bernie Marcus was fed up with being run over by wild field-trippers at other aquariums.) They come in through a separate entrance and spend their entire day on a different floor from the main aquarium viewing areas. Call it profiling, call it discrimination, but I'm in favor of the idea — I wish every facility that invited classes to visit did the same!

And my ankles love the fact that places like the Baltimore Aquarium refuse to let people bring their oversized strollers inside (if you've ever been clipped by an inattentive breeder pushing one of these monstrosities, you know what I mean!) I just wish Disney would outlaw the damned things — “parking lots” outside every ride and restaurant, filled with huge Winnebagos, big enough for a 9-year-old to sit in. Come to think of it, I only saw 2 people with strollers at Tokyo DisneySea — and they were umbrella-style, at that!

I actually have a theory about why Japanese kids seem better-behaved in public. You might imagine that it's generations of societal influence, the pressure to be “civilized,” the need to conform. But I actually think it's the clothing. Kids on school trips are all dressed adorably alike — either in  uniforms (short pants and Madeleine hats) or matching casual outfits. Everywhere we went, Matt and I saw groups of them — wearing the same windbreakers, the same hats (with their names written in kanji on the brim so no one gets misplaced), even the same little backpacks. And I'm sorry, there's just no way that you can act out when you're so damned cute. American parents, take note — if you want your kids to behave, stop letting them prance around looking like fashion models and make them dress like children again! Wink

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Ramona Creel is an award-winning 15-year veteran organizer and member of the National Association Of Professional Organizers. As well as having birthed “The A-To-Z Of Getting Organized,” Ramona is also the author of “The Professional Organizer’s Bible: A Slightly Irreverent And Completely Unorthodox Guide For Turning Clutter Into A Career”—and the creator of more than 200 “quick-start” business tools and templates for use by productivity professionals. She writes seven different blogs, has worked with hundreds of clients, and has delivered scores of presentations on getting organized. Ramona resides on the roads of America as a full-time RVer—living and working in a 29-foot Airstream with The Husbert and two fur-babies. Learn more at GettingOrganizedAToZ.com and RamonaCreel.com.

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8 Responses

  1. Cliff says:

    How refreshing. It is a long flight to Japan just to visit a museum with polite children, but Im willing to go just for that.

  2. Mollie says:

    loved the article. i am chaperoning 45 middle school students on a science class swamp outing to Big Cypress National Preserve tomorrow…I’m packing Excedrin and am already practicing my “find a peaceful place” breathing.

  3. Ramona says:

    god help you Mollie — give them all matching hats and backpacks and they’ll behave much better for you! :)

  4. Jennifer says:

    I think it has a lot to do with expectations, both those of the parents/family and perhaps more importantly, those of their peers. If acting the fool got you socially ostracized by your friends and classmates, I bet a lot of that would go away. Unfortunately, many of their friends are non-parented idjits too these days. =(

  5. Ramona says:

    I agree Jen — so often these parents I see (who are supposed to be chaperoning) just stand around ignoring bad behavior until it gets really out of hand and an outsider has to complain — if it’s too much work to discipline them, then stay home!

  6. Bekah says:

    I think it also has to do with the fact that they’re brought up with a higher respect for other people in general. Here, they don’t really care how their actions effect you, they just continue with their own agenda. Next thing you know, you cant stay overnight at Camp Wasega with your seventh grade class because of the people last year. :P

  7. Bridget says:

    I started reading you blog on P90X and came across this one. It’s not just American kids that are rude and obnoxious on outings, it’s the adults too. I went to the Houston zoo a couple of years ago, and adults thought as long as they say “Excuse Me” that they can push right past me and my well-behaved toddler.

  8. Tammy says:

    I recently moved to Great Britain with my husband. We have since then decided not to have kids. (Probably because of the little terrorists in this country..) I follow a blog called Reasons To Be Happy That You Don’t Have Kids. I throroughly enjoyed your blog! Maybe I’ll move to Japan and reconcider!!

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