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Top>Opinion>Turning Crisis into Opportunity


Manabu Tsuzuki

Manabu Tsuzuki [Profile]

Turning Crisis into Opportunity

Manabu Tsuzuki
Professor of Developmental Psychology, Chairman of Graduate School of Letters, Faculty of Letters, Chuo University

“Unhappy” Japanese Children

In 2007, UNICEF issued a report on the well-being of children which comprehensively assessed the life and well-being of children in 25 OECD member nations. The results of the report reveal a clear picture of the realities that Japanese children face.

As part of the survey, children were asked whether they agree with the following three statements in order to determine their subjective sense of well-being:

  • - I feel like an outsider or left out of things
  • - I feel awkward and out of place
  • - I feel lonely

In many countries, the percentage of fifteen-year-olds who agreed with the above statements was rather low-between 5 and 10%. The proportion exceeded 10% only in a limited number of countries. On the other hand, young people in Japan showed a quite striking result. As high as 18% agreed with the statement “I feel awkward and out of place.” Moreover, more than 30% indicated that they feel “lonely.” These results reflect Japanese youth who feel less subjective happiness in their relationships with other people, as compared with their peers in other countries.

Children as a Social Barometer

Children are said to be a reflection of society. In today’s Japan, human relations have become less intimate, and the connection among people has become tenuous. In a society which is sometimes referred to as a society with no ties, there are those who have no choice but to live in solitude. The results of the UNICEF report can be taken as a reflection of such a state in Japanese society.

Children are the product of the time in which they live. Each age has its own atmosphere, and in current Japanese society, many people struggling in terms of their livelihood as well as in other aspects of their lives, feeling anxious and unable to have a positive outlook for the future.

Many adults live with the constant threat of unemployment due to restructuring. People also find it hard to have confidence in terms of politics due to the rampant deceit of politicians. This is the society that children grow up in-exposed to the social milieu, observing what transpires among adults around them on a daily basis.

Children with Little Hope for the Future

Tsuzuki (2008)

Figure 1 shows the results of research conducted on 15,718 students from elementary and junior high schools (Tsuzuki, 2008). The scores in the figure, which show the levels of hope for the future, steadily decreased from the fourth grade to the second year of junior high school. The score increased, though only slightly, from the second to third grades of junior high school. Girls showed more hope for the future than the boys, but the level of hope decreased among both as they grew older.

When I present such results in classes and lectures, I sometimes sense that students and members of the audience are dismayed. It is certainly depressing to find that young people have less hope for the future as they grow older.

There are two possible reasons for these results. First, young people tend to be influenced by the current social environment. They gradually lose hope for the future as they experience situations in which they face the realities of life and in turn lose their hope for the future. Second, young people develop their cognitive abilities as they get older. They tend to be less optimistic and lose hope as they begin to see themselves and the society more objectively and realistically.

Possibility of Having Hope for the Future

Tsuzuki (2009)

Thus, the times strongly influence people’s consciousness. In a world with many tragic incidents and growing anxieties, it is quite natural that people tend to lose hope. On the other hand, humans are not passive beings who are unilaterally influenced by the trends of the day. While living in this difficult age, humans are also capable of creating a new era.

Figure 2 shows the results of a longitudinal study conducted among 773 young people when they were in the third grade of junior high school and the first grade of high school (Tsuzuki, 2009). They were categorized into six groups using a cluster analysis, according to indices of self-consciousness and the consciousness about human relations, before and after entering high school.

According to the results, hope for the future increased from the third year of junior high school to the first year of high school among groups who felt more confidence after entering high school (self-affirmative) and groups who could develop relationships with others (having built relationships). Contrarily, the hope for future decreased from the third year of junior high school to the first year of high school among groups who lost confidence after entering high school (self-neglecting) and groups who had fewer relationships with others (having lost relationships).

Graduating from junior high school and entering high school means a transfer to a new environment. Students start new life in high school, and through the experiences they have in their new school environment, they develop confidence and new relationships with friends, which lead to the sense of hope for the future.

Turning Crisis into Opportunity

Apart from entering high school, there are many occasions in our lives when we enter new environments and go through changes of various scales. We face challenges when we try to cope with new situations using the same strategies that we had previously used, to no avail-these are the times we are faced with crises.

Taken in a different light, however, it is these very trying times that provide the opportunity to grow and break out of one’s mold. We need to try different measures in order to adapt to the new environment. If we are able to find new and effective ways, we can turn crises into opportunities.

Those students who felt more confident and developed new relationships after entering high school might have been proactive and dealt with their new circumstances differently from the ways that they had in the past. The accumulation of such voluntary experiences leads to confidence and making new friends, as children turn difficulty into opportunity, and thus increase their sense of hope for their future.

When facing a difficulty, we tend to feel anxious about our future and get distracted from our current activities. It is important to focus on the current activity, however, and to commit ourselves to matters we are faced with at the time. The sense of hope for the future is nurtured as a result of living one’s life fully in the moment.

Manabu Tsuzuki
Professor of Developmental Psychology, Chairman of Graduate School of Letters,
Faculty of Letters, Chuo University
Professor Tsuzuki was born in 1951 in Tokyo. He graduated with an undergraduate degree from the Education Department of Tokyo University of Education and completed the Master’s Program in Education at Tokyo University of Education. He withdrew from the Doctoral Program in Psychology at University of Tsukuba after completing the course requirements.
PhD (Education)
Professor Tsuzuki took up his present position from 1994, after teaching as a full time lecturer and assistant professor at Ogaki Woman’s College, and as an assistant professor at Faculty of Letters, Chuo University.
Research themes
Professor Tsuzuki has consistently studied time perspective since the 1980s. For more than ten years, he has been conducting a longitudinal study of the processes of change in time perspectives due to environmental change.