Free-Range Kids

Japanese Mapping App Helps Users Steer Clear of Loud Neighborhood Kids. But Why?

Experts speak of "society's growing intolerance for the sounds of children at play."

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A popular map app in Japan is being used to alert users to places where kids are making noise or playing unsupervised.

New York Times article about DQN Today  quotes the website's description as a crowd-sourced guide where people—particularly potential home-buyers—can discover and avoid neighborhoods where "stupid parents… let their children play on roads and in parking lots."

The app's popularity has grown exponentially over the past year, perhaps due to the fact that a certain virus has lots of kids and adults home during the day, and lots of nerves fraying.

But the reporters, Tiffany May and Hisako Ueno, suggest that anger at the sound of frolic may have been gaining steam even before COVID-19 hit. They quote unnamed experts speaking of "society's growing intolerance for the sounds of children at play."

I wonder if this intolerance really is growing, and if so, why?

It could be that the sound of kids playing was once so common, no one noticed it, like highway traffic. But now that kids are spending so much more time inside, on screens, or at supervised activities—and therefore not roaming the streets—the kids who DO wander and play are outliers, drawing attention to themselves.

The reporters also point out that Japan is an aging society, and the oldsters might have grown unaccustomed to the sound of children playing. But aren't old folks just as likely to appreciate that sound?

Anyway, noise is such a difficult thing: Even happy sounds can be terribly annoying if you are trying to rest or work. The issue is so fraught that if this were simply an app about decibels, it wouldn't strike me as controversial at all.

What is disturbing is the underlying assumption that kids shouldn't be outside on their own. The site allows "references to unattended children playing on nearby roads, noting that it was ultimately the responsibility of parents and schools to supervise children at all times."

But it's not.

Yes, schools have a responsibility for the kids in their care. But it is not the responsibility of parents to supervise their kids at all times.

Children are humans, not possessions to be locked away. They are part of the fabric of life. And when parents think their little humans are ready for some independence, they are allowed to give this to them. That's how kids become comfortable in the world—and in their skins.

Ironically, this is something Japan seemed to understand better than most countries. Japanese first graders routinely walk to school by themselves. Do not wait at the schoolyard gate, the Savvy Tokyo website begs parents: "Remember your child's pride in not being a kindergartener anymore."

And then there's the popular Japanese show, My First Errand, which celebrates exactly what you'd expect. Except that the kids doing the errands are sometimes as young as three. (That's my guess, anyway: Here's the episode I watched.)

This is a country that trusts kids to do a whole lot on their own, and in fact, strangers along the way are expected to look out for them. Fantastic.

If this app starts to foster a culture that sees constant quiet as a right, kids will lose their freedom as will their parents. But there is the possibility that users could turn the app on its head: This is the place where all sorts of kids are playing outside on their own? Shouting? Running? Frolicking? Let's move our family there!

Call it the Free-Range Kids Finder.

NEXT: Cops Who Assaulted and Arrested a Man for Standing Outside His Own House Got Qualified Immunity. SCOTUS Won't Hear the Case.

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  1. “What is disturbing is the underlying assumption that kids shouldn’t be outside on their own.”

    Is it really that “disturbing”? Young children should probably be supervised. Why? Because they are dumb as rocks and can easily get hurt, or inadvertently hurt others. As kids get older, they can be given more and more leeway; you know, as their brains actually develop.

    Anyway, this entire article is a waste. There are far stranger things happening in Japan that would have made for a better discussion.

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    1. Yeah, it’s disturbing. For one thing, people need to mind their own damn business. And while I think it’s fairly obvious that you don’t send your 4 year old out unsupervised for the afternoon, at ages not much older than that, many kids are capable of being out on their own to a large degree. I think it’s terrible for kids not to have that kind of independence and we already see the effects in the youngest generations of adults.

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      2. Honestly I think the issue here is in the road with no adults monitoring…because I really don’t think kids need to learn independence via one of their friends becoming roadkill. The adult can be sitting there knitting or reading a book, but in most countries you will need an adult to be there if somebody needs sent off in an ambulance–and you can also have their job be things like breaking out the first aid kit, or whatever. (And Japan? As long as you wake up when needed you can sleep on the job, and they have a lot of homeless people as a result of simply not being able to afford housing. You could just pay one to sleep on a bench & wake up if an adult is needed, so the cops can be told that person is totally a babysitter. Just napping. It isn’t a lie, after all…)

        1. The key detail was almost a throwaway line: that strangers are expected to look out for the kids. This used to be the norm in America but we’ve gotten more antisocial and trust has fallen.

          1. Too many predator horror stories to trust strangers to ‘look after your children’ any more in the U.S. Bear in mind, Japan has a very HIGH density population. People live much closer to one another on far less land than many countries. Does create issues…

    2. Kids have literally never been safer. This is just more moral panic.

  2. Perhaps it’s a case of people not wanting to risk being accused of being pedophiles by Japanese Karen mothers who think any single male within binocular distance of their precious snowflake is going to throw them into a white van.

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  3. Tony hates the sound of children’s laughter. It pierces his soul like a red-hot poker.
    Perhaps the app is for Tonys?

    1. Yes, it was designed for terrible people.

    2. But pains buttplug loves them

  4. Slow news day?

  5. Well in a few more generations they won’t have to worry about it.

  6. A popular map app in Japan is being used to alert users to places where kids are making noise or playing unsupervised.

    A New York Times article about DQN Today quotes the website’s description as a crowd-sourced guide where people—particularly potential home-buyers—can discover and avoid neighborhoods where “stupid parents… let their children play on roads and in parking lots.”

    The app’s popularity has grown exponentially over the past year, perhaps due to the fact that a certain virus has lots of kids and adults home during the day, and lots of nerves fraying.

    Or Japan may have a lot more pedophiles than you know.

    1. OR there is play, and then there is play. Profane teenagers on a basketball court and elementary school children laughing and playing on a playground are entirely different things. Skateboarding or ball playing in the traffic creates hazards. Blood curdling screamers are disquieting for everyone within earshot.

      It all depends and there is a balance to be found in all things.

  7. More likely is that we now have to protect our ears at all costs, because without ears we cannot wear “cloth face coverings”, and therefore cannot exist in society.

  8. “Japanese first graders routinely walk to school by themselves.”

    All 12 of them?

  9. I was going to say that young professionals who don’t have children probably want to live in quieter neighborhoods. The Tokyo metropolitan area is about as noisy as you can get. I think people forget it’s the second largest metropolitan area in the world with the largest economy and population at nearly 40m.

  10. Man, I need this app. Loud kids are annoying as fuck. Their loud, high-pitched squeals are certainly an NAP violation for my ears.

    1. Your mom is a NAP violation for my eyes.

      1. You shouldn’t have dug up her skeleton, then.

    2. And I bet you just want to shove something in their mouths to shut them up, eh?

  11. Racist diatribe against Japanese culture.

    1. If they are going to continuously call me racist, I may as well be racist.

      1. That’s OK. People call me a racist because I don’t date outside my race. Also a homophobe because I don’t date gay people.

  12. For just about exactly a year now I have making comments about having a front row seat to the suicide of a civilization. Japan’s a bit further down that road than we are.
    Remember the movie Children of Men? I would think the Japanese would be ecstatic about any sounds made by brand new Japanese children, but what do I know.

  13. Isn’t there an old saying, “Children should be seldom seen and never heard?”

    I had the police called on us when I was a kid in the 70s and 80s. Okay, it usually involved fireworks, but still….

    1. Aha! Chinese fireworks! Of course the Japanese would complain, they’re xenophobic to the extreme.

  14. I miss the sounds of children playing in neighborhoods and I get spooked by ghostly empty playgrounds when I walk by them (even before Covid.) A whole generation has been raised in this hothouse flower mode and God knows what neuroses they’re going to grow up with (and inflict on the rest of us.)

    1. Playgrounds here (in CA) are packed. Lockdown panic is receding.

  15. Now an app that shows neighborhoods where there are a lot of barking dogs…that I could get behind.

  16. I am missing the logic here. How does an app highlighting spots with noisy kids equal depriving kids or parents of free-range play?

    Google Maps also locates Chuck E. Cheese Pizza Parlors but that doesn’t equal fencing them in barbed wire. It can tell parents where to go and the uninterested where to avoid with equal ease.

    (By the bye, the last Chuck E. Cheese I attended with friends and their kids also served beer, so obviously it isn’t just curmudgeons who need a balm for noise.)

    1. The article is quite clear that the app is not depriving kids of free range play, it is the underlying assumption that kids should be directly supervised by adults at all times that is the issue.

      1. If you are looking for a place to live and prefer an area where there are no playgrounds or schools, the app makes perfect sense. The young adults want to live where the nightlife is. Older residents are looking for quieter digs. People with children want to be close to playgrounds, schools, parks, etc. Any realtor will tell you these things are essential to know

  17. Japanese Mapping App Helps Users Steer Clear of Loud Neighborhood Kids. But Why?

    Maybe because there is a market for such an app? Man Reason has fallen far from its principles.

    1. The obvious reasons include rational, sacred, avoidant, and sophomoric. There could be neurotic issues, as well, or even grappling with unwanted thoughts or unwanted events in your personal life — having a bad day, for example.

      • You won’t see the person who molested you as a child in the same school playground.

      • You won’t encounter haunting imagery of child exploiters who you do not want to be reminded of (who would be felons of various types in this alternate civil reality).

      • You won’t see any child being bullied, so you can pat yourself on the back that you did not turn down a chance to help. (Realistically, not everyone were best equipped for this one every single day, if at all.)

      • You won’t ever do anytjing stupid that you’d regret later, however helpful you were trying to be at the time.

      • Children who run out into the road during play.

      • If you are nowhere near a child abduction or child endangerment incident, then (at least rationally) you can’t get arrested for what you had nothing to do with.

      • Police (or an antagonist) won’t set you up as easily if you cannot be found near children.

      • Children opportunities, being surveillance photo opportunities, you won’t be caught by chance with this expression on your face (is that even illegal?)

      • You’d expect surveillance to be maximal wherever children play, so avoiding children averts surveillance.

      • Your car won’t be as likely to explode near children. Brake failure or slippery tires could be less troubling an issue.

      • You give children more silence than they would have had.

      • Still, maybe children need anyone to drive or perambulate past and see that everything looks all right.

      Not that Japanese persons see things this way, but anyone could.

  18. Why would the app threaten the freedom of children? It seems like it both lets them do their thing and people who want to avoid it do theirs as well

    1. Absolutely agree with this.

      An app that provides demographic info and is available for me to use doesn’t infringe on anyone else’s rights. ??!! So what if I don’t want to live in a neighborhood with children? And so what if you do?

  19. Yup its Japan, which country always made something “odd”.
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  20. So design your own Japanese mapping app.

  21. Crazy.

    My suburb of the city has lots of children, but no one outside playing. They go the park to play. Schedules are made for play dates and stuff. It’s rather sad now that I htink of it.

    But I went to visit my mother in my tiny home town this weekend. Kids are out playing in the street, playing in the empty lot. Having fun. Making lots of noise. And they ran up to me to say hello. A stranger. The say hello to my eighty year old mom when she’s out front in the garden. Riding their bicycles with playing cards in the spokes. No parents actively maintaining any vigil over them. All races together unaware that Anti-Racism racism wants them to be in separate spaces.

    It was glorious. It was also the same scene fifty years ago when I was a kid growing up. Damn, the suburbs sucks. The big city sucks.

    Since ancient Rome there has been a political split between urban and rural. This wasn’t rural, it was small town. But still, when I’m in my dotage I’m going to trust the children allowed to play and make noise over the children who were helicoptered and monitored and had their play time strictly scheduled and organized. I want our future to be made by those who where allowed to be children when they were children.

  22. Thats strange. To me, there is nothing better than the sounds of kids playing. Visiting my 84 year old mom, its great that new people have moved in next door, with kids that actually play in the yard.

  23. No parent can supervise a kid at all times, as Skenazy says, but at least one parent needs to know; and has a responsibility to know; where to find their children at all times or otherwise whose care the child has been claimed by.

    As for sound and noise, there were in fact modern substitutes as well as proxies whether you need to hear or need to hear naught. You can get a whole load of different items, from baby monitors to video cameras, GPS trackers and noise canceling devices, earplugs, and headphones silent or audio streaming. The full list would be impressively big.

  24. If there children in roads and parking lots, maybe the driver who’s on these roads and parking lots ought to know.

    At least the app isn’t narrowly focused to locating schoolgirls, which in my Ugly Americanism I thought a creepy Japanese app might do.

  25. “At least the app isn’t narrowly focused to locating schoolgirls…”

    No, but I’m sure there’s an app for that.

  26. soon there would would be no privacy for anything to help you buy the best air conditions in India for your home. AC

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