Counselor has harsh words for parents of 'hikikomori'

TOKYO —

As the social phenomenon which goes by the Japanese name of “hikikomori” continues to grow in Japan and other parts of the world, with the first generation is now well into middle age. Hikikomori refers to people who engage in social isolation by remaining in their homes for extremely long periods of time.

Carpe Fidem is a website which offers support to families with members who have become hikikomori. However, a column they published recently describing questions which come up during consultations with parents of hikikomori children has been stirring up controversy. In it, the counselor recommends some “tough love” style approaches and may have offended some with their level of frankness.

The column lists about 50 questions that were documented from actual consultations with parents. For the most part they are what you’d expect to hear during such a session, such as:

Q: Do you think a child’s hikikomori behavior is the fault of the parents?

A: The parent isn’t really responsible for triggering hikikomori, but if it goes on longer than it should the parent takes some blame.

Q: If a child becomes hikikomori, should the parent immediately stop it?

A: Any parent would worry about their child, and you shouldn’t react immediately. However, don’t let it continue for a long time; the possibility of returning to a normal lifestyle decreases.

The counselor also maintains that the parents should set firm yet reasonable rules for children to help prevent them from becoming hikikomori. For example, setting a firm age for moving out of the family home is good, but demanding that your child become a lawyer at an early age doesn’t help at all.

Around the middle of the questions things get a little heavier though.

Q: Sometimes we see murder cases in the news where a hikikomori kid kills their parents. Could our child also be dangerous?

A: If you ignore the child without doing anything and they become fully hikikomori, trying to remove them from that can be risky.

Q: Violent cases are not rare?

A: If the hikikomori behavior goes on for a long time, acts of violence smaller than that which you see on the news happens a lot. Murder cases and assault cases are not common but equally are not rare.

Q: Why does it happen?

A: Simply, if the parent ignores the problem, the child becomes stuck in their situation. Then, if the family suddenly tries to become involved, the situation can become explosive with anger and violence. Also the older the child gets the more volatile the situation can become.

The word “stuck” which the counselor uses here is translated from the Japanese word “tsunda.” The word has various meanings like dense, clogged, or checkmated. The counsellor’s use of this words has caused the most hurt feelings for its tone. To use a loose analogy in English, it’d be like saying the child is “screwed.”

Due to the response to this article, the author amended their column explaining their choice of word. The main purpose was to use a word that resonated more with the younger generation who experience hikikomori. While the parent’s generation feel the word is offensive, their children relate more to it.

The counselor also repeatedly points out that a hikikomori child who misses high school and/or college education has little to no chance of obtaining meaningful work in this day and age. Therefore someone in this situation – hikikomori or not – are truly stuck.

Q: What do you mean “stuck”?
 
A: Generally, if the parents leave the kid past 30 years of age, the possibility of getting a decent job is gone, so they are almost completely stuck. So, during their 20s what they do determines whether they get stuck or not.

Q: What if a child remains hikikomori into their 40s with nothing done?

A: Hopeless.

Q: What do you mean?
 
A: You just have to accept it. Their connection to society is completely shut down. It’s sad, but at this point some families’ true worth is revealed.

Q: Each family has their own circumstances, so is it right to compare families like that?
 
A: Maybe in principle, but in real life a good or bad families clearly exist. Phrases like “everyone is different” and “you can’t compare” are nice to hear, but they don’t help to solve real problems. If the family is too slow to act then they have the same indulgence as the child.

Q: What’s bad about being kind?
 
A: The point is that the parents misunderstand what true “kindness” is. In the case of hikikomori, so-called kindness just glosses over deeper problems. They may think they’re being kind, but it’s simply avoiding the problem. The family who can solve their problem is the family who can identify and fix it. The family with no ability or desire to solve problems, meanwhile, says abstract things like “everyone is different” and “kindness is important,” and tends to be avoiding their problems.

The writer and counselor(s) in this column are unnamed but have not edited or changed their opinion since receiving complaints. The have simply defended their remarks saying that it’s okay to let a child go through a reclusive phase if it happens, but it’s up to the family to pull them out of it before it becomes so severe that they can never become independent. If not, then they are truly screwed.

Source: Carpe Fidem

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  • 5

    sakurala

    Maybe it is just the way I'm reading it, but the words don't seem harsh at all. The counselor seems realistic and reasonable in the way he is trying to help people solve the problem of hikikomori...but some parents just don't want to hear/believe it.

  • -3

    Frungy

    Tough love? Fine. Calling any case "hopeless"? Completely irresponsible.

    But then the state of counselling in Japan is pathetic. Most "counsellors" are untrained and unlicensed, and the fact that "hikikomori" remains largely unresearched is a huge indicator of the fact. There's still very little clarity on whether it is agrophobia, some sort of social phobia, a type of schizotypal disorder, or whether it is indeed a cultural mental illness (some exist, but the recentness of this phenomenon in a relatively culturally stable country casts doubt on this).

    The "counsellor" on this website is clearly frustrated, it shows in his or her tone. Perhaps they think they're frustrated with the parents or patients, but my suggestion is that perhaps they're frustrated with their own lack of knowledge and competence, and inability to treat their patients successfully.

  • 5

    jonobugs

    I haven't really heard of hikikomori before, but I have heard of children living with their parents much longer than on average than other countries. It sounds like the same thing, but from what I have seen, these children are normal, but are made to feel way too comfortable at home and have no incentive to move away once they are able to. I even had an elderly woman tell me that she was worried about her 40+ year old son (who had a great paying job) living at home. When I asked her many questions, it was clear to me that she had never really pushed her son to move out, did his laundry, cooking and basically catered to him all while he made no contributions to the household in return. She thought she was being the dutiful mother. The problem that she doesn't realize is that she has made it way too comfortable for him at home for him to ever move out.

  • 3

    Tel Porter

    Hikikomori is not the same thing as children staying living with their parents into adulthood. Hikkikomori is total social withdrawal to the extent that the person will sometimes never be seen again outside their room, for years at a time.

  • 2

    Scrote

    Cut off the internet, comics and electronic games. Cut off any mobile phone subscriptions and force them to eat with the rest of the family. Make them go out every day to look for work, or just to help with shopping etc.

    If they don't stab you to death in your sleep the problem will be solved.

  • 1

    sakurala

    Frungy: I am not sure but I think in some situations the case bay indeed become hopeless. If someone has not been employed or in education (NEET) for extended periods of time, it would be very difficult for them to find a job. Also, because of the stigma attached to mental illness, that would only compound the difficulties. Ageism is also big in Japan, causing some people to hold back on employing anyone over a certain age. With all these factors at play, I can understand his statement and frustration with people who enable hikikimori. If there are 40 year old hikikimori that have been that way for an extended period of time, I would also say that things look bleak to hopeless.

  • 1

    kcjapan

    "remaining in their homes for extremely long periods of time"?

    The imprecision this description presents of hikikomori calls up two questions.

    First, hikikomori doesn't suddenly happen. In fact, the description suggests this symptom of mental illness is developed over months and then years. Effective intervention and treatment can more easily be implemented with early recognition and therapy as with any other mental ailment.

    Second, hikikomori is far too broad a condition to be useful even for the casual reader. Not surprisingly then what is revealed is the weakness of tabloid level reportage applied to the complex problems of mental development with a violence threat to hook the ignorant reader.

    Critique: Slogan based thinking isn't suitable for grown up thinking or problems. Professional help can be employed effectively and sensationalism is inappropriate for serious health conditions. "Anonymous Counselors" are the first warning sign of cheap opinions.

  • 2

    fds

    parents are entirely to blame for hikikomori. you would never find one in a third world country slum. they can't afford it. you don't do anything, you don't eat.

  • 2

    Aizo Yurei

    100% the parents fault. It's a result of the hands off way of "parenting." You're not involved in their life. Children are products of their parents and their environment. If you're too busy watching dramas, shopping, playing pachinko or whatever, what do you expect to happen? Spend some time with your kids and watch them flower not shrivel up in their room.

    I don't think the "counselor" is harsh enough. The parents should get a backhand.

  • -2

    Frungy

    sakuralaFeb. 15, 2013 - 10:54AM JST Frungy: I am not sure but I think in some situations the case bay indeed become hopeless.

    There is no such thing as a hopeless case.

    There are cases that are beyond the ability level of the current counsellor, in which case a good counsellor should refer the patient to a more competent professional.

    There are cases where the patient is comfortable and doesn't want to change or improve, in which case you make things uncomfortable for them (e.g. tough love).

    However the suggestion that someone in their 40's who is hikikomori is "hopeless" ... that is utterly ridiculous. The individuals have 20 years of work ahead of them, and in Japan about another 20 years of retirement after that. To write off all that they are and all that they may be in a single statement as "hopeless" is idiotic. The counsellor responsible for this statement clearly has no confidence in their ability to treat these individuals, and instead of acting responsibly and referring them to someone who has the skill is instead blaming the patient for their disease, instead of blaming themselves for their inability to help.

    A good analogy would be a general practitioner who finds out her patient has cancer. A bad GP throws up her hands and says, "Hopeless, you're going to die!!". A good GP refers the patient to a specialist, who can at least give the patient a chance of recovery.

    Final food for thought. Roget invented the thesaurus at age 73, despite being crippled with a mental condition for most of his life. Harland Sanders was a complete failure at age 40, having failed at almost every job he tried... until at 56 he started KFC... yes, Harland Sanders = Colonel Sanders. Writing someone off as "hopeless" because they haven't done anything noteworthy by age 40 is ridiculous.... most people get throught their whole lives without doing something noteworthy.

  • 4

    Himajin

    How do you go about getting a job for the first time at the age of 40, 22 years out of high school?

  • 3

    sakurala

    Hamajin: my point exactly. Even if the hikikimori gets the best counseling and tries their hardest to get back onto society, things are very largely stacked against them. 20 years left in the workforce seems like a lot but when one has to compete with younger individuals than it becomes more difficult. And yet again, as I mentioned before, there is a stigma surrounding those with mental illnesses in Japan which would cause the hikikimori to look less than desirable. I am not saying it is fair but I can totally understand how any councelor, no matter their ability, may find some cases to be hopeless.

  • 3

    Tessa

    I think that hikikomori-type behaviour exists in many modern societies (in western societies, think of the adult male who still lives in his parents' basement) but I think that tolerance of it is extremely high in Japan. Somebody once explained to me that the reason that there are so many homeless males in western countries is because their families kick them out, whereas in Japan they lock them in.

  • 2

    lostrune2

    It's like prisoners finally finish serving their time and have to get a job.

    There should be a therapy clinic where families can send their kids for rehab, like the Mayo Clinic.

  • -1

    Moonraker

    Isn't hikikomori the way that Japan itself is going anyway - and the way it once was for 200 years?

  • 0

    kcjapan

    Frungy @ Feb. 15, 2013 - 03:55PM JST "However the suggestion that someone in their 40's who is hikikomori is "hopeless" ... that is utterly ridiculous. The individuals have 20 years of work ahead of them, and in Japan about another 20 years of retirement after that."

    Brilliant synopsis. Precision in definition of potential. Forty years of potential energy, focus and drive, by highly motivated constitutions, as described by Frungy. Well done.

  • 0

    BertieWooster

    When a doctor or a counsellor says, "This can't be cured," or, "If only you'd brought him/her in sooner," all they are saying is, "I don't know how to cure this."

    Why they can't be honest and say they don't know what to do is a mystery to me.

    It's not only the bad workman laying the blame on his tools, but on the materials he's working with too.

  • 0

    rydangel

    the parents are enablers. adult hikikomori who are not mentally or physically handicapped are the result of a parents indulgence. my family's motto is "you don't work, you don't eat". the day i came back from college my dad picked me up from the airport and took me straight to an employment agency! i can see children who have been bullied being home-schooled, but once they turn 20, it's time to get them out the house. what are they going to do when their parents die? i'm sure there is some type of mental illness associated with this disorder, but refusing to admit there is a problem or seek to solve it, is a crime against society and the hikikomori. what are you going to do with a bunch of 60-80 year olds who never leave the house? how will they eat? how will they pay their living expenses with no job?

  • 0

    FightingViking

    I guess "divorce" has a "silver lining" after all... Son started working (part-time) at 13. Took himself off to France for university studies - also paid for by his part-time work - and hasn't lived with me since...

  • -1

    technosphere

    Cut off the internet, comics and electronic games. Cut off any mobile phone subscriptions and force them to eat with the rest of the family. Make them go out every day to look for work, or just to help with shopping etc.

    If they don't stab you to death in your sleep the problem will be solved.

    Army & Law of Conscription. There will be no "hikikomori" at all. Seriously.

  • 0

    bokuwamo

    I wonder if the parents are of the same type that say, you can not force a child to learn good behavior and discipline is not the way to be a parent. I get the feeling if a survey were done. They would be the parents of adult hikikomori. Reading the part about if the child is 20, 30 and 40 years old. The state of childhood should be long over before 20 years old. And as posted earlier supplying all the internet, TV, phones and whatever else to a able adult kid who is not activity looking for work, everyday. Is not helping the kid become self supporting. Helping a kid who lost a job or having bad times is part of being a parent, treating a adult kid do a life that does not include getting their butt outside everyday, isn't helping them.
    For all the parents worried about the effects of disciplining your child. It all starts in the home and when they are small children. SOME of the effects of not, are adult hikikomori.

  • -1

    Frungy

    technosphereFeb. 17, 2013 - 02:29AM JST Army & Law of Conscription. There will be no "hikikomori" at all. Seriously.

    Truly genius! Let's give those with mental problems guns!! Wow, you should be a psychologist... not.

    bokuwamoFeb. 18, 2013 - 05:38AM JST I wonder if the parents are of the same type that say, you can not force a child to learn good behavior and discipline is not the way to be a parent.

    Oh yes, blame the parents. Another brilliant idea. Because this couldn't be as a result of imbalances in brain chemistry, or traumatic experiences at school (a leading cause of hikikomori behaviour is bullying at school and the refusal of school authorities to take firm action).

    Nope, you believe it is all the parents' fault. Wow.

  • 1

    bokuwamo

    FrungyFEB. 18, 2013 - 11:11PM JST (a leading cause of hikikomori behaviour is bullying at school and the refusal of school authorities to take firm action). BULLYING by students who have not received enough parental control in their lives to understand what is good behavior and not, taught at home before they enter the school system. The parents are the first teachers. Having watched one show on TV about a man helping hikikomori young people. There wasn't any brain chemistry imbalances mentioned as a root cause to the problem. School authorities would not have to deal with so much bullying at school, if more parents took a more active role in being a parent to their children and took a hard look at themselves before pointing their finger at others as the cause.

  • 0

    Geiseinenhikikomori

    This is the English section so I wrte English. I am a hikikomori or short 'hiki' myself. I have been for a number of years. I really do not like this 'tiugh-love' business at all! We have become like this due to mounting stress and pressures! The education system really needs to go to the hangar for a complete overhaul. Seriously.

    It was fine after the war, but is no longer valid. The rote memorisation and monotonous manner of teaching is so outdated! It really is little wonder many of us turn hikikomori! I could have chosen crime or worse, suicide. But I didn't! I chose self-incarceration where I live. It is lonely, boring, sad, no love, no sex, and as we humans need contact with other people, I will be the first to admit that it is a damn shame to have to be forced into this position.

    Humans can take only so much abuse before they snap. Most of us like myself inclusive are non-violent. It is a shame to hear and learn that some of us have resorted to violence. This is indeed not good. However, as I certainly no condone the violence, I can understand the frustration of being cooped up years in one's room only perhaps with a computer. As you can see I have a computer, or who knows what might have happened otherwise.

    We need more critical thinking sort of education, with a greater flexibility and tolerance. That is the Buddhist way of doing things. Perhaps our education system lost that end. Mose universities need to be built as to lessen the student load and move away from all this entry exam stuff. This is the 21st Century, not 1945. Time for a serious change and PLEASE stop blaming us! We have been victimised by your system! We are your children! We are indeed the future of Japan! Thank you!

  • 0

    Kerome

    It seems to me that reconnecting hikikomori to society is something that needs to be done in stages, starting with incentives, moving into a safe environment, and rewarding team activities or social things. Counselling alone is not going to do the trick, and just saying to the family "give them tough love" is just throwing the hiki back into a hard situation which is what they retreated from in the first place! It would be better to go to the family with a plan, where family, counsellor and an external organisation like a place where you do volunteer work all come together to help the hiki. Maybe the family are to blame, but expressing that is often not useful. It is a negative emotion, where what you want to do is foster a positive mindset to help motivate the hiki, and help him or her find some joy in life again.

  • 0

    Christian McGlothlin-Clason

    I really think a counselor should use some tough love on parents: "I'm not a psychologist, go see a medical professional! NOW!"

    It's not a behavior problem for the counselor to use "tough love" on, though some of what was said does seem the right way to handle any child. But if a child has that level of a problem, they should be seeing a specialist, a piece of advice that should have been at the TOP of the list.

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